Losing your virginity; it’s a deeply personal experience, and one which rarely gets mentioned in all forms of media. There’s a reason; this awkward first time is meant to prepare you for a lifetime of sexual encounters, so it’s hugely intimate and infinitely personal. So imagine my surprise when a game is made that goes through a girls first sexual encounter, and online relationships in general. I was interested, don’t get me wrong; indie games really do push the boundaries when it comes to what can and cannot happen within an interactive medium.
So how does Cibele go about explaining it’s developer’s (Nina Freeman) first experience? Through a simulated desktop of what Nina would have said and done during this time. You’re able to click around this desktop, looking in Nina’s files and folders, exploring her most intimate poems and pictures. It’s this freedom to explore the game at your own pace, and to see as much or as little as you’d like which truly sets the tone here. You really feel like you’re actually exploring someones computer, which, as many of you may know, can be a hugely personal and scary thing (I know I certainly wouldn’t want someone free roam of my PC).
Once you’ve explored Nina’s desktop as much as you’d like, you can proceed to boot up and play the online multiplayer game Nina is playing. This game (Valtameri) has you defeating enemies on the screen whilst dialog plays in the background between Nina and Blake. The game isn’t fun, and is merely there as a backdrop/scene to the actual depth of the story; Nina and Blake’s long distance relationship.
The dialog is down right cringe-worthy in spots, but as a whole took me back to my teenage years of chatting up girls online. It’s authentic, and generally does a good job of showing how a relationship can manifest from terrible flirting between two awkward participants.
The dialog plays out seemingly separate to the game being played itself, a fact that took my other half by surprise whilst we were playing. It wasn’t until I explained to her that multiplayer games are more of a backdrop to you catching up and socialising with others that the story made more sense to her. To put it in perspective, I explained all the times I would play Halo Reach or Call of Duty with friends at uni over Xbox Live just to catch up on the day’s events.
Once you’ve finished the boss on each level within Valtameri, you’re rewarded with a new cut-scene which further expands on Nina and Blake’s relationship. This may be in the form of Nina taking revealing photos, or even her searching for flights to California (Blake lives on the west coast – Nina the east). These cut-scenes themselves can make you extremely uneasy also – the intimate detail Nina proceeds to show throughout Cibele is definitely not for the faint hearted, something which may put many players off. It’s tasteful though – nothings inherently sexual here. Yes, Nina’s in her underwear and taking awkward sexy photos, but you know the context, and can see how awkward it all is, giving precedence to the story at large.
Once the cut-scenes over you’re introduced to a new date (sometime in the future) and proceed to start again, looking through Nina’s desktop files before proceeding into Valtameri again. This continues for 3 acts until you finally get the conclusion – Blake visits Nina in New York. In the conclusion, Nina and Blake lose their virginity together, but end up going their separate ways, with no future relationship manifesting from this encounter. It’s not a spoiler to say this, that’s the whole point of this game, it’s just jolting when it happens; we’re all used to game’s and narratives as a whole giving a fairy tale ending – with Cibele it shows the awkwardness of real-life, and how everything is a shade of grey rather than black or white.
As a consequence of the “narrative” Cibele pushes, there are going to many that refute it being called a game. I can kind of see why; the interactivity of Cibele is limited merely to the desktop portion of the game – here, you can see as much, or as little as you’d like about Nina’s life. Snooping around her personal files will certainly give more context about her current feelings on different matters, but there’s no way to actually influence the story being told. You are just an observer into this girls adolescence.
Cibele is a great narrative experience, one that brings to life the awkwardness of our teenage years of flirting, and one which truly helps to evoke feelings of awkwardness and cringe-eyness. As I said before, it was weird seeing so many chat up lines or conversations I once had growing up, and especially to see it from the other side (from the girls perspective). Whilst Cibele doesn’t do much as a game in that you don’t do much at all (think like walking simulators), it still does a good job of reflecting that one weird period in our life we’re all going to experience.