The following review of Dream Study #114 contains spoilers.
I had a strange dream the other night. I dreamt it was 1983, and I was at a small bar in Los Angeles, wandering among the crowd, drinking, talking, laughing. I spied a small bookcase in the corner, and walked over to pick up a copy of Goodnight Moon from the top shelf. I opened the book and began to read the inscription inside the front cover, “To my daughter, Rose…”. A haze began to fill the room and the crowd around me went silent as a mysterious woman entered. She was dressed in shimmering silver and black, glittering like a starry night sky. She began to sing, her lilting voice telling of a mystery I’d yet to solve, of characters I’d yet to meet. Or, perhaps I had already met them, long ago? Before I could dwell too long on my thoughts, the woman was gone and the fog began to lift. I found myself back in the bar surrounded by chatter, left with only a vague memory of a task I must undertake: I must save Rose.
This was Dream Study #114, which fused immersive storytelling, interactive elements, and puzzle-solving to create a highly engaging and unique experience.
Participants are introduced to Dr. Rose Hallard, a scientific pioneer following in her father’s footsteps toward a goal of creating a “lucid global community” in which all Sleepers are part of a single, interconnected humanity. Working at her side is research assistant Neil Blythe, who is becoming increasingly skeptical of Dr. Hallard’s ethics. It soon becomes apparent that something has gone horribly wrong in Dr. Hallard’s experiments, and she has become trapped in her own dream, along with countless other participants in the study. Our goal as new Sleepers is to discover the three codes which will either the dream and bring Rose back to reality or destroy the machine preventing it from being used again. Players are assigned a specific path upon entry, and must solve a variety of riddles in order to complete their task while avoiding becoming waylaid by puzzles meant for the opposing track.
As someone relatively inexperienced with escape room-style puzzle-solving, I felt the games were creatively designed and challenging without being excessively frustrating. I discovered clues within a painting of ships sailing on stormy seas, hidden in the writings of Rose’s dream journal, tucked inside code-locked puzzle boxes, via messages flashing almost subliminally on the TV screen behind the bar, and hidden in plain sight on the drinks menu. Clues were also given in the form of short scenes featuring Dr. Hallard, Neil Blythe, Dr. Fletcher, and The Whisperer. The scenes recounted the evolution of Dr. Hallard’s experiments-gone-awry and repeated every hour on a loop, lending an eerie feeling of deja vu to the evening.
During one of my interactions with Dr. Hallard, she asked me how long I’d been in the dream. Truthfully, I couldn’t say. It may have been minutes, or hours, or… years. Maybe because I did find myself veering off-track a number of times, intrigued by numerous enticing riddles and curious puzzles. But the creators of the experience had thoughtfully anticipated this possibility, and had planted several attentive, white-coated lab techs within the story, who would initiate contact with players who appeared to be struggling, and offer hints to set them back on track.
Overall, Dream Study #114 was an entertaining experience featuring strong performances, appealing game play, and beautifully effective technical elements. At the end of the evening I was given a letter from Dr. Hallard, thanking me for freeing her from the dream and informing me that I’d helped enable her to continue her work toward a “collective lucid life.” It all leaves me to wonder if I’m still trapped in the dream.
Cover photo by Taylor Winters; All article photos by Dennis Noack @derdensen.