Do Games Shape Our Dreams?

I played the new Mario game about dreams and kept a dream journal. And now I’m alarmed.

In Mario and Luigi: Dream Team, the new 3DS game, Nintendo’s famous brothers travel to a place called Pi’illo Island, where the natives are pillows. Guided by a prince named Dreambert, the brothers travel all around Pi’illo Island, discovering magical pillows, which are powerful soporifics, and induce in Luigi magical dreams. The game is spent hopping from magical pillow to magical pillow and traversing Luigi’s magical dreams, freeing the pillow people from a curse of slumber, and tracking down Princess Peach, who, in her fashion, has gotten herself into a bind.

It must be said that, for a middle-aged plumber with a porn mustache, what must be a throbbing inferiority complex, an obsession with ghosts, a beautiful princess on the brain, and no obvious sexual outlet, Luigi has unexpectedly anodyne dreams. Yes there is the occasional, adorable, monster, and the odd, eminently solvable puzzle—no Borgesian labyrinths here—but for the most part our hero dreams dreams of sub-In the Night Kitchen levels of thematic maturity.

I have to say that when I started playing Dream Team about a week ago, I found Luigi’s dreams pretty insipid, and also a missed opportunity. You don’t have to travel too far back in game history, just eight years, to remember Psychonauts, that dream of a game, in which the psyche became a compelling and compellingly weird setting for play. I know Nintendo can’t give their iconic ciphers much of a backstory, but, you know, c’mon.

Anyways, if you’ve been consuming media for as long as I have, you start to realize that it works on you even when you’re not reading it or watching it or listening to it, and so I thought playing this game about dreams and dreaming might work its way into my own subconscious, to use a dirty word. This is all an embarrassed windup to tell you that:

I have been keeping a dream journal for the past week, to see if this game for children might have a deeper effect on a grownup.

The first night, nothing. But the second night after I started playing Dream Team, I had a whopper. I was standing on a crowded subway platform, next to a few people from work. There was a train coming. One person from work, about whom I have no strong opinion, made a show of standing very close to the edge, and then this person fell onto the tracks. With this person’s death impending, I threw myself down beside the edge and extended my arms.

“That won’t work!” someone shouted helpfully. It became clear that to rescue this person I would have to also jump down onto the tracks, which I did not want to do, and did not.

For some reason the Washington Post assigned me to write this person’s obituary, which for some reason involved a feat of dangerous reporting having to do with the stealthy evasion of Amazonian tribesmen, in a side-scrolling format not unlike the classic Nickelodeon television program Legends of the Hidden Temple, but on top of a train. For the obituary I was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

My mother, who used to be a psychotherapist, was in town over the weekend. I asked her to parse the significance of the Pulitzer dream.

“A lot of dreams are nonsense,” she said.

In the next dream, which is a recurring dream, I discovered days prior to college graduation that I was missing required credits in physics or something else I suck at and would probably not be able to graduate. Every time, I ask the registrar if she can make an exception and every time she responds, “We’ll see.”

In the next dream, I was on a picnic with a person I barely know on whom I have a longstanding and totally unacknowledged crush. The setting was sort of like the verdant spacefield on the planet Naboo on which Anakin Skywalker and Natalie Portman discover their love for each other. I think we were eating baloney but I’m not sure. We kissed; I was most definitely stoked. Then she put down her cold cut and looked into my eyes and told me that it was probably not going to work out because I write about videogames for money. “Noooooooooo!” I screamed.

In the next dream, also a recurring dream, I ripped out the wire from my braces, which I have not worn for more than a decade. Then my teeth fell out and I had a feeling of acute anxiety related to my judgy orthodontist.

In the most recent dream it was revealed to me that a person whom I care for deeply had stomach cancer. That was basically it, and I woke up feeling very relieved. I stopped keeping the dream journal after this one.

The morning after the stomach cancer dream, which was Tuesday morning, I got on the subway with my 3DS and fired up Mario and Luigi: Dream Team. I will admit I felt very thankful for Luigi’s inoffensive and neatly contained dreams, which feature clever but intuitive puzzle-solving, a rhythm-based combat system that combines the best of role-playing and platforming, clever integration with the 3DS’s touch screen, and can be consumed in either short or extended play sessions and saved at any point.

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