Cibele is one of those games that entirely changed what I thought was possible for the medium, and it holds a special spot in my geeky heart and games library as a result. I spent my childhood surrounded by brilliantly creative games that captured my imagination on countless afternoons - where you could be anything from an evil genius, a dragon, or design your own blissful domestic life in EA’s original Sims.
But I didn’t encounter many quiet, emphatically personal narratives until college, games that led me to reflect on relationships and identity. Cibele is described as “a game about love, sex, and the internet”, this experimental indie title is based on creator Nina Freeman’s real life and features her nineteen year old self’s actual selfies, angst-ridden poetry, and a tale of increasing intimacy gradually unravels after the player connects online with an intriguing young man.
Published by Star Maid Games and released in November 2015 to acclaim from many outlets, including The Verge and Wired, it’s astonishing how tender, funny, and captivating Cibele is.
In Cibele you primarily navigate with points and clicks, either exploring the files on a simulated version of Nina’s desktop, reading over flirtatious or gossiping emails, and homework assignments, or you open Valtameri - an MMO that doesn’t exist in reality, but is reminiscent of both Final Fantasy XIII and World of Warcraft.
Ultimately, Cibele is a game exploring what it’s like to fall in love for the first time
The point of Valtameri is not to vanquish monsters, though the creatures and world are beautifully designed: the reason you load the candy-coloured game world is talking to Ichi. Though that’s not his real name, of course.
So while your spear-wielding avatar, named Cibele, who wears a flowing aquamarine dress and has light pink hair not unlike Nina Freeman’s own hairstyle, moves through the game world you’re consistently multitasking.
The player is reading and replying to in-game messages from friends, frantically exiting out to check emails and mostly pondering what Nina is feeling about Ichi, who’s been alternating between softly laughing, asking her probing questions, and increasingly talking about what making out would be like.
The game is divided into chapters and there are videos interspersed with Nina Freeman herself recreating the experience of her first phone call, first meeting (and one other monumentous first) with Ichi.
Ultimately, Cibele is a game exploring what it’s like to fall in love for the first time: something which is fraught with anxiety, confusion, and unbelievable excitement for anyone. Experiencing those intense feelings through a computer screen undeniably complicates matters and the writing and dialogue masterfully represents the overwhelming sweetness, lust, and terror of it all.
Are romantic feelings developed over the internet, where people have unprecedented control over their personas and physical appearance (thanks to selective angles and filters), truly as genuine as those that develop after meeting people IRL? Or is that question impossibly old-fashioned? Cibele doesn’t set out to answer these questions definitively or for Nina Freeman’s experience to be applied to every budding romance.
It’s astonishing how tender, funny, and captivating Cibele is
If you do enjoy playing Cibele, I highly recommend Nina Freeman’s other games, Freshman Year and how do you Do It? She was also a Level Designer on Tacoma at Fullbright, the makers of emotive hit Gone Home. As of writing, Cibele is £5.99 on the Steam store or you can purchase a DRM-free version for PC and Mac at ninasays.so/cibele/ for $8.99 USD that comes with a Steam key.