Friday, December 4, 2015

Nocturnal Dream Missions

Vincent van Gogh, Nuit étoilée sur le Rhône

I have recurring dreams.

A lot of them are or have been of an archetypical strain: I'm well-acquainted with the teeth-falling-out dream (thank god it's been a few years since its last visit) and the back-in-highschool-somehow(-and-sometimes-naked) dream (which has also been on the wane, but the frequency of the the wait-I-think-I'm-late-for-work-oh-god-where-do-I-work dream is proportionately increasing). But a few of the reels on rotation in my covert theater are much more particular, and I'd like to take some notes here on two of them (I've had them both in as many nights), as much for the sake of just jotting them down for myself as to see if any passing armchair cyberpsychoanalysts might want to take a whack at interpreting them.

DREAM A. This is a relatively new dream cycle, emerging only in the last four years. The recursive element isn't a setting, figure, or structure, but an identical feature: a group of stars in the night sky. The constellation I see does not exist in any sky anyone on Earth has ever looked upon; the cluster consists of twelve to twenty-four very large and luminous blue stars. They resemble a magnified image (as I'm used to viewing through my giant binoculars) of any section of the Milky Way band pasted over the naked-eye celestial scene. I am at a loss to ascribe an asterism to them, but I think they would seem less at home among the beasts and heroes of the Greco-Western constellations than in the walled imperial districts of the Chinese star maps. This constellation would be a ziggurat, a cathedral, a Taj Mahal. It is unthinkable that it would not be a nucleus of world myth—it is at least as salient an object in the night sky as the moon.

The strange thing about these stars is their consistency. When I see them in a dream (usually from a frigid hill or plateau in the hibernal north, and occasionally—and more recently—looming up over an island in the tropics), they are always familiar. I know them, I've seen them before, and I expect to see them. I can point them out to companions and explain them—they must have a name, a story, and a place in the history of astronomy—but I can't seem to recall any of it after waking. They seem to be winter stars that appear in the northwest very late at night, which makes no sense. Their apparent association with the passages of Uranus and Neptune is equally improbable, but that's how it is (or at least what it looks like).

They are a cynosure, an object of wonder and terrible joy. Sometimes when I see them and I have the suspicion of dreaming (though not so strong that I phase out of the experience) I am saddened that these stars I see might not actually flicker in skies anyone else can know, that I will never perceive them in the clarity of waking life.

Nix, Pixel Dreams

DREAM B. This is a dream I've been having for well over a decade now. You know I like fighting games; you know I still get wistful about arcades, having grown up with them and watched them dwindle and practically disappear from the American landscape. Players who grew up in the last fifteen years will never know the racy pleasures of the arcade experience—of living in a world where, in every shopping mall, on any main drag, in any hotel, ski resort, bus terminal, airport, movie theater, bowling alley, etc., one is almost assured of finding there is a big, dark room full of video games you are incapable of bringing home, that look and sound superior to every title in your entire console or PC library, and can only be played here in this lambent hive of chaotic noise and strange sweaty bodies. Arcade games were mysterious; they came and went without warning, and unless you subscribed to a gaming magazine that covered arcade releases, you had no way of knowing what new games were on their way. When I was thirteen years old, X-Men vs. Street Fighter simply appeared at the arcade one day, and I nearly had a brain aneurysm. ('Can they even do that?!') And if you came back to the same arcade regularly, or frequented more than one arcade, you were apt to be pleasantly surprised by the out-the-blue arrivals of games like, I don't know, Vampire Savior, Gunblade, Virtual-On, Crazy Taxi, and the first wave of Dance Dance Revolution titles (and their clones), that, to all appearances, just constituted themselves from the ether one night with a crowd already gathered around them. There are still a few surviving arcades, but they are few and far between, and the blight continues to vitiate them. (During my visit to Philly back in June, Caroline and I peered into University Pinball—where I spent several long afternoons playing King of Fighters XI back in 2006—and it was in very, very sad shape.)

So in this dream I wander into an arcade, and it's an arcade that can't possibly exist today. It is full of people. All of the games are new and unfamiliar. Somewhere towards the backI always find a cluster of cabinets dedicated to running a fighting game that never actually came out—maybe a completed, current-gen Capcom Fighting All Stars, Guilty Gear Vs. Darkstalkers, or a King of Fighters XIV that looks more like XI or XIII. And I'll play this game, struggle to learn it, lose games against the regulars, and it is a blast.

I have this dream slightly less often than I used to, and another dream cycle is rolling in to supplant it. In these new dreams I am looking for an arcade game. It is always one I remember playing in an earlier dream. I drive around to all the places I'd expect to find a game room. Most of them have grates over the doors and windows. I find myself in horrible shopping malls with six floors and at least one arcade per level. Each of them is nearly deserted of people, not one of their games was made after 1999, and none of them inspire enough nostalgia to be worth fifty cents and five minutes. (I don't recall specific titles, but you would probably recognize at least a few.)

I wonder what to make of these dreams, except for the obvious reading that I must really miss binging on fighting games. Addiction is some serious shit, and Street Fighter is a hell of a drug.

DREAM B-2: This is a dream-object I've encountered only a few times, but it has come up more than once, and usually in the context of the arcade dream. The object is a Mortal Kombat game that never existed. I would guess that it came out between Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 and Mortal Kombat 4; it has the digitized sprites of early Mortal Kombat, but they are Art of Fighting-size. On the face of it, it's an unremarkable game but for its obscurity: it seems to have been released on a very rare arcade board and only ported to a doomed mid-nineties console, and I suspect Midway issued recalls and liquidated unsold copies.

Here's the thing about this game: it's dark. This time the gratuitous gore is the least of it. There's something mindbending, occult, revelatory about the game—something in the implications of its mythology, its symbols, and even its graphics and sound. It's like The King in Yellow as an arcade game. I see game collectors and arcade curators inviting unimpressed-looking guests who fancy themselves connoisseurs to play this awful game with the mien of a kid daring a classmate to stand in front of a mirror and say "Bloody Mary" three times. The more you play it, and for each ending you watch, the less like yourself you shall henceforth ever be.

Hmm. Thanks for indulging me. If you have any strange, persistent dreams, feel free to tell me about them.


  1. Hey. I've been following this blog for a while, but this is my first time commenting; I just learned that I can comment with my Wordpress account, and I just started blogging there recently.

    Anyway, this is "Remnant" from the old SnS forums. We've also communicated via e-mail a couple times if I remember right.

    So I don't know about actually trying to interpret dreams, but I'm just gonna share what came to my mind as I read these.

    DREAM A: Stars have always fascinated us humans. They were intrinsically bound to our earliest myths and legends. They were strongly associated with our destiny, enlightenment, and potential, and in a way they still are: as astrology gave way to astronomy and technology opened the potential for extraterrestrial travel, many believe it is humankind's destiny to colonize other worlds. The idiom "reach for the stars" is a common one. One of the biggest-profile AAA video games that deals with this idea is simply called "Destiny."

    So these mysterious stars, and the fact you lament the inability of others to see them and your own inability see them with your waking eyes, makes me think of a hidden profound truth: something within you that you can't even yet comprehend with your waking mind, much less share with anyone else.

    DREAM B: Ahh...nostalgia. The idea that the latter cycle is coming more and more frequently sounds like you moving farther and farther away from the past reality of youth. That's depressing, sure, but no amount of nostalgia can undo the present reality that (most) people don't care about arcades anymore. As a 90's kid, some of my best memories were made in arcade rooms. Now, I'm all but completely content to play games at home. When I do come across a working arcade, I think: "Oh! That's neat" but I never go in. Usually because I have something else going on and/or two kids in tow and I just don't have the time. Add to this that my favorite games are in genres that don't work in arcades, I really have to go out of my way logistically and mentally to make a trip to an arcade. And as I wrote this, now I really REALLY want to, so thank you for inspiring me there.

    DREAM B-2: The first thing that came to mind was that this reminds me of "The Broken-Winged Crane," a magical artifact in the world Exalted, the mythic fantasy tabletop game that was made by White Wolf. In the game world, "The Broken-Winged Crane" is a quasi-Lovecraftian magical tome is full of lost occult knowledge. The book is different each time you read it, and each read-through gives an immediate and dramatic boost to magical stats. However, each read-through includes the risk of the reader mysteriously disappearing from the world to an unspecified ill-fate. And each successive read-through in a lifetime increases this risk. The Exalted occultists believe that the tome was created by the demon-princes and that the reader pays for their enlightenment by being taken away to the demon realm.

    As for what it could mean? Forbidden experiential knowledge. The "forbidden fruit" was taken from the tree of knowledge. The deepest, darkest secrets in this world are usually deep and dark for a reason; once you learn them you can't unlearn them, and they change you forever.

    For the record, I don't put much stock in dream interpretation. These "interpretations" are stream-of-consciousness writing, so take them with a grain of salt.

    And, if you wouldn't mind, check out my blog sometime. I have few readers at this point and I'm starved for feedback. : )

  2. I didn't realize my comment was so long until after I posted it. Yikes.

    Also, I just got the joke in your title. Ha ha.