THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS ABOUT CIBELE
In her blog, Amanda Palmer (singer, songwriter and writer) explains that when we create art, we put our experiences in a blender, and the higher the setting, the experiences that inspired our work become less visible. Cibele (2015) is a videogame by Nina Freeman (poet and game designer) about emotional and sexual relationships that develop over the internet, that is characterized for having set the blender at its lowest setting. In the game we’re Nina when she was 19 years old and she played an MMO with a cute aesthetic akin to the one found in Ragnarök Online (Gravity, 2002). The game is split in two alternating segments. One showcases videos of Nina acting as herself doing real life stuff. The other is interactive and gives us access to Nina’s computer, with pictures, poems and messages created by the author during the period of her life covered by the game.
In Cibele, Nina exposes her intimacy and exposes herself as a person. Although her other games also portrait vignettes of her personal experiences and feelings, Cibele is like a digital performance, because just like in traditional performance works, Nina uses a body, her own body, to narrate her experiences and communicate a message.
Marina Abramović tells us that “Performance is a mental and physical construction that the performer makes in a specific time in a space in front of an audience and then energy dialogue happens. The audience and the performer make the piece together. And the difference between performance and theater is huge. In the theater, the knife is not a knife and the blood is just ketchup. In the performance, the blood is the material, and the razor blade or knife is the tool.”
What Marina, Effy Beth and Mujer Basura performances have in common with Cibele is that their authors expose themselves in front of a public and face the emotions and moral judgements of their audience. Although not all works are equally risky for their creators at their making, all of them require bravery on the part of the creator.
In Cibele, Nina rewrites and does revisions of a fragment from her personal history, she gives that story closure and shares it with a public that can react in unexpected ways, who may judge or understand her. It’s a story about NIna, a girl, who meets Ichi, a boy, while playing an MMO, after several months of playthroughs they declare they love for each other, they have sex and split up.
The game’s structure mixes videos with interactive segments at Nina’s computer. In these segments we can play the MMO and once inside it we always talk with Ichi and try to defeat a boss. We can choose whether we respond to the private messages of fellow players, we can express our feelings using three emoji that represent sadness, joy and anger, but we can never choose what we say to Ichi during our interactions with him. This was an issue for me, because Ichi said a lot of stuff that bothered me and I would answer to him with angry emoji.
He was always judging women based on how “hot” they were, he was always talking about Nina’s physical appearance, of how she was a good player, but even if she wasn’t he wasn’t going to slam her because she was hot and so on. With the passage of time and the relationship moving forward, Ichi started to say that he was in love with Nina, but he didn’t want to be in a relationship. This worries Nina, so they decided to meet for the first time. When they meet, they have sex and afterwards Ichi tells Nina that he had fun, but he isn’t in love with her.
The game ends with Nina stating that she is happy about Ichi being her first love. For me this felt like a bucket of cold water, because I hoped the message to be about the solitary geek double standard and about how when someone says they aren’t interested in a relationship, it’s healthier to believe they are telling the truth instead of thinking they’re confused. Even if we can draw these messages out of a playthrough, the author’s intention was to share with us an experience that left a positive balance for her.
If the work didn’t have so much in common with performance, if Nina hadn’t exposed her body, nor her real experiences, it would be easier to criticize the work, because it’s important to acknowledge and analyze the messages from any work and try to figure out their impact in the collective worldview. Yet I feel that being critic towards Cibele implies to be critic of the author’s personal experiences and her personal interpretations of the facts, that is to say, it feels like criticizing someone’s private life and that doesn’t seem fair.
Due to this work’s intimacy, I think it’s important to honor the intentions of the author and remark that Nina used her body to share with us a story in which her character always preserved her agency and freedom of choice. A story that left a positive balance in the life of its author in spite of the mistakes made by their protagonists.