In the Internet era, people are forming complex relationships, uttering "I love you," before ever being in the same room together. Even so, one universal truth remains: Relationships are hard. Cibele is an honest look at Internet communication, love, and sex. The tale is highly personal, but it evokes an eerie feeling of déjà vu. You've probably had a similar experience or know someone who has formed a bond this way.
Cibele is unlike anything I've played. The story unfolds in pieces as you read emails, look at photos, and play games on a personal computer in 2009. The narrative is split into three acts (taking around two hours total), allowing you to check the computer for new files to see how the relationship has grown between two characters: Nina and Blake.
Each act has you logging in to a fictional MMORPG, mindlessly attacking monsters as you listen to the voice chat. The MMO action is simple and effective; you click on enemies to auto-attack, and you don't have a health meter to worry about. This conveys the automatic process that MMO players develop without getting bogged down in mechanics. Plus, it lets you focus on the dialogue between the two main characters. These exchanges get progressively more flirtatious and revealing, leading to sexy photo exchanges and more innuendo. Watching the relationship unfold is exciting as you're wondering just how much further it will go - it has a "will they or won't they?" appeal.
Cibele's biggest strengths are that it's raw and honest. The narrative is based on a true story, and developers Nina Freeman and Emmett Butler play the roles of the main characters in the live-action scenes. The live-actions scenes and voice chat conversations play out naturally, making the experience feel all the more real. This story is Freeman's, and she puts herself out there, showing her class poetry assignments, personal photos, and old website templates. At times, you almost feeling like you're invading her privacy because it gets so intimate. Freeman lets you get a glimpse into her life that most people would hide under lock and key, which is admirable - but at the same time, it makes me feel voyeuristic.
My favorite moments are when the two converse in the MMO's private chat, discussing everyday topics at first and eventually going deeper. Many people form connections playing games together, and Cibele's simulation of that experience works well. While playing the MMO and chatting, you get messages from other players and email alerts, putting you in the moment and making it feel genuine. There's also something to be said about the intimate conversations; the chats start to get more sexual and involved, but you're still always left wondering just how much these two people revealed about their real lives to one another. This mystery kept me hanging on, intrigued to see the tale through.
Unfortunately, the finale doesn't end up as satisfying as watching the relationship unfold. The ending is abrupt, providing you little closure. We see so much of the relationship evolve, but the later part of the arc is missing and left unaddressed. It feels like someone yelled, "Cut!" too soon. I liked how Cibele is set up to explore the digital age and relationships, but it doesn't let its characters offer much reflection on the subject matter. In addition, some of the live-action video feels like a missed opportunity to flesh out the characters, since they don't add much to the journey beyond the growing sexual nature.
Games are continuing to evolve. Just like with other media, such as movies and books, various genres are surfacing. Cibele shows an intriguing direction for games to become representations of their creators' real lives, almost like confessionals. As we've seen more in recent years, developers are confronting tougher topics, such as sex, depression, and death. This is an enlightening movement that's still in its infancy. Much like Cibele, these early lessons have revealed a few stumbling blocks, but I'm glad they're happening.