Looking For Conspiracy In The Dream Machine
Just one disclaimer here: I don’t really play point and click adventure games. My only other experience with the genre is Machinarium. Also…major spoilers for the first chapter of The Dream Machine.
Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about The Dream Machine. While playing last weekend, I noticed something that struck me as odd about the way I was playing the game. After waking up from the deserted island dream, I found myself in the protagonist’s apartment. Looking around me, there were nothing but normal, ordinary objects: boxes, windows, cabinets, light switches, what have you. Nothing I would normally pay much mind to…except I was given the option to interact with the objects. Upon examination, I hardly ever found anything worthwhile and yet, there I was, in the next room, flipping another light switch on and off just to see if maybe THIS time, something would happen. Of course, nothing did. And yet once again, the next room, I found myself examining more mundane objects. Further: I was picking up items that had no immediate usefulness to me. Why was I doing this, why did I feel such a compulsion?
Now, I don’t want to make assumptions about a genre that I am largely unfamiliar with, but that’s the thing about Point and Click, isn’t it? You’re scouring the landscape for whatever object or clue that might, in some logical or random fashion, provide you with some utility later down the road.
Anyway, about the thing that struck me while playing The Dream Machine in regards to this compulsion I was feeling. There’s a concept by Frederic Jameson called ‘Conspirational Text,’ which can be used as a lense to view media such as this game. I could quote him on it, but let’s just put it plainly, since it’s easier to understand: it is looking for conspiracy or using conspirational logic to tie together initially unrelated things as a means to find a hidden truth, as well as coming up wa rationale for its invisibility.
The thing is, the entire time I’m playing the game…something feels off. Your wife mentions that she had a strange dream in which she gives birth to the landlord. Needless to say, your wife has a bad feeling about him. He comes into further suspicion when your neighbor speaks ill of him. Later, too, the landlord himself reveals that the apartments used to be a facility for treating patients with sleep problems. Oh, did I mention there’s creepy music, too? Because there is. And the aesthetic…there’s something odd about it. The entire game exudes a feeling of something peculiar going on, something beyond what is immediately visible. In any case, the second that the landlord mentions the bit about the old patients, something just clicks. There’s something going on. There has to be. Immediately, I connected the invisible dots: the dream my wife had must be indicative of something insiduous going on here. I had no outright evidence or proof to believe this, but I know something is up. So I’m playing the game practically assuming that there is a conspiracy in place, despite having no outright evidence that this is the case. It’s just…you can practically feel it.
The connection to a larger conspiracy was reaffirmed when the protagonist finds a burned note that seems to suggest there is something ominously larger going on around him. He doesn’t know what, exactly, but we can feel he’s not off the mark. This is an adventure to locate those minimal basic components which reveal a large, overarching truth. And that’s why I’m flipping every damn switch in the house, why I’m adding a bunch of random objects into my inventory, too. These aren’t ACTUALLY random: they’re all pieces of a larger puzzle, I just don’t know how they connect…yet. But I innately know that they do, and, with the help of conspirational logic, it was only a matter of time before I found the truth.
Let’s go back to the idea itself for a second. The idea grounded in the belief that there is a fundamental crisis of personal narrative; that people struggle to make sense of themselves and their overall purpose in society. The reason for this crisis? A lack of privacy, stipulates Jameson, the result of living a world not unlike what Orwell describes in 1984. Big brother is always watching. The question Jameson poses to us, then is this: how can there be private things, let alone privacy, when we live in such a world?
So then, what’s the big reveal here? What’s the initially hidden reason I’m flipping every switch and checking every damn box? Why, it just so happens that your landlord has been watching you that entire time via a hidden camera. And so, it turns out that everything falls into place, doesn’t it? The nagging feeling, that ominous paranoia and compulsive tendency proves to be right all along.