Dreams are curious things. They can be moments of strong photorealism that feel more than real, or no more than fuzzy half-remembrances. They can be completely silly and nonsensical, or moments which we will never forget. They can be inspiring or frightening, remaining with us in vivid detail while others disappear, never to be recalled again.
I think it is fascinating how our minds continue to operate even after we fall asleep, replaying events from the day or random occurrences from years prior, all into a weird mishmash of real life, culture, and subconscious thought. I started keeping a dream journal semi-regularly over a year ago, recalling and writing down what I could from my dreams of the night before. I really wanted to get on paper whatever it was my mind recalled each night, things I could only sometimes remember.
I’ve had dreams which have inspired me, dreams which made me jump out of bed in the morning, invigorated and ready for the day. I had one dream which became the seed for a story. Two years later, I’ve finished the third draft of a novel based on said dream. On the other hand, I’ve had nightmares which would probably make me lose my mind if they had happened in real life.
With almost an entire notebook filled with dreams, I like looking back and seeing what I can glean from the rambling half-thoughts I wrote upon waking. Some mornings I could only remember a few half-formed thoughts, while on others I had enough material to fill several pages. Looking back, some of my entries bring the dream memories right back to the forefront, while in others I don’t remember anything. It’s strange, just writing down my dreams and rereading them suddenly brings glimpses of other dreams to mind, dreams I haven’t thought about since I woke up the mornings after dreaming them. It’s like a domino effect, like my dreams are still in my brain somewhere, ready to spring back to mind. Even writing this blog brings some dreams to mind.
It’s interesting looking at how the entertainment I’ve read, watched, and played has seeped into my dreams. Around the time I started recording my dreams, I watched Game of Thrones for the first time, catching up on all the seasons and reading most of the books over the course of a few months. Game of Thrones characters and locales popped up frequently in my dreams. In some, I was just a bystander watching as characters blended with real life locations or mixed with a dream world. In some dreams, I was one of the characters, usually Jon Snow. I got to hang out with Sam or Arya and it was usually happier than the stabby, deathy nature of the show. Daenerys showed up more than any other character, partly because she is one of my favorite characters. In one dream, I drove her around town in a banged-up pickup truck to go pick up her dragon eggs, which were hidden in a barn somewhere.
As with other pieces of entertainment, the world of video games is no stranger to my dreams. Like many folks here, I grew up with video games from a young age, playing with friends, anxiously awaiting new releases, and soldiering on through half the night to finally beat that one level or boss which had plagued me to no end. After frequently playing and thinking about video games, they naturally enter my dreams at times. If I remember correctly, the childhood nightmare which has stuck with me the longest came about because of a video game.
When I was a littl‘n in the late 90s, I remember going quite frequently to a local arcade and pizza place. There was a bunch of classic arcade machines there, as well as skeeball, ping pong, and typical arcade fare. As I wandered around the room, I stopped in front of a machine cycling through its demo stage.
The game was House of the Dead 2 and it scared the snot out of me. The title was creepy, the screen was marked with blood whenever the player was attacked, and, worst of all, decaying zombies shambled right at the player, ready to kill. NPCs were being attacked in the background and it was up to the player to save them. They didn’t always make it. The game is laughable looking back, but as a child of 6 or 7, it was terrifying. That night, I dreamed that my entire family had been zombified and was walking slowly at me, just like the zombies in the game. I woke up right before they reached me.
Below, I will attempt to categorize the dreams I’ve had about video games and why they fascinate me so much. Now, I’m no psychologist or oneirologist (someone who studies dreams (I had to look that one up)), just a guy who likes dreams, so this might have no basis in anything scientific and may be no more than a bunch of rambling.
Video game-like dreams
A lot of my dreams don’t have clear ties to video games, but are video game-like, meaning that the dream world seems to operate like a video game. For instance, a dream might suddenly switch from first to third-person or vice versa and sometimes menus will pop up. Suddenly, it’s as though I’m outside the dream, controlling myself with some unseen controller. In most cases, any menus that pop up are unreadable or almost intangible. I’ve found that I can’t read too well in my dreams, as words and screens are fuzzy or ripple like water.
I had a dream once that I was in the middle of an ocean in a canoe being pursued by a shark. Thankfully, I was able to pull up a menu that looked much like Skyrim’s and safely fast travel to land. I was playing The Elder Scrolls: Georgia, a sword-and-sorcery RPG set in the state of Georgia, which actually wasn’t that bad. I was attacked on a shore by some assailants, but couldn’t figure out how to equip any weapons and, suddenly, pausing the “game” wouldn’t work.
In one dream, a bunch of my childhood treasures had been stolen and I was pursuing the thieves. All of a sudden, a QTE popped up for some action I needed to take and I failed it, slowing me down and making a stressful dream all the more stressful.
Sort of like this.
Perhaps my favorite part of a video game-like dream is being able to stop it. Like pausing or stopping a game at the end of a session, I can sometimes freeze a dream completely and transition into another dream. Even for a dream it feels subconscious. I typically do this when a dream frightens me or when I’m being chased by something. Of course, it doesn’t always work. After doing this often in dreams, it feels as though it has bled into real life. When I’m playing a scary game and I’m at a stopping point, I sometimes charge ahead into danger or stare at pursuing monsters, pausing the game right before they reach me. It’s like a safe thrill.
A Collector’s Dream
I am an on-and-off video game collector. I’ve held on to most of the games I had as a kid and have kept many of the boxes and papers which came with cartridge games like the SNES and N64. I enjoy going to thrift stores, flea markets, and antique shops to look for old games and memorabilia. Though I usually find nothing, there is always a hope that I will find some rare game or cool trinket. This hobby often continues even after I’m asleep.
In most of these dreams, I’m on my knees searching through cardboard boxes haphazardly filled with items in dingy, cramped rooms, much as you might see in real life. I might find old NES games, Nintendo Power issues, or action figures.
As in real life, I often go through old shops in the dream world looking for potential finds. The shops I encounter usually have aspects of real life stores I’ve been to, blended with something created by the mind. That usually turns Mom and Pop shops into sprawling shopping centers and thrift stores into something the length of a football field with a ceiling as high as a basketball arena. The fun thing about my collecting dreams is recalling all the games and merchandise which do not exist in real life. For instance, in one shop, I found a Nintendo baseball cap which was the most garishly 90’s thing I have ever seen. It was a Lisa Frank-Nintendo crossover, aka something I didn’t know I wanted until now.
Imagine this, but with, I don't know, Yoshi or something.
In one dream, some people broke into my house at night. As I lay in bed, I could hear the floor above creak with each footstep. As they presumably set out to steal my stuff, I heard them talk about the resale value of Metroid games. I guess I’m not the only one who does it in my dreams.
Did you know that Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill have N64 ports? Not in real life, but my dream made it so. I’ve often found promo art and posters which don’t exist in real life. In one dream, I found a standee advertising the launch of the Game Boy Advance, featuring a Metal Gear Solid game. In the same store that had the Lisa Frank monstrosity, I found the soundtrack to Metal Gear Solid. It came in a cracked jewel case and I’m pretty sure most of the tracks were complete silence. However, at the end of the soundtrack was "The Best Is Yet to Come", the credits theme. The song played in my dream with perfect clarity. Though I don’t know a word of Gaelic, the song played just as I remembered. I suppose that my mind remembered the song after hearing it so often and was able to reproduce it as I had heard it.
I’ve had many dreams specifically set in video games. When I was a kid, I loved 3D platformers like Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie. Even after finishing them, I continued playing them, imagining new adventures or running around the levels again and again, almost as though some hidden level might suddenly appear. This transferred into my dreams. As a kid, I remember one dream where I was in Super Mario 64 at the entrance to the first Bowser level. Instead of falling through the trapdoor, there was a secret wall to the left, which led directly behind the outside stained glass image of Princess Peach.
It was to the left of where the trapdoor opens up.
Metal Gear Solid V was my most anticipated game of the year and it made its way into my dreams several times. Last fall, I dreamed that I was in a village from Peace Walker, running through wooden shacks. I tried to play some music on my Walkman, but couldn’t figure out the menu system. A few weeks before the game launched, I dreamed that I was sneaking through a tunnel. Something went wrong and Quiet covered me during an escape, something she did many times during my playthrough.
In one dream, I fultoned myself and I could feel the wind cutting across me as I flew up higher and higher. I made it back to base and hung out with Kaz for a bit before Mother Base was attacked by an army of flying robots. In another, I simply walked through Mother Base, going through doors I couldn’t open in the game and talking with my men, something I thought was lacking in the game.
Zombies have been in my dreams a fair amount, usually from an indeterminate source. However, last summer, I wanted to play The Last of Us after hearing such great things about it. I hadn’t seen any trailers, didn’t know how the game played, or really even what it was about; all I knew was that I wanted to play it. So, at night, my mind filled in the gaps. It began as a random zombie encounter in my grandparents’ home. I wildly shot at the zombies and ran in a pattern to stay out of their reach. There were also little fuzzy creatures, like wombats or something, and a sectioned-off tutorial level, which were definitely in the game.
I dreamed once about being pursued by special infected in the subway level of Left 4 Dead. With the other survivors, I barricaded into a small room and could hear the zombies pounding on the door. We had a special weapon, though: Catbug!
This is Catbug, by the way, the scourge of zombies. The dream ended right as we opened the door and aimed our weapons into darkness. I'm willing to bet that Catbug handled them pretty easily.
What is your experience with video games and dreams? Does your gaming continue while sleeping? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.