Lovesick for melancholic dreams

There’s something about old horror games that make me feel… in love. It’s a hard love to describe, but it’s the same love I have for my odd and dark liminal space dreams. It’s like the love someone would have for their comfort person or their favorite person. Upon the very sight of them, you are awash with a feeling that’s like a warm weighted blanket fresh out of the dryer on a cold, rainy day.

Tonight, I wanted that comfort despite knowing the darker nature of it. It’s like sinking into a comforting depression, but sometimes that’s how you survive it. You learn to find the homeliness in it, and I’ve found that same feeling replicated in Clive Barker’s Undying. The mansion at the beginning of the game feels like home even though I’ve only explored just the surface of it. I’m attempting to play through it in its entirety now.

I couldn’t help but pause and take in the ominous lighting, the strange and eerie gigantic rooms, and the absolute vastness of the mansion itself all in dark and rich woods and browns. It’s a product of its time, of course. All games from the 90s and very early 2000s, when PC gaming was still new, have that design element. The rooms were always huge in a very dreamlike way, and that’s exactly why I keep going back to them.

They’re the only way I know how to describe what my dreams are like. I’ve written stories based on my dreams and chronic nightmares, and I’ve been as accurate as I can be in describing things with dream logic, but I’ve always had an unshakable desire to project an image. I want to see it rather than just relive it in a fog in my head. Since they’re a common type of dream I have and always have had, they feel like home and I have found myself wanting to explore them. Like, really explore them. I want to get lost in them while awake.

They feel like an old nostalgic memory on an overcast afternoon after a storm. It’s like a Wonderland set in a time long past, and everything is dimly lit with gas lamps of old or candles. I feel homesick for this dark Wonderland, or plane of existence, I’m sure I’ve existed in before. It’s the only way I can even begin to understand why I never want to leave the strange murky halls of Clive Barker’s Undying mansion.

I’ve had actual dreams resembling these rooms and corridors. I’ve explored these environments similar to how they appear in the game. It’s why I can barely progress when I do play, and I end up locking the save file in this mansion at the beginning. I’ve been here before, and while my dreams obviously were not some precognition of the game, the game’s mansion resembles my dreams nearly exactly — in look, feel, and mood.

Imagine, for a second, you’re able to see your dreams on a screen before you. That the environments you’ve explored have been reproduced in look and feel, and you’re able to see them clearly while awake. That would feel so strange, wouldn’t it? After all, we aren’t meant to remember our dreams like we remember our waking life. That’s just not how the brain works. Try as we might, even the most practiced dreamers, including those who keep a regular dream journal, can only attempt to capture these images in words and art. But it’s never true to the dream memory itself. It’s merely an interpretation.

So far, science is no closer to actually showing visual projections of our dream images, but we have made strides in recording dream-brain activity in a way that’s visual and able to be manipulated. No dream movies yet, though.

It nearly drives me mad — madder than I already feel I am — to not be able to capture my dreams exactly as they are in words or in drawings. I feel like the obsessed artist sitting at their desk, late into the night with only candlelight to guide them, piles of paper balls on the floor and in the wastebasket, as they write and then trash it, write and then trash it, over and over again because it isn’t perfect yet. It’s the biggest challenge I’ve given myself as a writer. To capture my dreams on the page exactly as my mind experienced them while sleeping like taking a photograph of an observable event in life.

Either way, for now, the best and most accurate representation — arguably uncanny as well — I have of my dreams is this old and forgotten game with its various liminal space imagery. I see places I’ve been in my dreams in them, and I find myself sinking into the atmosphere and never wanting to leave. It’s what I get for being a philosopher at heart who needs to understand everything, but I’m also a lover of the things humans haven’t quite been able to explore or describe with science.

Ironically, the thing that triggers my worst anxiety symptoms is the very same I’m so intrigued with it drives me mad trying to understand it. The unknown.

I’ll leave you with the chosen soundtrack to my dreamscapes, which is my other attempt at describing my melancholic dreams. Through music. In this case, it’s by Atrium Carceri and Cities Last Broadcast.

©2021 Shane Blackheart
All screenshots taken by me


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