Deep sleep: why we need to talk about Catherine

Monday, 13 February 2012 08:19 GMT By Stace Harman

With the arrival of its long overdue PAL release, Stace received a text from a friend asking about Catherine. The following is a transcript of their conversation.

Hey, did you see this? This came out in Japan and the US last year, right? It looks pretty cool – like adult Manga! Might pick it up.

Yeah, I’ve just finished playing it through, actually. It’s very special. The animation is excellent but it’s the themes that run through it and the actual gameplay elements that are most impressive.

Sure, sure. Also: hot women! Well, there’s a hot blonde chick, the one with glasses looks a bit boring. Do you get to sleep with them? Looks like you do!

That’s not really the point. In terms of the relationship stuff there’s Vincent, Katherine and the blonde Catherine. You choose how Vincent responds to both women; for example, sometimes his girlfriend, Katherine, will text him when he’s at the bar with his friends and he has to decide whether to be dismissive or thoughtful in his replies. He can also encourage Catherine to send him messages – some of which are picture messages.

This trailer probably does a better job of framing it in the appropriate context:

Er, so it’s a relationship sim, then? The picture messaging sounds good, though. Does the hot blonde send you sexy pics? I bet she does, she looks like a right little goer.

The concept of relationships is one of the themes, yes – as is freedom, responsibility, anxiety, guilt, and happiness, amongst others.

Then there’s the actual gameplay. Vincent can interact with people at the local bar, which in turn shapes the story and explores the themes more deeply. However, most of his time is spent trying to solve some very tricky 3D block puzzles. Like this:


Why’s he running around in his boxer shorts holding a pillow? Why does he have ram horns on his head? Is that a baby chasing him? And what the hell is with all the sheep? This doesn’t look like the sexyfuntime from the trailer that I saw. AT ALL!

Ha! I told you there was more to it than just good looks. The puzzle-tower elements take place in Vincent’s nightmares – hence the weird things that occasionally chase him – and the story revolves around men dying mysteriously in their sleep.

Vincent can never quite remember his nightmares when he wakes up; he just knows he’s had a rough night and that all is not right.

As a result, he’s always pretty tired and occasionally gets lost in his own thoughts.

Okaaaay. And the sheep?!

Ah, yes. The sheep.

Well, a number of the men Vincent knows or meets at the bar are having variations of the same nightmare and somehow they’re all connected. The sheep in Vincent’s nightmares share characteristics with the men he meets in his waking hours, all of whom are carrying their own emotional baggage and issues. What’s more, in the nightmare each sheep sees himself as a normal man and all the other men as sheep.

Vincent starts having the nightmares just before meeting Catherine, whom he then gets…mixed up with.

So, it’s a morality thing, then? Cheating’s bad, men are all weak-willed sheep blah blah etc? Jeez, isn’t that a bit sexist?


From the person that’s interested in the game because it looks like you might get to have sex with a “hot blonde chick” who “looks like a right little goer” and has dismissed another woman because she “looks a bit boring”?

Yeah, OK. Don’t give me that moral high-ground bullshit. I was kidding: it’s just banter. You know what I mean.

Just banter between mates, huh?

Yeah, a bit of fun.

Mates just going with the flow?

Yeah, s’pose so.

Just flocking together?

Fuck off


OK, look: yes, there are elements of this game that are deliberately provocative and titillating and, yeah, some of the stuff is sexy. And I completely agree that sometimes people are all too quick to jump on their high-horse about sex, especially about sex in games.

Right, plus, even if I am supposedly being sexist, that doesn’t mean it’s OK for someone or *something* else to be sexist too. Two wrongs… etc

No, you’re right: it absolutely doesn’t mean it’s OK.

The point, really, is that the sheep analogy in this scenario isn’t sexist; it’s a visual representation of a concept that you can interpret in different ways. Most importantly, it’s one that provokes discussion.

Although, a brief anecdote: I was out for a drink one night during the time I was playing Catherine and, I shit you not, while standing at the bar I heard one bloke say to his mate: “You know me bruv, if you want to do it, I’ll follow suit”. That tickled me.

But, irrespective of that, the sheep thing doesn’t necessarily represent what it seems to.

How come? What is it supposed to mean other than: men are all the same, they’re weak and can’t help cheating?

Well, perhaps some of the men in the game that appear as sheep haven’t cheated; maybe they have their own issues.

Look, I don’t want to say too much about it because I really think you should experience it for yourself. One way of thinking about it is like an Escher sketch

How the hell is this like an Etch-A-Sketch?

Not an Etch-A-Sketch, numbnuts – an ESCHER sketch: Maurits Cornelis Escher.

Something that, at first glance, appears to be one thing and that both validates and contradicts itself from different perspectives – something that doesn’t make sense, but does; like these:

That’s…weird. Makes my brain hurt a bit

Exactly! Another comparison that occurred to me while playing Catherine is to that Robert Rodriguez film that Tarantino wrote the screenplay for: From Dusk Till Dawn. Y’know, how it starts as one thing, goes a little batshit crazy in the middle but still really works?

OK, I think I’m getting your point now. I like the sound of it!

But if I play it, will I actually have any say it what happens? Or will I just be watching pretty cut-scenes in between solving pain-in-the-arse block-puzzles?

You’ll have loads of input into how Vincent handles situations. There are different things that can happen throughout the story depending on the choices you have Vincent make. It’s really very cool. Some of the writing is genuinely funny and the metagames are clever and interesting. The social commentary on gender roles, friendships, even alcohol, is fascinating.

Also, on normal or hard difficulty the puzzles are really tough but that means you’re pumped once Vincent gets through them and escapes from another of his nightmares. Or you can play on easy and concentrate more on the story. Plus there are eight endings – in my play through, Vincent came out the other side of his ordeal a very different man. It was the True Freedom ending.

OK, sounds good, I’m in!

Thing is, whilst what I did and what I experienced made me realise what’s important to me, I know that I treated them both badly and I was selfish. Instead of telling her from the outset that I had a girlfriend, I lapped up the adoration; returned it, even. I guess I enjoyed that little buzz that comes from feeling wanted.

I know that I should have sat down with the one who loved me, and whom I loved, and talked it through. It’s not even like I only saw it in hindsight, I could see what was happening at the time and did nothing to stop it.

I was selfish and I was weak, and I have to live with that and move forward. Life goes on and all that jazz.

Uhm, Stace, you OK? That’s all pretty deep. You’re still talking about the game, right? About Vincent?

You want to meet for a beer later, have a proper catch-up?

I…oh. Ha! Yeah, I ‘m fine. A slip of the metaphorical tongue!

That’s genuinely all the stuff that happened to Vincent during my play-through of Catherine. I’m looking forward to starting over, to see if things turn out differently for him. I’d also like to hear about your experience of it, too.

Anyway, yeah, beer later sounds good – usual place. Not too heavy a session though, I’m really tired.

I’ve not been sleeping properly, lately.