Inside the world of “Every day the same dream”
Game Designer: Paolo Pedercini
Initial release date: 2009
As we’ve discussed in class, video games have the potential to be creators of great social and cultural change and have their roots in protest movements in the 1950s and 60s. While video games could be labeled as just mindless play, game designers today are using their platform to spread awareness about important issues and spark conversations that otherwise would not take place. In “Every day the same dream”, creator Paolo Pedercini constructs a world that is both monotonously familiar and eerily dreamlike.
The game follows the daily routine of a stereotypically average “everyman” that has a bland marriage, a bland job, and an overall incredibly bland life. Players have very little agency within the system, especially since the game is designed as a very linear story- the character generally moves from left to right until the game ends. While there is no way to “beat” the system that results in a happy ending, the only way for the game to end is to create 5 days that are each unique using the few choices available. For example, one day the player could choose to not dress the character so that upon arrival at work, he gets fired. Another day, the player could choose to have the character get out of his car on the way to work to stop and pet a cow. While making choices is necessary, Pedercini make an effort to not make them obvious. Players aren’t guided towards any one decision, and, in my case, it took me day after day after day within the game to actually figure out what choices I had. Once the player creates 5 unique days, the last day involves the main character following his usual path, except he is now the only character. When he arrives at work, he goes to the roof to find what is most likely supposed to be an image of himself jumping off. After his double jumps, the game ends.
This game is an incredible example of the importance of audiovisual attributes in regards to game design and meaning. The graphical style of the game is in no way realistic and is used to make the game-world feel boring, limited, and joyless. None of the characters have faces, and each person is reduced down to basically a stereotype. The main character is a man who wears a suit and works in a cubicle, and he’s shown as identical to all his other co-workers who are also men that wear suits and work in cubicles. His wife is only ever seen cooking and nagging him to get dressed, and his boss is an old gray-haired man who’s two lines consist of “You’re late” and “Get to your cubicle”. The music played in the background is highly repetitive and mirrors the monotony of the main character’s life. The gameplay continues to affirm this repetitive environment as the player’s controls are very limited, consisting only of two arrow keys and a spacebar. While the main character is able to “talk” to other characters using the space bar, he is only able to listen, but never able to speak back. The controls, combined with the dreary aesthetics and very closed-world, push players to find small acts of independence in a world that feels fairly tragic.
The game’s third-person perspective, rather than first, allows Pedercini’s story to read more as a dark warning, rather than something more emotionally scarring. Removing the player from the immediate sightline of the main character gives a slight sense of removal, which is important since players are forced to make hard decisions such as killing their character via suicide.
It’s interesting to note the ways in which the game blurs the line between reality and fantasy. The game is called “Every day the same dream”, yet nothing about the game-world is at all fantastical or mystical. The dreamlike quality of the game comes from the reduction of a realistic atmosphere that creates a shell of real life. In addition to this, the player’s actions, while ultimately working towards “beating” the game, have no immediate effects. One out of five of the unique days involves the main character walking to the roof and jumping off, which is then immediately followed up with him waking up again. When the main character gets fired, the process simply repeats again. This works to give the player a feeling of hopelessness and a lack of choice, but the concept is also intriguing in the larger context of video games. Pedercini created a video game that’s sole purpose is to display a real-world message so this conflation of reality and fantasy could be his way of discussing art’s influence on real life. After all, one could argue that video games are the most immersive form of art because they require the most action from participants.
While there isn’t extensive information on Pedercini’s inspiration for the game, he has said that ““Every day the same dream” is a slightly existential riff on the theme of alienation and refusal of labor. The idea was to charge the cyclic nature of most video games with some kind of meaning (i.e. the “play again” is not a game over). Yes, there is an end state, you can “beat” the game” (Experimental Gameplay Project). Judging from the release in 2009 and the emphasis on hopelessness in a corporate environment, it’s likely that “Every day the same dream” was partially a product of the 2008 market crash that saw the global economy drastically decrease. Furthermore, Pedercini could be simply making a commentary on the importance of productivity in capitalist societies that force many people to work unfulfilling jobs that allow for incredibly little free-time. Many people in this type of situation feel as though they have no way out or no control over their lives, which is exactly the feeling expressed in the game. Players must go out of their way to discover what decisions are available.
I would be interested to hear what Pedercini feels is the real way to “beat” a situation like this. It’s clear that he is making a commentary on productivity culture that crushes happiness and creativity, but he then has the game end with one final act of suicide. While “Every day is the same dream” is in no way meant to be happy, players are compelled to use their agency to the best of their ability, which would lead me to believe that Pedercini is urging players to exercise agency within their own lives. By having the game end with suicide, it feels as though the decisions made in the game only led to death, rather than something positive. Does Pedercini feel there is no way out of a situation like this? Is he saying that agency within our own lives will ultimately only end in our death or is the somber ending simply a way to further his point? Regardless of the answer to these questions, “Every day is the same dream” artfully utilizes graphical style, gameplay, and even music to deliver a chilling story about the realities of unfulfilling work.