This is going to be another short one, for small title. But that title manages to pack in the breadth of influence Dali can provide in his artwork, into a short video game puzzler. It’s very premise lies on the notion of sleepwalking and the complexity, as well as sporadic nature, of consciousness and the sub-conscious. Sleep is often a big thing in surrealism, and The game ‘Back to Bed’ (Bedtime Digital Games, 2014) is a perfect example – created originally by a group of students.
The objective is to guide Bob, the protagonist, through a world heavily influenced by the art of Dali back into his bed. He suffers from narcolepsy, and it’s your job as his sub-conscious guardian (aptly named SubBob) to guide him there through varying mazes of intricate and surreal design. The painted world is beautiful to look at, with architectural structures reminiscent of Escher’s Penrose staircase as well as the classic melting clocks, upside down boots and elongated, tentacle shapes of Dali. It’s a simple premise with simple game-play, but it contains increasing complex levels of puzzles which are not only rewarding to solve, they’re just rewarding to exist in. As well as this, your orientation through the game by the unnamed narrator is equally surreal, his voice sounding like a Scottish/Eastern European accent mastered electronically and slowed down by half. He explains in basic principles, as surrealism often works in, and from the very beginning the player is made distinctly aware of the fact that they’ve left reality for a bit.
There are various creatures and objects you both have to interact with to guide Bob’s path or avoid to prevent Bob from waking up. These creatures can be anything from an alarm clock that switches the gravity of the level, to a large barking hound that can wake Bob up and spell game over for anyone playing. You can also grab apples and place them to redirect Bob, and there’s even a colossal train track towards the end which can do the same. The whole design of the title is playful, it’s taken focal points of surrealism (such as the apples or the melting clocks) and formed an expression of a world with them that’s just beautiful to look at. Though the game is only very short, the puzzles are rewarding, especially for anyone who loves surrealism – it’s like having cameos of your favourite artists all in one package.
It seems fresh when playing it, even though it’s essentially re-using canonical surrealist images. But it’s delight lies in its complete willingness to depart from logic and sense as you plunge into this fantastically rendered, somnambulist world. Every time the narrator says something like “The clock turns Bob wise” or “stairs are not what they seem” you just go with it. You learn the new logic of this weird place and embrace it as you play, the same way you would learn the rules of another more ‘rational’ game. The music too displays gorgeous cascades of strings falling one each other, all combining to form this world for the player. Often I think it’s too easy to not use all elements of production in something like a game, film or a theatre piece – and instead only focus on one thing. Rather than that, this game focuses on one image but uses many things to achieve it.
Exploring a dream world and the possibilities of sleep is always a fascinating topic. Whether it’s Freud’s dream interpretations or more whimsical imaginations like the writing of Lewis Carroll, sleep seems to be something which constantly fascinates us. It’s the one point in life where most people can agree that the lines of reality are blurred, where our brain throws random images during the processing of information and what results is a world that adheres to no rules, even if you want it to.
It’s beauty is in its simplicity, the game-play is basic puzzle solving but every time you manage it you feel yourself going deeper into Bob’s mind. There’s a sense of exploration and wonder at the fantastic collection of images which form a surrealists paradise, set often against the wide expanse of clouds or a bright sea. It’s an impressive achievement for such a small game, proving that you don’t always need a budget to create a world that’s a joy to be immersed in – a potential lesson to artists of every discipline. You can buy ‘Back to Bed’ on Steam right now, and if you get the chance to play it, do. I found myself both satisfied and relaxed at the end of it – a definite one to experience if you have a spare half an hour.