Cibele is a deeply personal game. The Star Maid Games-developed title tells the tale of Nina, a young woman who meets, falls in love with, and eventually sleeps with someone she meets on the internet. But while creator Nina Freeman expects players to see parts of themselves in this experience, she's adamant about one thing: "Cibele is not about the player."
During a Game Developers Conference 2016 panel called "How Game Mechanics Helped Players Embody 19-Year-Old Nina in Cibele," Freeman spoke about her goals to help players understand Nina as a character. She described it as a theatrical experience in which players perform as Nina while they play, using her hands and eyes to exist in the game's fictional online space.
"I wasn't trying to tell the story of an entire relationship"
"It's essential to Cibele that the player embody Nina, not control her," Freeman said. "The player always has a sense of self, of course, but they hopefully suspend that sense of self when playing a video game as a character. [...] The player will always project their own goals and motivations onto the character to a certain extent, but as a designer, it's my job to remind the player of the goals and motivations of the character that they're mean to perform as."
Cibele began as a prototype while Freeman was a student at New York University. After realizing the original scope of the project was simply too large, she eventually cut it down to a handful of key scenes and conversations.
"I asked myself what the player needed to know about these two characters in order to understand their relationship and why they meet up for sex," she said. "I whittled this larger relationship down to three key conversations between Nina and Ichi that illustrated why they wanted to meet up at all."
Each of these represented a different phase in the characters' relationship.
"The first is the light flirting phase," Freeman said. "The second is whatever the conversational version of heavy petting is. And, finally, the last conversation is about their decision to meet up. I guess the second conversation is less heavy petting and more like that, and also becoming emotionally close."
Although these scenes didn't fully encompass the breadth of the relationship, they did offer up an answer as to why the two would meet up at all.
"I wasn't trying to tell the story of an entire relationship," Freeman said. "I was trying to tell the story about a particular moment during a larger relationship."