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You Can Only Turn Left

by Emiland Kray, Ember Chan, and Mary Kray


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(based on 3 ratings)
2 reviews

About the Story

You Can Only Turn Left is a playful exploration of the hypnagogic state between sleeping and wakefulness. Within this liminal space, memories morph into dreams and dreams feather into reality. You, the player have to navigate these hallucinations by choosing how the character creates their sleeping patterns. Inspired by game books and guided sleep meditations, this story invites you to imagine both the mundane and the fantastic to practice the mental flexibility of an avid dreamer.

Author's Comment: "This game is the accumulation of dream journals dating back to 2017, the collaboration and patience of many mentors, and an incredible amount of energy drinks."

Written by: Emiland Kray
Programmed by: Ember Chan
Music by: Mary Kray

Game Details


Entrant, Main Festival - Spring Thing 2024


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Spring Thing 2024: You Can Only Turn Left, April 14, 2024
by kaemi
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2024

When I first learned what REM actually meant, I struggled to sleep for a week. I’d start to drift off, then I’d shiverfreak up to tense and subterrified. The thought of your body paralyzing as some writhing nocturnal regime hallucinated you at random through blendered consciousness while your heartrate slipped closer to the totality of that unable to rise…

You Can Only Turn Left nods, pats me on the back, wordlessly passes me a cigarette (it offers me a light, but I politely decline, just like, holding the cigarette in my mouth, naïve goodfaith belief in this talisman of the vibes). At one point it just verbatim describes sleep paralysis. But mostly it tries to capture that half semilucid half semidreamy state that emerges not so much from liminal overlap as from waves sinusoidal.

The rangebound nausea uses it propulsive repetition to create a dizzy bedsickness where “Your gaze focuses on the world around you as you snap back from your daydream. Your eyes are sore and the skin on your face feels heavy. / There’s a dull hum in the room that’s not quite silence. The physical sensations of being awake are sharper than those experienced while dozing.” Before these aches can congeal into coffeegrounds morning grittiness, the tactility oozes away until “The world around you is grey and blue and everything is the texture of construction paper.” Back and forth we spill, asked again and again if we are sleeping or waking, less and less able to distinguish.

Through this hazebounce flutters memory fragments. Some of these lean towards the specificity of real recalled events, even as they threaten phantasmagoric details: “In the third grade, you raised and released tadpoles in your class. You remember standing shoulder to shoulder with your classmates as you surrounded the fish tank that previously was an incubator for the frog eggs. When they developed in the egg, their spine grew fused together in a ‘C’ shape.” In the reverse oscillation, we get fantastical episodes that mutter in concrete details that threaten to resolve the dangers lucid: “Stumbling forward in the dark, you see a snake made of composite board. You walk around the snake and you see that you can climb it! / It’s white and mustard yellow. It glitches between being serpentine to pixellated. Blocks seamlessly transform to scales before your eyes.” This glitchy indeterminacy underpins the core flinch of the germinating fear, which is the uncertainty that what you see will not resolve into something other. “Is this real” begs a pixelflickering line; in some sleepunwalking state the narrator startles awake having fainted on their face, chipping teeth, spewing blood. Sleep’s silky non veils you from the scarring permanencies that plash against your cuddled ups, anxiety of are you asleep at the wheel as absolutes race towards you. Loss of control threatens deeply uncomfortable gulfs below your step, through an unsettling caress from a serpent, through “Your arms and legs are pinned to the surface beneath you and your neck and head are cradled by something warm.” Several times the story threatens this starkening twist to the depths, but each time it oscillates back into the easy grays of twilight terrain, butterfly stomach beneath a blank mind: “Lined up in front of you was your grandfather, your father, your ex, your uncle, your aunt. / They stood in silence, untouching, unmoving but not frozen. They still drew breath through petrified lips.” This image, so ready to morph into a memory and its mental fractures, remains for the moment merely a black and white photograph, expressions as quiet as the object of things lost. How to resolve? Is something horrible going to happen? You descend a staircase towards a strange figure, stake in hand. Is it just your mind playing tricks on you? A crash jumps you awake: “Your cat has knocked over your nightstand and the lamp on top of it had shattered on the wooden floor. She ran away fast enough that you were confident she didn’t hurt herself.”

Perhaps in the yanking yet away from an answer, the trickling malaise muddies, bones the harrow: “Your nights generally consist of laying motionless in bed watching strange shapes grow and morph on the insides of your eyelids. You doze mostly, and hallucinate often. During the quiet night your mind tangles your dreams and memories together. Familiar mundaneity is combined with the fantastic. Sometimes it is charming, and sometimes it is horrifying.” So it goes, hinting at horror you’re increasingly too tired to dread. Even this statement of fact, so literal of intent that it makes the smallness of the aesthetic even more claustrophobic, seems to have run out of the energy to make you intuit it, simply printing the recipe for you to make it at home. Whenceforth from the nadir? There are several endings that tepid out the requisite hallucinatory annihilates, but they’re harder to reach then perhaps they need to be, so you loop through, back into the yawn in lieu of a scream.

This is where You Can Only Turn Left demonstrates a lack of direction that undermines its effect. Being performatively exhausted rarely makes you lively company, and the few noire flourishes, like using a physics check to test the dream level as if we’re in some Inception caper, instigate little intrigue beyond the requisite sigh back to tone. “To get to your 6:30 a.m. shift, you’d have to wake up around 5:30 a.m.” the game gestures with furtive intensity, forgetting that most of us, speaking of mundanity, wake up early and hate it.

If the ambition runs aground, at least this is credit to its taste, which refuses to settle into the creepypasta copypastes it sometimes mucks through. At its best, the half awake phantasms clayclump into Yves Tanguy drabscapes, making dream enough from drubs of color: “You woke up in the upstairs bedroom of the house that you grew up in. / There was no furniture in the room, and you even noted that there was no bed. Only the cold orange floor.” In this teasing of pure sight, we discover the work’s best line: “Rolling your skin off of your body, you are hot pink. The dead skin suit becomes a pile on the floor. / Your entire body emanates hot pink light. / You are fabulous and you are infinite.” Perhaps, with a few more loops through the enchantments of the inchoate, the author may guide us to a vision so frameable.

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Spring Thing 2024: You Can Only Turn Left, April 5, 2024
by Kastel
Related reviews: st2024

I don't believe it is possible to discuss this title as a "Twine game" but as an experience: it creates visions of a state so unfamiliar to me that it invites me to wander alongside it and learn about it through iteration.

Nothing in this resembles the dreams I have: text blurs into other text, the narrator wakes up but finds himself dreaming again, pink hyenas appear, a plethora of images and roars clash with the player, etc. but there is a kind of lucidity to the narration. The narrator is awake but not quite because they are under the influence of drugs. It's also not quite like what I think of as hallucinations because the symbolic imagery resembles the memories of the character. This state where the real and familiar become tainted with the nightmarish uncanniness of dreams is -- as the game says -- sometimes charming and sometimes horrifying. To be conscious in this state is to see the mundane disappear into the ether, to watch memories emerge as dreams manifest into reality.

While it may be comfortable for me to rationalize this as another example of the false dichotomy between dreams and reality, I think this work is trying to get at something more practical about how we experience the world:

The hypnagogic state can be defined as “spontaneously appearing visual, auditory and kinaesthetic images; qualitatively unusual thought processes and verbal constructions; tendencies towards extreme suggestibility; symbolic representations of ongoing mental and physiological processes; and so on” (Schacter, 1976, 452–453). Schacter noted that the most common factor of these phenomena was their occurrence in the drowsy interval between the waking state and sleeping.

(Source: The hypnagocic state: A brief update by Roman Ghibellini and Beat Meier)

I had never heard of hypnagogic states before playing this game and only looked them up after reading the game description on the Spring Thing website. But I find this description familiar to me now: as I followed the hyperlinks, I found myself meditating on the liminal state between waking and dreaming.

I can't say that I've experienced this state, but I've wondered about other media that deal with this particular blurring of reality. The work of David Lynch comes to mind: his films don't just have bizarre symbolic imagery, but they are ultra-sensitive to how sensory everything is. Reality in these kinds of works is ultra-phenomenal: every mundane sensation seems to matter a little too much, and the sensory overload the game evokes is frightening yet fascinating.

And all of this is achieved through decent writing, clever use of text effects, and some memorable background images that move around the screen. These effects create an otherworldly atmosphere, and I wonder if the fact that some text is unreadable (yellow-white text on yellow-white backgrounds) is one of the tools the game uses to disorient you.

You Can Only Turn Left is a deeply memorable experience for me. I can't predict how other reviewers will feel about this title, but as for me, it gave me a few seconds to ponder about how the perception of reality is sometimes a bunch of dreams and fictions. A kind of mixed reality, if you will. I'm definitely biased as someone who enjoys reading about the philosophy and psychology of perception, but it really is a unique work and I hope people get to experience it.

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