IRL, LGBTQA, Reviews

The Social Network: Exploring Love & Loss Through ‘Cibele’

Cibele

For me, the internet has been a place where I’ve experienced some of the most important moments of my life. I’ve made some of my closest friends ever through games, forums, and Twitter. It’s helped shape my social network and my life experiences in one of the most (primarily) positive ways possible, and I’m eternally grateful for it.

This is why I had been anxiously waiting for Nina Freeman and Star Maid Games’ Cibele ever since I first heard about it. The idea behind it was something that felt so real to me—even discounting the fact that the game is a retelling of Nina’s college years. It’s a game with a premise that, in our day and age, feels so realistic—even more than that, it feels sort of like the norm. The idea of going to some website, on some game, and meeting some people and connecting with them is a common occurrence. For a person like me who’s highly introverted, connecting with people on the internet has been my main way of maintaining a social network—of having good, safe, and caring support.

So the idea of a game that’s so highly personal—meant to be emotionally charged and driven—was something that highly interested me, primarily because it was something that was similar and relatable. The whole premise of the game and Nina’s experiences, while not one to one, absolutely resembled experiences I had four years ago when I was just starting out in college.

It was August when I had joined a small role-playing forum. Around that time, I was just getting ready to go to orientation for my college. I was at a point in my life where the majority of my friends were all splintering away from each other. Some were leaving across the state, across the country, or just working. It was this tough time where everything felt uncertain, where it felt like I was losing a lot of what I had. Most of my friends from high school were now either too busy with schoolwork, or they were making a lot of friends at their colleges and having an awesome time. And there I was, at college, essentially alone; a brand new environment that was foreign to me.

But I had the solace and comfort of the internet, of new people I was meeting through writing. One person in particular had a character I frequently wrote and plotted with. We got close over time, just due to talking so much, and as I read about Cibele and listened to Nina talk about it, my mind was instantly brought back to those memories from four years earlier, leaving me feeling curious and with a pit in my stomach as these memories started to well back up. At this point, I knew had to play it.

And when I played it, I felt like I was able to relate so much with Freeman—that our situations, while not exactly the same, were similar enough that it left me quiet and reminiscing about things I had managed to mostly forget about for years.

Cibele

It’s about finding someone you can relate to deeply—who you talk with all the time when you’re at the computer and who you can’t stop thinking about when you’re away in class, at dinner, or when you’re hanging out with your visiting high school friends. A person that, even if you never or rarely see them, you talk to them all the time, and you can’t stop thinking about them. They matter so much to you.

Watching Nina’s interactions with Blake reminded me of those moments back in 2011 where me and a girl from across the world would say that we loved each other, and talked about potentially meeting one day. It was this world of bliss where everything was perfect, where nothing could go wrong. Where I had a person who I told everything to and vented all my frustrations, fears, and paranoia, and this person had done the same. Saying “I love you” every so often and especially when one of us was getting off the computer, and even talking about meeting up in the future—somehow.

In playing through Cibele, you experience Nina’s and Blake’s relationship from the very beginning where they’re friends constantly playing together to the point where they’re sharing pictures. They share even more, making as much time for each other as possible, even if it means annoying their friends and breaking plans. And, of course, seeing that fateful moment where Blake mentions visiting—and actually does.

Everything had been ramping up to that moment in the game, something you just knew would inevitably happen. And then the game cuts to black at the end. You knew it was going to happen, yet you’re just left there, feeling sick, your stomach knotted up ten times over. I thought about how close I potentially was to that situation: a situation where a girl I thought—was sure was the love of my life—coming all the way from across the world to meet, all for it to potentially turn to shit and end up miserable after the entire world came crashing down.

I think Cibele is an amazing game, there’s no doubt about that. Nina created wonderful recreations of her young college life with old chatlogs and emails, poems and art that are so accurate to even what I was doing as an 18-year-old who was starting to find a niche and place on the internet. Pursuing differing interests more and more, having conversations with new friends from games and forums—it all reminded me of 2011 when I was just starting college in this whole new atmosphere, and one girl was a big part of my support system at that point.

Cibele

I didn’t cry when I finished Cibele. I just sat there for about thirty minutes, deep in thought, unable to not think about all of what I had experienced back then. I felt absolutely frozen by everything. My heart ached, thinking about how awful Blake was, about how something so seemingly special and good burnt up in an instant.

Granted, it should be noted that what happened between me and a girl from the internet four years ago and Nina and Blake are far different. Blake was reprehensible—he lied to and used Nina, breaking her heart and ruining their relationship. The situation between me and a girl was highly personal and I won’t get into it, but I can thankfully say nothing like that happened. We never met up, and whatever we had dissolved and broke before we could have ever met.

I think this is a big part of why I love Cibele so much. It’s incredibly emotional, and I really wouldn’t wish what happened in both my situation or Nina’s on anyone. But that’s what makes it so powerful: you see something that is becoming more and more common in this day and age, and you see one of the ways it goes bad, and it hurts. It really hurts because it’s something you want to see go well—you want to see two people who care about each other be able to be happy, and I’m sure it was effective for people who didn’t have that experience, but for me, it really felt like something else entirely: a look at someone else’s life through a similar lens. Something that paralleled my own experiences at one point in time, that was such a big part of my life that I had buried away, only to acknowledge now because it was brought up again through Cibele.

It’s what I want more out of games: games that can be emotionally draining, that can make me freeze after playing them. Games that draw from events in the creator’s life, yet are still relatable. It’s something that’s been weighing on my mind a lot ever since I played it—just remembering all those nights, the messy aftermath, and the tears. It helped me come to terms with something I’d pushed down for years and years, and I think playing Cibele and recognizing this connection has left me better off—if hurting emotionally here and there.

I do wish I had as cute a room as Nina’s, though.

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