Like falling into an old habit, I come back. Not because I need you. Not because I want you, even. But because I can’t pull myself together and let go of what’s easy and safe.
I Woke Up Next to You Again, a game for PC, Mac, and Linux available on itch.io, explores the idea of a one-night stand that stretches into two, then three, then an addiction—not to a substance, but to someone who offers comfort amidst the uncertainty of modern life. Relationships can be addictive, even when (and often especially because) they don’t make sense. That’s the point of this trippy, uncomfortable visual novel.
Simple and metaphorical, I Woke Up opens with you next to “her” or “him” for the second time. As your character opens their eyes, greeted by a handsome person, you fumble with words, trying to sort out boundaries and figure out where the two of you might go from there. Do you kick them out and keep that hard edge there and your two lives separate? Or do you show some humanity and offer breakfast?
Soft, dream-like sketches of your maybe-partner are alluring and bright. Backgrounds, rendered in dark, shifting tones, contrast with your lover’s radiance. It’s hard to say no to them. You don’t want to make them sad. You have the option to be distant and push them away, but I Woke Up always seems to highlight a friendly choice. Like it’s the first thing to come to mind, and all other thoughts come later.
As the game progresses, you stumble into one another at bars and events, here and there, as young urban professionals do. And you’re again left to choose how to stoke, or extinguish, the embers of an ambiguous tryst. Softer choices, while compassionate and respectful, have a darker edge to them. The screen will twitch, and start “glitching,” as if your unnamed avatar’s mind can’t quite process what’s happening. Over time, your lives becomes more and more intertwined. Commitments form, and you find yourself stuck on this person that you barely know.
That I Woke Up even goes that far is novel in that it captures the sometimes muddled methods by which we can fall into toxic relationships. Not necessarily abusive ones, but definitely addictive ones, based on need, based on extraction and consumption. Should you choose to let go, new people will enter your life and the world seems brighter, more hopeful. Those grim backgrounds give way to bright, full-color images as you begin to pull yourself out of this one-sided, desperate relationship.
While short—about 15 minutes—I Woke Up does a lot with its time. It challenges the idea that relationships are always intentional. What you and your anonymous beau share is accidental. Casual, at first, but as sex comes to replace family and friends and other social commitments, you’re caught. Not because anyone is overtly keeping you from leaving, or that anyone’s manipulating you, but because you can’t be honest about your feelings.
Through its visuals, too, I Woke Up communicates the emotive tumult that comes along with an unstable and unhealthy and core need for someone, anyone, else. Commitments with friends and family come and go — without you. As you slip further and further into your relationship with this person, the rest of your life languors. After a series of nights spent together, you’re given the option to maybe commit to something a little more. You’re not supposed to. That’s never what was meant to be, but it’s hard to say no. So you slip a little further into a relationship you never wanted to be in. But by then there’s nothing else in life to attach to. Nothing left to keep you from slipping further. So you do.
There aren’t any answers here, no quick solutions or suggestions for what to do should you fall into these patterns in real life. Instead, I Woke Up evokes a string of powerful and haunting emotions. Those questions that can rack the minds of the young and free-spirited. It posits, too, that your partner, whoever they may be, could well be in the same rut, stuck to you for the sake of convenience.
It reminded me of some of my first relationships: furtive, unintentional. One fun date turned into many, but before long I’d committed to an entire life path based on the strained lust that once drove us. I Woke Up is a powerful mirror for a very specific type of person. Those who stumble into romance and wind up lost in another will find an evocative and likely painful experience, but a valuable one as well.