Citizen Sleeper made finding community fun

Citizen Sleeper made finding community fun

With 2022 almost upon us, we look back at the games that have resonated with us the most. Next up: Citizen Sleeper.

Citizen Sleeper is the kind of game that believes in the player. It begins with some incredibly high sci-fi concepts, such as your character, a titular ‘Sleeper’, a robot with a copy-pasted version of a human mind, created solely to provide a soulless mega-corporation with reusable labor. There’s very little time for the questions raised by such an insanely pretzeling premise, at least in the beginning, as you begin hiding from your former corporate overlords on an abandoned space station called the Eye.

Starving, penniless and suffering from an internal design flaw that degrades your mind the longer you’re away from your bosses, you begin your time on the Eye with a terrifying challenge: Find a way to survive. You have no friends, a lot of people don’t trust you just because you’re sleeping, and you know that the people you ran away from are probably sending someone to get you. Welcome to your new neighborhood.

Citizen Sleeper
Citizen Sleeper

As you get your bearings in this particular part of space, Citizen Sleeper brings in its unique dice mechanics to decide how you’ll get through the day. You start each of your in-game days (called “cycles” since there is no sun to orbit and make days or nights) with a set of dice rolls, from 1 to 6. The higher your condition (which can be replenished by buy expensive stabilizing medicine), the more dice you get. You use these dice for various tasks around the world – foraging for mushrooms, working a shift at a bar, doing salvage at the scrap yard, etc. Higher dice have a higher chance of success, while lower dice give a scary chance when you have a deadline in front of you and need to complete some tasks as soon as possible.

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Certain challenges, like hacking cloud data storage servers, require specific dice results, so you’ll need to plan your entire day around which dice to use on certain tasks, and which tasks you feel more confident taking your chances on. When and where you use your best dice, and what you do on those rough days when none of your dice are particularly good, make up most of the excitement of Citizen Sleeper’s gameplay.

The thrill of the game (beyond the dice economy) really comes from the sense of community, and your own place in it, that emerges after a few cycles. The Eye is full of memorable characters, each beautifully rendered by comic artist Guillaume Singelin and written in clear, unique voices. Commune-dwelling farmers, hardened mercenaries, and down-on-their-luck starship technicians call The Eye home, and they all have fascinating things to say. These are arguably some of the best, most lovable and personable NPCs in any game in 2022, and each one feels like a real human struggling to scrape by in this lightless future.

Citizen Sleeper
Citizen Sleeper

As you move through your days, making progress and growing closer to your neighbors, Citizen Sleeper pulls off an incredibly subtle trick: it makes you feel like you’re really finding your place in society. Slowly, and assuming you do your part and aren’t a jerk, people can warm to you, you can get a better place to live than the storage unit you arrived in, and you can build a real support system that clearly, concretely, makes life your easier. It never feels easy or undeserved, but Citizen Sleeper makes good on the idea that collective action still works, even in a violent system, even in a world that turns people’s minds into mass-produced drones. Even on a crumbling space station, we can lift each other up and create a better life without the inhumanity that brought us there.

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The elevator pitch for Citizen Sleeper is something like “visual novel/TTRPG-inspired life sim where you play a poor robot in need of medicine.” That is, technically accurate, but it misses the true value of this particular game. Citizen Sleeper lets you feel like you are slowly, little by little, day by day, becoming your own person. You regain your humanity, one beautifully drawn conversation and one new friendship at a time. If that’s not the pinnacle of narrative gaming, what is?

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