The way we perceive reality is an interesting subject, for the mind unable to cope we create a brand new reality that handles our own traumatic past and gives it a new face. This is simply the power of the human mind, when there is no other way to face these issues it makes for a great coping mechanism even if the world suddenly becomes darker. We all have a tendency to do this when necessary, but how does a child react to such events? We can’t ask them at all but I imagine they experience a much darker and scary experience as they try to make sense of the truth, something that I feel Krillbite Studios pulls off well with Among the Sleep.
As a two year old the world is a much different place, things lie out of reach, the world is a very big place and things can really take a turn based on the complete mental stability of the child’s mind. In fact where an adult can try to make sense of certain events a child would likely create something different that will come to help them cope. This leads to a much scarier world, with all the dangers that could potentially lie ahead it is only natural to be on edge and afraid, and as we try to make sense of the world and its message we must awkwardly walk forward into the very darkness which within hides some kind of scary creature.
Playing as a two year old comes with its share of weaknesses, but ultimately a much greater connection with the world, even if this includes a sense of urgency. There is a certain weakness I felt playing as this character in Among the Sleep, he holds no real strength and can barely walk which makes this more involved and makes me feel more responsible for everything.
It’s an interesting mechanic to play through the eyes of a child, we ourselves can never understand the mind of a child and how they see things. We can never understand the weaknesses that exist within themselves, but Among the Sleep counters this with the mindful approach made in the game. These weaknesses are used to add urgency to the situation and even the size of the child plays into how things are approached by adding puzzle solving mechanics or the ability to hide.
Among the Sleep starts out pretty normal, the game starts out with your second birthday however things go from innocent storytelling of a happy boy to something dark. For his birthday the boy receives a teddy bear who upon being left alone with the boy in his room comes to life and begins talking to him. For the meat of the game this bear is your guide, a special friend who leads you through the horrifying events that follow. The bear becoming sentient is weird enough but things take a much stranger turn as we soon end up in a strange world chasing memories of a happier time and uncovering the true meanings of the boys visions.
Things are never as they seem with Among the Sleep, everything we see in the game is a hidden meaning for something much deeper and darker, and you visit many areas that play with this idea. Nearly every place you visit in the game is dark, creepy and mysterious this in turn all plays into the tone of the game, you never have a moment to relax and you are rarely ever left feeling relaxed at any point. While dealing with all the world throws at you and trying to uncover the hidden meaning of our young protagonist’s journey we are forever hunted, a creature forever trying to take us out.
The thing I quickly learnt is everything means something, the teddy coming to life, the world we visited, even some of the things the teddy said all hold some kind of deep meaning. At one particular point the teddy turned to my character saying “no child should have to go through this”, at the time this comment was said I thought it was about the challenges that my character faced which for a two year old were extreme. It actually all come down to the way the child saw the world and how he was dealing things and explaining them in his head, the interesting thing is that there are many possible ways to interpret the events of the game and that is what this comes down to.
One of the things that really grabbed my interest with Among the Sleep is the open message to the games story, the events detailed all come from how our child protagonist sees the world so things are never quite direct but I like this approach. While I could not say the same for everyone else, I saw this game as a story of a two sided person, one kind while the other was abusive, it also at least from how I saw things tackled such deep topics as depression as well as alcohol abuse. The difference is with Among the Sleep and other games is that we get a different vision, we have encountered the ideas of these topics through other games but here the story is told through the mind of a child and how they cope with the events. But again the interpretation comes down to the player but for acknowledging the way I see things and looking back at things in this light made me respect and enjoy the game a whole lot more.
While it has some interesting ideas Among the Sleep is still a horror game in full, having already talked about the way the game can be interpreted really adds to the horror as the way things play out deal with this very idea. The unsettling environments play host to some terrifying creatures each hunting us down relentlessly, the thing is these creatures are nearly impossible to see and often if I had been going quick enough I would run into them. Thankfully the game does give us some warning, whenever a creature draws near the screen begins to scramble forcing a quick retreat to be necessary. You may not be very fast but you can use your small stature to hide from foes, this all works to make for a really tense experience that keeps you on your toes.
Furthermore, one thing I really loved is how the Teddy Bear was implemented into the game, in part it acts a voice for our character but on another it does what any bear does for a child it is security in a scary place. Whenever you find yourself in a dark place you are able to go and get your character to hug the bear, this then causes it to act as a light through the darkness which makes barely visible and ominous places seem less creepy.
The brilliant thing with Among the Sleep is how the game puts such an incredible focus on fear especially when using such a young character while also telling a brilliant story. The combination of both of these factors has helped to create a truly memorable and thought provocative experience, but the problem is that I don’t think everyone will ever grab this games true message and story. This is not a game for the light hearted and certainly not for the young, Among the Sleep is a masterpiece of a game that you need to understand serious issues to get the most out of it, as well as have an open mind to others perception of the world.