Cibele is an art game based on massively multiplayer online (MMO) gaming set-ups, and the interactions they inspire. This particular game is based on teenage romantic situations that can be common in these games. A 19-year-old girl, Nina, becomes interested in a player she’s been in contact with named Ichi. The game follows this relationship through to completion and reveals realistic problems one faces with young, internet-based, love.
The game begins with an intimate, live-action shot of Nina in her dorm room. This is followed by a view of Nina’s desktop, where players have access to several folders. These folders hold information about Nina; recent selfies, older pictures from high school, college homework assignments, blog bios, and anime fan art. This is a brilliant way of introducing the main character; the viewer is given a physical image of the protagonist, and is then invited to look through the folders on her desktop. In a sense, this is the most intimate way to get to know a person; sifting through the contents of one’s computer, particularly a person who spends much of their life online, reveals a lot about that person, very quickly.
After the player has exhausted the resources provided by the desktop, they are then encouraged to begin the game within Cibele, called Valtameri.
The majority of Cibele takes place within the MMO platform of Valtameri; here, Nina as Cibele interacts with her friends via messenger and live chat. When the player first enters Valtameri, they are met with several messages from cohorts and a call from Ichi. In the call, Ichi asks Cibele to go on a run with him, alone. This is a clear indication that he wants to spend alone time with her, to get to know her better.
As the player continues to navigate the world of Cibele, they experience the evolution of this relationship: awkward flirting, largely focused on Nina’s physical appearance, discussing how cute each of them are, and teasing. All of these interactions lead to a build-up of anticipation and expectation of a physical meet-up.
The game is broken up into three sections, following the traditional arch of storytelling: a beginning, middle, and end. Each of the sections reflect this. The beginning describes a burgeoning interest between the two parties. They test each other out, sending selfies and Ichi complimenting Nina. The middle reflects their relationship at the 2-month point. They play the game with each other nearly every day, when they miss days, they apologize to each other, messages from Nina’s friends acknowledge the relationship. Things become heated in this segment; they have been talking for a long enough period of time that Ichi, who at this time reveals his real name, Blake, requests a phone interaction with Nina. At this juncture, the game’s view is switched from game mode to a live-action video of Nina speaking on the phone with Blake. During this discussion they talk about what would happen if they met up:
Nina: “What would happen if we met?”
Blake: “I think...You know...”
Nina: “Tell me.”
Blake: “I’d kiss you.”
Nina: “Do you think we could...have sex?”
Nina: “I want you so much.”
Blake: “Nina... I think… I love you.” Freeman, Nina via Cibele, via Youtube (2015, Nov 13).
From here, the game advances four months and the viewer is brought to yet another realm within Valtameri. The two embark on a run in which they discuss meeting up. It has been four months since Blake told Nina he loved her, and Summer has flown by. Nina becomes insistent and is met with resistance from Blake. He explains to her that though he is physically attracted to her, he does not wish to have a relationship. As a socially awkward person, he feels the normalcy associated with a relationship would not fit into his lifestyle, and therefore he does not really wish to pursue her in that way. He is happy with the status quo. Nina disregards these statements and ultimately coerces him into visiting her.
The game switches back to live-action and shows the two meeting outside of Nina’s dorm. They hug, walk into her room, and end up having sex. This description seems a bit lean, however, it is portrayed this way in the game; there’s no flowery build-up, no superfluous overture. All of that was what preceded this moment, their months of discussion in the game, chatting every day, phone calls. This game does an incredible job of recreating these types of interactions. It feels so real.
At the end of this meet-up, the viewer is shown the pair standing outside of Nina’s dorm, and Blake is telling her that this was a mistake for him. He had told her that he did not want a relationship, and their physical intimacy did not change that for him.
The game ends with a shot of Nina, sitting in an upright fetal position, staring at her computer.
Cibele is incredible in that it truly captures this style of interaction. The game itself is based in the year 2009, when MMOs were really hitting their stride, and this form of interaction was most prominent. There are moments in the game when the player is playing Valtameri very passively, while waiting for responses from Ichi/Blake. These moments in the game are so reminiscent of actually participating in chat sessions; one is waiting for a response while pretending to do something else. The response is more important than any of the other activities the player is participating in. This relates to text conversations outside of gaming as well.
Cibele’s commentary on relationships is so real; Nina doesn’t get the guy and the brief moment of physical connection did not culminate into much of anything. This happens in real life. This story is not a dressed up, romantic comedy. It is a real-life scenario that successfully shares the feelings of many individuals, even those that do not participate in MMO gaming. This is applicable to the generation that grew up with AOL-instant-messenger and Facebook as a major means of communication.
Freeman says that in our era of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, this idea of the internet as just another romantic space is prevalent and natural. “For my generation online relationships are basically a normal part of life. A lot of people have contacted me after completing Cibele, saying: ‘Oh wow, this happened to me when I was playing World of Warcraft as a teenager. I was that young girl on the internet, trying to negotiate a relationship with someone I’d never met.’” Stuart, Keith and Nina Freeman (2015, Nov 16).
“Cibele is about the two characters negotiating their boundaries,” says Freeman. “In the end it may not really work out for them – but at least they were honest with each other. That’s important to me because as a developer and a person, I want to be as honest as possible. I want to write characters that feel really raw and real; I want to show my flaws and the good things and the bad all at once – because that’s what people are.” Freeman, Nina via Keith Stuart (2015, Nov 16).
For Freeman, Cibele was a chance not only to make a game about an unconventional romance, but to reassess a pivotal moment in her life by examining the digital detritus it left behind (and then asking players to do the same). She felt it was particularly important to represent the man who inspired Blake fairly, spending a lot of time sifting through old chat logs and trying to see things from his point of view, especially towards the end of their relationship. Hudson, Laura (2015, Nov 04).
This work is an important survey of online relationships. This is no longer an unusual occurrence; people are meeting and communicating online, a lot. With that in mind, it is also an important piece in that it shows a real relationship in that light. The game does not end in ‘happily ever after’. It ends how a lot of young love does: kind of painfully. It is comforting to see something so vulnerable and real describing love than the shellacked version that is most often seen in content regarding such affairs.
It is interesting to compare Cibele to one of Freeman’s earlier games, How Do You Do It? This game puts players in the role of an 11-year-old girl who tries to understand sex through playing with dolls. Players see a young girl sitting in her living room, watching her mother leave for the store. As soon as her mother is out of sight, the girl grabs a nude male and female doll and holds them up. Players of the game can control the dolls with their keyboard to initiate sexual positions. While this is happening, a thought bubble by the girl’s head produces thoughts like, “They were all like hugging…” and “I don’t hug mommy like that.” (How Do You Do It? 2014). She references the movie Titanic and continues to question what exactly they were doing in the steamy car on that boat. Suddenly, the girl’s mom comes home and the game ends. The end title reads “You might have done sex 91 times, eep! Mom saw.” (How Do You Do It? 2014). This varies with each new game. The terminology used in this end title is a perfect portrayal of the misunderstanding of what the young girl is doing. This game is a personal and realistic look into young women’s discovery of sexuality. How Do You Do It? could be considered an early step in the evolution towards the actions played out in Cibele. These games are both deeply personal to the creator and revolve around the reality of sex.
Cibele can also be compared to the game Façade, by Michael Mateas. In this game, players interact directly with a couple of friends, Trip and Grace. who are actively arguing after inviting the player, their close friend, into their home for dinner. This game utilizes the incorporated language processing software, which allows for players to directly interact with the couple. This game is so incredible in that it can take a wide variety of inputs from the language processor and incorporate them into the game. In one example, the player could compliment Grace on her appearance, and she would respond happily, while in another scenario she may believe that the player is being condescending. This level of artificial intelligence within the game truly sets it apart as a forerunner in textual interactive gaming. via Wikipedia, (2016, Mar 11).
Façade can be compared to Cibele in that the player has been brought into the private world of a couple and is then swept along with the flow of their story. These are both very personal vignettes of couples, an interesting and uncomfortable vantage point for a player to take a part in. Both of these games are emotionally gripping in that they are able to capture what these moments in life really feel and look like and this, in turn, makes them truly relatable.
Articles about Cibele:
- Cibele is a Crazy Real Game About Falling in Love Online from Wired: http://www.wired.com/2015/11/cibele-game-nina-freeman/
- The Most Authentic, Romantic Game I’ve Ever Played from IGN: http://www.ign.com/articles/2015/09/01/pax-2015-cibele-the-most-authentic-romantic-game-ive-ever-played
- Discovering Sexuality on the Internet with Cibele from Gamespot: http://www.gamespot.com/articles/discovering-sexuality-on-the-internet-with-cibele/1100-6430275/
- ‘Cibele’ is One of the Few Video Games to Get Sex Right from Vice: http://www.vice.com/read/what-video-games-can-learn-about-sex-from-the-online-dating-of-cibele-430
- Cibele and the End of an Era for Internet Lovers from OffWorld: http://boingboing.net/2015/11/11/cibele-and-the-end-of-an-era-f.html
- Cibele Review: I Can’t Make You Love Me from Paste Magazin: http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2015/11/cibele-review.html
- Cibele is a Game About Muddled Reality of Video Games and Online Love from The Verge: http://www.theverge.com/2015/11/4/9668806/cibele-nina-freeman-game-review
A live play-through of the game can be found here:
The game can be found for purchase here: