Becoming sub-creators with Dreams
Describing Media Molecule’s Dreams is a difficult task. The title is not a game itself, but rather a toolset for users to make their own games. Or short films. Or images. While the collective noun is ‘dreams’, players have the opportunity to make a wide variety of creations.
Appropriately enough, Dreams begins with its own creation narrative, which depicts a time when there was nothing. Players take control of an ‘imp’, an on-screen character that helps them create.
Early in the piece, Dreams encourages players to create what they want (to pursue their own ‘dream’) without allowing doubts to become a block to their creativity. This becomes key to the game’s appeal, as creating is a fun and yet daunting process where every player will surely encounter doubts about their ideas’ viability.
The player may find that their sense of doubt is sometimes made worse by the game’s controls, which at points seem counter-intuitive. The imp is controlled using a range of motion on the Playstation 4 controller, and these take some getting used to. The game’s range of options for creation also take some time to get to grips with, but the player will soon enough find themselves grateful for the sheer range of items on screen.
Dreams also has a lot to offer those who don’t want to create their own games in the form of other players’ work. With an early version of the game sent out in late 2019, the game already boasts a dedicated community that has made unique contributions. The game allows you to access these via a few sections created by theme, a dedicated search bar, or through the Autosurf button (think Google’s old “I’m feeling lucky” option).
Here, the game is likely to have a long legacy. One creative player has recreated the long-abandoned ‘playable teaser’ for the cancelled Silent Hills using the Dreams toolkit. Insights’ playthrough revealed a game that, while not entirely a complete visual transfer, had a high degree of fidelity in terms of the sound effects and scares. Another player-designer has uploaded their own version of what Silent Hills could have been.
A variety of other games have been remade in Dreams, from Metal Gear Solid to Fallout 4.
The creativity isn’t confined to games: other ‘dreams’ included short works of visual art, small levels to play through, and demos of upcoming works. For example, one project was a short story about a community destroyed by oil spills, as told through a series of short videos. Another was a 3D recreation of The Overlook Hotel from The Shining fame.
Some of the games are wonderfully ridiculous, and the community that has sprung up to support the new platform is a fascinating case study in how a cultural artifact can grow quickly.
Seeing players take advantage of the tools that Media Molecule have given them to create is one of the joys unique to videogames. Here, the company has taken ideas from their previous efforts like Little Big Planet, and taken these further, giving players only the tools to make their own art. This empowering creation is part of what author J R R Tolkien had in mind when he wrote that human beings are ‘sub creators’, joining with God in the work of creation.
Dreams is available now on Playstation 4.