Adventure games have long relied on, shall we say, creative applications of logic. Veterans of the genre will recall the days when gluing a cat-hair mustache to your face with syrup was an acceptable way to disguise yourself. The bizarre methods you would use to solve puzzles, the odd combinations of items and actions, often took on the same surreal quality as dreams.
Modeling dream logic is the concept behind Symon, an award-winning browser game developed by a team from the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab. I first played a prototype version of Symon last summer, when the team invited volunteers into the lab for playtesting. The game has undergone a remarkable degree of polishing since then, in terms of both mechanics and style.
The sparse frame story puts you in the role of the title character, a paralyzed man lying in a hospital bed. By entering his dreams, Symon confronts issues like regret, longing, and doubt through a series of procedurally-generated puzzles. Like other point-and-click adventure games, Symon has you navigate several screens, collecting and combining items. But because the puzzles and solutions are randomly generated, no two playthroughs are the same. And the game’s conceit requires you to think differently right from the start: It’s not so much about determining the right combinations of items and actions so much as it’s about drawing out the hidden, often illogical connections between them. Like dreams, the solutions make sense in the moment, if not in waking life.
Symon’s minimalist visual and narrative styles are perfectly suited to its mission. The dream world is spare yet recursive; you’ll return to objects and characters to consider them in different ways. The few lines of dialogue you’ll encounter sketch Symon’s inner life and backstory with a subtle yet poignant touch. The lovely piano score sounds like long-lost b-sides by Erik Satie, lending the experience an appropriately meditative quality. I wish all my dreams came in such pretty packages.
Talking Points: Is using “dream logic” more or less frustrating than the typical adventure game experience? What themes about Symon’s life emerged in your playthrough(s)? How much would this game blow ol' Siggy Freud’s mind?