Platform: PC Genre: Indie Publisher: Star Maid Games
Ever wanted to snoop through a teenage girl’s computer? Find out who she has a crush on and giggle at embarrassing pictures? Then Cibele is for you!
Cibele is what I’d describe as an interactive story experience—a snooping simulator. It invites you to be a voyeur into the life of 19-year-old Nina by giving you control of her computer. You can click around the fictional desktop and sift through diary entries, poetry, emails and pictures. By looking through this information, you can piece together Nina’s life, both past and present.
When you’re ready, you can click the icon in the bottom corner and launch a mock online game called Valtameri. There, you can explore levels and defeat enemies with Nina’s character ‘Cibele’ and her companion ‘Ichi’ (a guy from across the country named Blake). The voice chat between Nina and Blake plays out as you go and their romance develops before you.
The exploration of these levels is simplified compared to an actual online game, only involving simple clicking, but the story is the important feature so I was thankful that I didn’t have to work too hard. A melancholy vibe radiates throughout the game and this style is what makes it appealing at first glance. Minimalistic electronic music wavers in and out subtly, and a pastel colour scheme coats every screen.
Cibele is an in-depth exploration of sex and relationships developed online. For anyone who’s played online games, it’ll stir up some nostalgia. It travels the line between reality and the game world as their relationship starts online and changes once they meet in person.
The conversations between Nina and Blake are disjointed and awkward, filled with uncomfortable pauses. When Nina said “I’ve never even had a boyfriend” and Blake replied “Seriously? You’re so hot though,” followed by awkward laughter, I could feel my eyes rolling back into my head. It’s clear that the protagonists don’t quite know how to interact with each other.
There’s room for misunderstanding when you only know someone in a virtual environment.
Despite making me cringe, the voice acting feels authentic—these characters tell a common yet often untold narrative of meeting someone online and the broken connection that can occur. There’s room for misunderstanding when you only know someone in a virtual environment. You may connect online but be incompatible in real life. It’s a phenomenon that is difficult to explain but this game nailed it.
Cibele mingles reality and fiction by using both animation and real life elements, which adds a layer of complexity and intrigue to the mix. All the pictures, poems and diary entries are from the creator, Nina Freeman’s, real life. Looking at the selfies and knowing the face belongs to a real person can be confronting. In general, I felt awkward playing this given the nature of its content: stereotypical young love set in 2009—it was a weird era. The game being autobiographical takes it to another level.
Some scenes are acted out in live action by real-life Nina and the game’s programmer, Emmett Butler, as Blake. At first this pulled me out of the narrative but when I saw their necessity I didn’t mind them. However, this didn’t stop me from wanting to avert my gaze as I watched intimate scenes between the two—it felt too private, but I assume this was the desired effect.
The game is a short experience which you can finish in one to two hours but I think this is the right length. It effectively demonstrates its point without droning on. I didn’t love it and it’s not a ‘traditional’ game but it was certainly unique so I don’t regret playing it.
Check out the trailer for Cibele here.
Words and screenshots by Christie McQualter