Unclear Pictures: Seeing and Understanding in Neverending Nightmares

I see. We say this to mean that we understand, but it can also express disagreement: “I see what you mean but would rather not express it.” Or we can hide our lack of understanding: “I see that you said something but would rather not get into it.” These reasons, while diverse, all relate to understanding. To understand is to have clarity about what was said. Determining this clarity is done by ourselves; it’s what “I see” always represents, even when we don’t see clearly. Can we even see clearly when what is shown is not even understood by the people who said it? Seeing is understanding someone’s perspective with our own. It’s an interpretation unclear by nature to which our concept about the senses reassert themselves with utmost certainty, as if the virtue of having eyes grants clarity.

Infinitap Games’ Neverending Nightmares explores this conflict between the persistence for clarity in seeing as understanding. It portrays a man driven mad by a lack of clarity steeped in desire surrounding women and himself. His desires manifest in paintings hanging on a dream world’s walls. 

To frame something is to clarify an ideal for seeing. These paintings depict a man, a woman and a small child turning towards the centre of the frame: an idealized state of togetherness for a family. Rooms resembling a kitchen, pantry, study, bedroom envelop this domesticated dream world, while dolls populate the children’s room, and weapons and trophies in the father’s study. The gendered relations of the nuclear family manifest with clarity.

If to see is to look with clarity and unclarity as understanding, as the expression of “I see” implies, then we can see the protagonist’s dreams as desires that he wants and lacks. Through the stencilled look of the game, we see his world as black and white tinted with gaps between colours. These colours seep into one another and stand apart as he moves, blending him in with his surroundings and putting him out of focus. 

The protagonist sees the world through himself and as himself, polarised and ambiguous. It’s filled with blood that spills by itself and, and he escapes by severing muscles and tearing out veins. These moments of self-mutilation bring catharsis, as if uttering “I see” in response to a statement we don’t understand but want to appear as if we do. It relates to a way of understanding that one wants to understand and see clearly but can’t, and as a reaction that aims to repress emotions stemming from the duality of this perspective.

His self-mutilation turns his self-doubt inward to conceal it, as if to provide a prompt response that implies understanding while really expressing the opposite. To oppose the slow pace of understanding is to take action. 

In Neverending Nightmares, the protagonist wakes up and stands idle. Movement comes from you, the player, an external source that compels the character to take action. He responds by moving from left to right following videogame traditions, while colours separate from black and white, to mold, to shades of gray and red, and finally back to a polarized view. This back and forth through which the character sees the world turn red forces him to move faster. The character’s masculinity is so alien that it feels like a force outside of himself.

Through the inward projection of this understanding that he lacks, the character sees his wife, sister and child as the same women, and women as uniform in being tied to himself. Dolls blink in abandonment and female figures heave themselves towards him with a deadly purpose. As they mold into shifting colours, to see them is to understand their movement as defying the protagonist’s understanding. 

Desperate to be seen, but being unable to see, movement comes forth wearing masks of understanding. As the action shifts from Neverending Nightmares’ left-to-right movement system to the other way around, find familiarity is lost, and thrusts itself deeper under the veneer of understanding.

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