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Alternate Reality: Subconscious Security


I've been meaning to write my first community blog for quite some time now, but I've never fully managed to nail down the topic. There have been a couple of false starts. The first attempt was about the similarities between the imagery in heavy metal music and traditional fantasy novels and video games, inspired by my love of Brutal Legend, but it didn't pan out so well - I suck at writing and I couldn't find enough decent material to write about. Then, during one of my marathon Chuck sessions, I had a flash (get it?) of inspiration when Morgan says "there is no pause button on life"; I started thinking of how I could make an "Alternate Reality" blog based around that concept, but again it didn't work.

Last week I saw Inception and it all fell into place. If anyone who's played Psychonauts has seen it, you'll know what I'm talking about. The two share some similarly cool and interesting ideas about a person's subconscious mind, which got me to thinking: How would my subconscious manifest itself if I could walk around in my dreams? How would these projections represent my personality? My fears and desires?

I think I have a pretty good idea.

I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, as I don't know if everyone will have seen Inception yet (although if you haven't, you absolutely should. It's amazing.)

In Psychonauts, the primary grunt-level enemies are Censors; little bureaucratic-looking dudes in suits, wielding their clipboards of authority and their stamps of power. As explained to Raz by the cool and calculating Sasha Nein, they are the subconscious's way of eliminating a foreign presence in a person's mind - in this case, the foreign presence is Raz. The minds of the dreamers in Inception have a similar counterpart. In the dream-world, which looks identical to the real world, the people you see are projections of the dreamer's subconscious mind. If they sense an intruder, they stop and stare; if the intruder starts messing with the layout of the dream or drawing attention to themselves, the projections become aggressive and will attack. In a mind trained to withstand such invasion, this subconscious security (title drop!) proves highly effective.

"Ban this sick filth!"

As well as actions in the mind having real world consequences - be it removing a student's brain or planting an idea - the other thing that struck me as similar (and very cool) was the scene where Cobb is training Adriane and he encourages her to play around with the physics of a dream. The moment the street bends up on itself and they walk onto a vertical road instantly reminded me of the Milkman Conspiracy level in Psychonauts, which is incidentally one of my favourite areas in any game, ever.

Cobb's milk is delicious apparently

Let's speak a little bit more about level design. (On that note, I liked how the different dream stages in Inception are known as "levels" - as this Kotaku article pointed out, the film does seem like it could have been based on a video game). The levels in Psychonauts are all clearly based on the personality and subconscious thoughts of the mind of the person they take place in: a disco party representing the ever-cheery Mila Vodello; the precisely organised and minimalistic cube in the mind of the efficient Sasha Nein; Coach Oleander's war-torn battlefield; the twisted suburbia in Boyd's paranoid psyche. They're all obvious projections of each individual's personality.

"What do you think I am, crazy?"

So how would this translate to real life? If someone were to slap a psycho-portal on your forehead, or sedate you with a powerful drug in a room full of similarly sedated people, what would an explorer see? What world would they find themselves in? What demons would be hidden there, skeletons in a mental closet?

Heavy Metal Heartache (that's what my level would be called, I've decided) would probably look similar to the world of Brutal Legend; leather and spikes, guys riding choppers across blasted wastelands, winds carrying a wailing guitar solo across a rolling plain, skeletons fighting with decapitated demons. Stuff like that. I absolutely love heavy metal so it makes sense that my world would be based around typical metal themes. There'd also be geysers of hydrochloric acid and noxious clouds of chlorine gas, representing my interest in chemistry (plus they'd probably make for some good old fashioned video game hazards.)

Something like this, but with more chemicals...

Every so often, the player would be assaulted by The Spectre Of Defeat - a giant humanoid figure covered in scribbled handwriting and red x's that mercilessly chases you down until you reach a safe point. This represents my overwhelming fear of failure; several of my close friends have been forced to drop out of university due to failing exams and it's always really upsetting. In addition, I'm the first person in my entire family to go into further education so it feels like there's a lot of pressure on me to succeed, which only serves to feed The Spectre and cause it to grow more powerful.

Some of the enemies in this level would be represented by buff, tanned and handsome guys with perfect hair and teeth, and the higher level guys would have an attractive woman attached to them, parasite-style, which would double the strength of their scathing insults. Spending too long in the presence of these fearsome foes would begin to sap your health, as they continuously mock the protagonist for being an inferior specimen. It doesn't take a psychoanalyst to deduce that obviously these are projections of my low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy and the envy I feel towards the more attractive folk in my life.

I hate you

The big boss of the level would be The Evil Ex (I think it's apparent where this is going.) Represented by a shadowy feminine form who slinks about a chamber full of mirrors, carrying a burlap sack with "Tom's Mojo" scrawled on it, the final battle is all about facing up to your nemesis - in this case, the girl who crushed me and ruined my self confidence. It'd be a long and arduous battle that ends with an "It's all over...or is it?" moment as the protagonist, fatally wounded, staggers to the exit, the Evil Ex nowhere to be seen. The hero emerges in a hospital before collapsing, where he is rescued by a heroic doctor and the two embrace.

In my dream world, all doctors look like Elliot Reed

So there we go. That's what it's like in my head. Those are some of the assorted obstacles and enemies that Raz or Cobb would encounter in my subconscious. Admittedly I do occasionally have dreams where I'm Batman or the military asks me to defend a music store from a nuclear attack or something equally outlandish, but they're not really a fundamental part of my psyche (they're just crazy dreams I happen to have after being awake for too long.)

I think both Inception and Psychonauts portray interesting interpretations of how a person's subconscious thoughts can project themselves in different ways. Admittedly it might be a bit of a tenuous link, but it really inspired me to write this blog. I just wish I didn't come across as so self-pitying - I'm not normally that whiny!

I think I'm going to play some Psychonauts now...
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About tomothy25one of us since 6:16 PM on 06.03.2009


Hi there

I was planning on having a detailed biography here but I couldn't think of any interesting or funny stuff to talk about, so here's the abridged version.

The name's Tom. I'm British born and bred and I've just graduated from university. I now have a bachelor's degree in chemistry with forensic analysis, and no hope of finding a relevant career. Awesome!

I love gaming (I started with the SNES, moved on to PS1, then PS2 and Gamecube, now own a PS3 and a Wii), listening to heavy metal, reading, watching movies and general geek stuff. In a nutshell, a standard nerd.

That's about it! Hopefully I'll become more active in the awesome Dtoid community soon, everyone here rocks.
PSN ID:tomothy25


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