Cibele, a new PC game released earlier this week, might just be the most honest game about sex on Steam right now.
Clocking in at about two hours, Cibele is a short autobiographical title that chronicles game developer Nina Freeman’s first love. The entire game takes place on a desktop…
You can click on any one of those folders and see what they contain:
There’s a voyeuristic rawness to the game—you get a first-hand look at everything Freeman has ‘saved’ to her computer. And I mean everything. Selfies. Awkward poetry. Emails. Social media updates. Most importantly, you gain access to “Valtameri,” a fake MMO that you can play with your online buddies. That’s where the boy comes in.
Without giving away too much, Cibele follows Freeman’s relationship with “Ichi,” another player within Valtameri. Now, I’ve never played an MMO like Valtameri. I’ve never met Ichi, who is based on an actual person. Still, as a woman who basically grew up online, I found that Freeman’s experience is frighteningly similar to my own. As a teen, I logged countless hours into games that I played just to chat with a friend I’ve never met. Sometimes, I’d fall in love. Or at least, I thought I did.
Nowadays, there are a lot of rules about digital courtship—some unspoken, others, with thousands of words devoted to them on magazines and online think pieces. People have opinions on read receipts, on sexts, on dick pics. I mean, there’s even a show for stuff like ‘catfishing’ now. It’s still a clusterfuck, and nobody really knows what they’re doing, really, but at least now the world has words for many of these phenomena. Some of it is even cliched now—how many dudes on Tinder have a damn tiger in their profile picture, anyway?
Back when I was a teenager, though, everything to do with online love was new and scary. What do you do when you think you’re in love with someone who lives across the country? What is meeting someone you primarily know online actually like? Can you actually be close to someone you’ve never met? Should I really send nudes to some guy online? I didn’t have answers to any of these questions. I only had the eagerness of a teen who really wanted to find someone to love, even if it meant fixating on some online dude who wasn’t actually that great.
I know better now. I know how easy it is to get emotionally involved with someone when you only deal with their curated selfies, clever tweets, and nice Instagrams. I know just how seductive words can be when they’re divorced from the messiness of actually being there in person. I know just how much easier it is to open up online to strangers, and how that doesn’t always translate to compatibility in real life. I know a lot of things that, frankly, wouldn’t have saved me from heartbreak back then. Maybe that’s for the best—all of that pain and confusion helped shape me into the person I am today.
Cibele, humble as it is, manages to dive into the chaos that is love on the internet with deftness I’ve never seen in a game before. Playing it is painful—it reminds me of a lot of experiences I’d rather forget, from a time I didn’t know any better. But that’s exactly what makes Cibele worth experiencing, too.