A definitive quality of most games is that they present to the player some freedom in which to make interesting decisions. Narrative choices, however, seem to have a limited range of effects in modern videogames. Many choices appear unsubstantial; creating a façade of freedom that always leads to the same outcome. Other games scatter choices across the story in order to trigger one in a handful of alternate endings; Chrono Trigger for example. Finally, games like Mass Effect do their best to morph the story world and character reactions to the seemingly endless barrage of dialogue-based choices the player must endure. However, what happens when a narrative game becomes not about what the choices result in, but about the process of making the choices itself? In Every Day the Same Dream, a brief 10-minute flash game by Paolo Pedercini, the player’s journey through making the different choices in the game’s small world is essentially the entirety of the gameplay experience.
Play begins with the unremarkable character awakening from bed into a black, white and grey world. In the first screen he is presented with two immediate choices. He can turn the alarm off or not, and he can get dressed or not. Either way he then proceeds to the next screen where he can turn off the TV or not, and a few screens later he has the option to walk left or right. This goes on for another handful of screens. The player must select their way down the game’s decision tree until eventually it resets and starts the player over in the bedroom again. A woman in the elevator of your building hints that you have X amount of steps to take on your way to becoming a new man, and the player eventually puts together that this means exploring the various different possibility trees the game has to offer.
Some decisions seem lacking in any significance beyond aesthetics, for example turning the TV off or not. Other choices, like getting dressed or walking left, lead to extremely brief, but different end states before the game resets you in the bedroom. No matter which end state you encounter the game resets you in that same bedroom with almost the identical state space to explore. Eventually after you’ve taken every possible path of decision-making, you catch a glimpse of a man identical to yourself committing suicide before the game cuts to black.
Aside from the obvious, yet effective, commentary on the monotony of the middle-aged corporate man, the game’s significance is derived from presenting a very small game tree, similar to that of Marie-Laure Ryan’s first formal architecture (the main difference being that various trees can lead you to identical ends), that forces a player to reset and explore every path through the tree. While knowledge of certain decisions that trigger the ending may enable the player to combine several of these paths into one, the point remains. Every Day the Same Dream provides a remarkably interesting experience in a very small state space by encouraging the player to focus on the significance of the few decisions they make. While the decisions are still binary and for the most part, skin deep, the game is structured in such a way that this choice-minimalism is clearly the intended aesthetic. This lack of ability to enact significant change only serves as a far more interesting abstraction of the narrative woes endured by the protagonist and aids in the creation a haunting, unique experience for the player. However, with the designer’s hand essentially brute-forcing you to make every possible decision within the game tree, it’s almost hard to say the player is making any real decisions at all, and by extension, this may not even be a game at all.