Horror Highlight – I Woke Up Next To You Again
The city begs me to see her once again. I am lost in its mesmerizing lights, spoiled by its back-alley crypts which promise me sanctity from the ceaseless storms. Skyscrapers stand tall, their looming shadows enveloping me in a blanket of conscience, waking grief. I cannot refuse their warmth, even as they grow more and more sinister as the days go by.
Denial and dependency are personified within the realm of Angela He’s woefully allegorical I Woke Up Next To You Again. The dreamy visual novel is at once a rumination on the mind’s struggle to overcome addiction in the midst of utmost isolation, asking the player to question the protagonist’s own sense of what they believe is best for them. However, the best case scenario is not immediately made evident, and He’s work demands multiple playthroughs to necessarily illustrate the conflicted scenario it is based around.
I Woke Up deceptively builds upon its premise with an effortless approach to twisting players’ expectations. The game plays itself off as a common visual novel, promising sanctity to be harbored within the arms of a fantasy lover; only to upend the usual sequence of events by determinedly punishing them for their efforts. Early warning signs are served on a perturbed color palette of blacks and whites, emphasizing a distinct essence of disorder — a disconnection from the world.
A nameless city acts as the central setting, observed only through the window of the protagonist’s presumed apartment, one of only two perspectives on display throughout the entire first half of the short experience. The second is a first person POV of the player’s lover lying particularly close to them in bed upon waking. These two perspectives are as though in constant battle with one another, just as the protagonist wars internally against his/her sickening impulses.
I Woke Up is a story of doubles — indeed a tale of two cities, one being the physical setting standing just outside the window; the other, the urban jungle of chaos that is the mind. Both are ceaselessly vying for comfort amidst dread and confusion, opting for any temporary fix to stimulate pleasure. But I Woke Up is primarily focused on the period when the pleasure begins to fade and only addictive impulses remain.
The game leads the player down a path towards mental destruction. The protagonist begins to feel tired and weary the more the player opts to meet their lover, inevitably leading to a conclusion in which they don’t wake up again at all.
Denial plays such a prominent role in the player’s own relationship with the playable protagonist. It is apparent within the state of the allegorical lover peaking their arousal; the colorless images denouncing happiness and illustrating alienation; the shape-shifting musical score, which seems to be a construct of layered tracks, each simultaneously contending for prominence. Conflict then emerges as the screen begins to pulsate, almost as though the computer were ripping apart from the player’s own stress.
These glitches primarily dictate the protagonist’s headstate, suggesting to the player fortuitous consequences depending on which dialogue options they choose. And these decisions principally involve building a relationship with their lover or fending off their cravings as much as they can.
A first playthrough will likely resolve in a failure to associate an ill-fated finale with pursuing a deeper relationship, even as the screen becomes a mess of technical abstractions the further down the rabbit hole they venture. Continuously restarting the venture allows for the player to take different routes, to build off of what they have learned prior and move forward with that sustainable knowledge.
I Woke Up Next To You Again then ultimately proves the effectiveness of cognitive stability in the face of deafening addictive impulse. Fending off these detrimental instincts presents a fervent struggle of the mind to eliminate physical primal urge, a means of denying the negativity of the world to promote a healthier mind and body. It’s a game about moving forward, and the horrific struggles constantly attempting to impede that progress. But one must be willing and have the capacity to push themselves along.
Now when I look out at that city, I see bright colors, neon signs pointing me towards dysfunction which I carefully rebuff. Those same crypt-like alleyways seem deadened when surrounded by the illuminated streets, lights and sounds vividly edging me forward down my path of recovery. I grasp at the hands of my friends — beautiful, lively individuals offering comfort — and remind myself of the pleasures of sobriety.
Yet still that haunting desire lingers. The venomous appetite is rooted in my pleasure system, hankering for relief. For shadows never dissipate, they only expand and diminish given the time of day — or the state of mind. I Woke Up Next To You Again’s most terrifying sentiment is that the struggle never ends, and it has the ability to bite back at any given moment the mind fails to uphold total self-restraint.