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Video Game / The Dream Machine

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The Dream Machine is a point-and-click Adventure Game for PC by the Swedish developer Cockroach Inc. It follows the story of a young, expecting couple, Victor and Alicia Neff, shortly after their arrival in their new apartment. As they settle in, however, things soon turn very unsettling.

The games themes focus on dreams, particularly Freudian and Jungian theories of dream symbols. As such, surreal elements show up early and increase as the story unfolds. Moreover, the game is made from clay and cardboard, further giving it a very unique feel.

The game is also notable for being one of the first to go for an episodic format, yet also taking its time for each episode. The first one was released in 2010, and can be played for free at the game's official website. Chapter 1, 2 and 3 all hit Steam in 2012, while Chapters 4 and 5 followed in 2013 and 2014. The story was originally meant to end there, but the developers realized halfway through the series they needed a final, 6th chapter, which was ultimately released in 2017.

Also, has nothing to do with the Satoshi Kon & Madhouse anime currently stuck in development hell.

This episodic game provides examples of:

  • Alice Allusion: Aside from the whole dream theme, let's just say that Episode 5 involves a great deal of shrinking and growing back.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Mr. Morton has no children, and one of the characters who knew him says in chapter 6: "Felix never had much luck with women. No surprises there", but never elaborates on that.
  • And I Must Scream: When the Machine took over Alicia in chapter 3, Alicia was still fully conscious and aware of what's going on.
  • Antagonist Title: The titular machine is feeding on the tenants of the apartment complex, and is the main reason Victor is going into people's dreams in the first place.
  • Black and Nerdy: Martin Willard, whose dream you enter in Episode 5, has a telescope in his flat, and his dream looks like a far more desolate version of the Grid.
  • Beautiful Void: Mr. Morton's dreamscape, which is a great metaphor for his loneliness, detachment from the outside world, him not having an heir and unable to do good with his research. In Episode 5, there's Martin Willard's dreamworld that looks rather cyberpunk-ish.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: Mortons are this... sort of. At any rate, their family business is very specific.
  • Book Ends: The island that Victor is dreaming about in the start of Episode 1 is where he ends up at the very end of the game.
  • Breather Episode: Between Episode 3, which has a sinister mystery, a lot of suspense and a shocking reveal, and the completely harrowing Episode 5, Episode 4 is definitely that. It may be a somber family drama, but the ending dialog is very uplifting.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: Episodes 1-4 may have a vaguely unsettling atmosphere and a genuinely scary moment here and there, but Episode 5 is straight-up horror.
  • Crusty Caretaker: Morton is pretty scary even when you don't know anything about him yet. Then, you find out that he have been spying on you through multiple videocameras, invaded your wife's dreams and disposed of the previous tenant of your flat.
  • Death of a Child: In Chapter 6. Victor needs to kill the fetus version of himself in order to reach his child.
  • Demonic Possession: Or, rather, Mechanic Possession. In chapter 3, the Machine takes over Alicia.
    • The same thing happens to Victor himself at the end of the game, though by the machine's words, it's more of a symbiosis.
  • Dream Land: As the title indicates, the game takes part in one. Although, it's made up of a significantly smaller amount of contributing dreamers. Specifically, the whole place is roughly disc-shaped, with the dreams of newborns starting out at the center, moving away from it as they age, and crumbling at the edge where dreamers die of old age. And that's not even touching upon the topic of the prenatal realm!
  • Dream People: Episodes 2 and 3 take place within dreams, meaning Victor interacts with mostly with these. Of course, the name of the game could have been a clue this trope would be present.
  • Dream Walker: During the game play, Victor and the machine. Mr. Morton is revealed to have done this to Alicia, arriving in a fairly...Unusual manner. His father is implied to have done this, as well.
    • This is also done, in a less conventional way, by Martin Willard, who is able to fly between his dream and that of his neighbor.
  • Evolving Title Screen: Finishing the game changes the title screen to Victor in a coma, instead of just sleeping.
  • Foreshadowing: In the beginning of Episode 1 Alicia tells: "It's comforting to know that my mind is looking out for me even when I'm sleeping". In Episode 2, we learn that the dreamlands are born at the center of the shared dreamworld and fall off the outer edge at the point of death. The Center of Dreams is also marked on the dreamworld map. Obviously, it would be catastrophic if the Dream Machine were to reach it, but there's no way for it to do that... right?
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Victor lets the machine possess him, in order to save his child.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Episode 5 opens with that particular Nietzsche quote, and Victor is forced to use Mr. Morton's tactics to get into the heads of Martin and Selma. The Dream Machine even offers Victor to join with it, although Victor's not buying it.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The Machine in chapter 3.
  • Last of His Kind: Mr. Morton has no children and, therefore, is the last one in his family line.
  • Living Emotional Crutch: The third game implies that Victor is this to Alicia. If the only humans in your dreams, besides you, are replicas of your husband, you do have issues.
  • Moon Logic Puzzle: In chapter 3, you have to make an umbrella drink. To do this, you need to pick up a life-sized umbrella on the deck by the coach, that somehow fits in a little glass.
    • Plenty of puzzles run on the sort of surreal logic that only works in dreams and adventure games. For instance, you can make a deaf statue able to hear by stuffing a hammer, anvil, and stirrup into its ear (since those are names of the three bones inside the middle ear).
  • Mysterious Note: The one Victor finds is the first tangible clue something isn't quite right.
    • Another one makes an appearance in Chapter 3. In this case, the sender and intention is clear, the mystery is in who it is addressed to.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Barkeeping: The barkeeper in chapter 3 is always drying a glass. Justified both in- and out-universe: he's been stated to be a manipulative Jerkass who takes credit for others' work, and the game is made in claymation, which demands so much effort that even a single Idle Animation for a secondary character takes a long time to make.
  • The Only One: In the second chapter, Victor discovers that he is the only one capable of fighting the machine since Mr. Morton never got the chance to enter his dreams.
  • Plot-Powered Stamina: The people of Selma's dream in Episode 5 are rather blase about the fact that their vitals are missing, all things considered.
  • Recurring Dreams: After reading Morton's dreamjournals, Victor notices that "his dreams are oddly repetitive".
  • Redemption Equals Death: Arguably, the case with Mr. Morton. S/he may have been a nasty piece of work, but when the machine demanded to kill Victor, he refused to do it and was mortally injured by the machine, living just long enough to tell Victor what to do.
  • Released to Elsewhere: In chapter 3, "promoted to Command" and "sent to coal room duty" have this meaning.
  • Shout-Out: The shirt Victor wears is the same the main character in Blade Runner wears.
  • Stalker without a Crush: Mr. Morton and Victor for the tenants of the house, albeit for different reasons - Morton's reasoning is For Science!, and Victor has to save them. The unsettling implications of such invasion of privacy are certainly not lost on the characters.
  • Stealth Pun: Morton's dreamscape populated by the heads of the Morton family.
  • Technology Porn: The dream machine looks pretty impressive.
  • 20 Minutes into the Past: Well, the game mentions eBay at one point, but aside from that it plays like it is set at least in 90s.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Martin Willard is the only black (or non-white) person in the cast as well as the only character with an obvious disability so far (he's a wheelchair user).
  • Wham Episode: God exists in the dreamscape - and he's a Deity of Human Origin who simply answers prayers as he sees fit. God didn't create the universe, there is no afterlife, and he's just the latest in a long line of entities who found the previous god in the dreamscape. And he just chose Victor as his successor. Whether or not this is merely a delusion, it's a terrifyingly detailed one.
  • Womb Level: In a way, the ending of Episode 5. More literally, Episode 6.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: If you die in your dream, you die in reality - and your dreamscape dies with you.