I found my old Sleep is Death stories. I thought I’d lost them.
Sleep is Death is an interesting cooperative storytelling game by Jason Rohrer. It costs $1.75 for two copies. It had a brief spurt of coverage and activity when it was released in 2010. Now it is all but forgotten. The main site used to host the stories shut down and many stories were destroyed.
Sleep is Death is a parser adventure game where one person controls a character and the other person controls the world.
The player says something every turn and types a verb noun command.
The controller does everything else, moving props and people and executing commands manually, making art on the fly, improvising.
Most people created their own assets and music with the ingame pixel and sound editor. You can create your own library of props as well as modify them and create new ones on the fly. A simple example is when a player asked to turn on their flashlight and I drew yellow coming out of their flashlight.
People told all kinds of stories in it, ranging from absurd to serious to experimental.
Each story can be uploaded to HTML and read as a flipbook.
Here are my old stories. I’m the controller in each of these.
The important thing to realize is that each turn is on a timer and everything is an improvisation between two strangers. They have no idea what scene I’m dropping them into, whether it’s a car driving through a dark tunnel or a row of men in a firing squad. But no matter the situation, people rolled with it and that’s wonderful.
Vignette about a firing squad.
I think this is the first game I controlled. The fuck-ups are funny, you’ll know them when you see them.
The next two stories are the same exact scene, same props, same controller, but different players. See how differently they played out:
Kind of playing around with who the player is actually controlling, world speaking to people, narrative living inside props. I’d like to see a more serious exploration of that.
I like the art I made for this.
A horror story that takes place in a car tunnel.
A program like Sleep is Death is a testament to the inventiveness and imagination of the average person. It was held back by the fact that you needed to manually connect with others and find people to play with, although sites sprung up for a time to facilitate this.
I hope to see more games that play with roleplaying and cooperative storytelling—a revamped, evolved version of Sleep is Death is something we desperately need.
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