OPINION | GAME ON: Digital mind of ‘Citizen Sleeper’ must keep decaying body alive in this dystopian video game

The role-playing video game "Citizen Sleeper" depicts a dystopia in which players depend on corporations for life. (Photo courtesy of Jump Over the Edge and Fellow Traveller)
The role-playing video game "Citizen Sleeper" depicts a dystopia in which players depend on corporations for life. (Photo courtesy of Jump Over the Edge and Fellow Traveller)


It's helpful to consider "Citizen Sleeper" as one of those games where the journey is more important than the destination. It's not whether we win or lose, it's the friends we made (and lost, or betrayed) along the way.

"Citizen Sleeper" is a dice-rolling, single-player role-playing game where the focus rests clearly on the narrative journey.

I'm not sure if the creator's critique of modern-day capitalism and the gig economy hits the mark with this game about synthetic humans trying to survive on a space station, but it is an adventure filled with evocative prose and interesting characters and offers many thought-provoking considerations about humanity's future.

The Citizen Sleeper (that's you) is a digitized human consciousness placed into an artificial body. Essentially, you're like a Replicant in "Blade Runner" and are on the run — a rogue software emulation illegally possessing company property — and without the Essen-Arp corporation's proprietary supplements, your artificial body is breaking down quickly through planned obsolescence, a phrase many of today's workers and consumers are familiar with.

Thus, the Sleeper is required to do more than just escape to safety, but also must work as a day laborer, completing odd jobs and doing whatever it can to survive to the next day, such as working in a scrap yard to earn credits, using those credits to buy food to keep up energy, and visiting a black-market doctor to stay alive.

The story is told mainly through text and illustrative portraits, but what's happening to the Sleeper and the others aboard the aging Erlin's Eye space station is engaging nonetheless. Right from the start, the path forward and the prospect of hope look bleak.

As the story advances, the Sleeper will have to choose whom to help and whom to leave behind. Resources are limited and not everyone gets a happy ending.

The Sleeper has five base attributes: Engineer, Interface, Endure, Intuit and Engage. The starting number is zero for these, but the profession chosen at character creation offers a unique perk and a "plus" or "minus" to two attributes.

For example, the Machinist gives a +1 to the Engineer attribute, but a -1 to the Engage attribute, and gives a chance at extracting extra scrap during Engineer action. The Operator gets a bonus to hacking missions, and the Extractor can use dice to recover Energy instead of spending money.

The Sleeper's three main concerns are Condition, Action Dice and Energy.

Condition represents the state of the Sleeper's artificial body. Each cycle, which represents a day on the Erlin's Eye, reduces Condition by one segment. Condition can also be lost through violence, injury or lack of food. Without the proprietary pharmaceuticals doled out by the Essen-Arp corporation, the Sleeper will have to find ways to stay alive.

The Energy bar is charged by food or sunlight. Run out of energy and the Sleeper's Condition rate will deplete at double the normal rate.

Action Dice are rolled at the start of each cycle. The number of dice available depends on the Sleeper's Condition. Taking damage reduces Condition, which reduces Action Dice, which makes staying alive and finding resources harder, making downward spirals quick and hard to halt. At what cost will you stay alive? What are you willing to sacrifice for one more day?

Each action performed throughout the day requires Action Dice to complete. A neutral result means the action succeeds; positive means it went better than expected; and negative means the action was a failure.


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Some actions available each cycle are repeatable, but Critical actions can be attempted only once. Each action has a risk level. Failure on the Danger level brings Condition loss.

Each action uses one of the Sleeper's five attributes, and the attribute modifier will either improve or worsen the Action Dice used.

It doesn't take too long to reach the end in "Citizen Sleeper" — a play-through only takes four or five hours — but there is some replayability. You can try the game with a different class and pick different characters to ally with, so you can see their whole story.

"Citizen Sleeper" is also a game that lets us consider what the future of technology can and should look like. For example, there are some carmakers whose heated seats only work if you continue to pay for an ongoing subscription, and tractor companies that don't want farmers to be able to repair machinery outside of going to a licensed dealership. What are the implications of that kind of behavior in a future where the functionality of bionic limbs or life-critical implants could be taken away in a moment?

If dystopian sci-fi narratives are your jam, don't sleep on this game.

‘Citizen Sleeper’

Platform: PC, Mac, XB1, Nintendo Switch

Cost: $19.99

Rating: Teen for fantasy violence, alcohol, language

Score: 7 out of 10

 



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