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Citizen Sleeper's DLC is done and it's still got the biggest heart around

There's something in my Eye.

A female-presenting character stands facing the camera with a turban on, a space station floating behind her.
Image credit: Citizen Sleeper

I found Citizen Sleeper gently moving. It's one of those experiences that pushed beyond its game boundaries, for me, and spoke to deeper things I hold to be important in my real life: things like friendship and belonging, and helping people out while asking for nothing in return. It touched me on a deeper level, and even months later, I remember it.

But it's a strange game to tell other people about, which is something I was reminded of this morning while finishing the last part of the new three-piece DLC story arc (which is free, by the way, and all episodes are out now). I tried to tell my partner what it was you did in the game. "Well, you go around the space station talking to people, and you roll dice to spend on doing tasks." She looked at me blankly. "It's not my kind of thing," she said, and walked away.

I get where she's coming from: Citizen Sleeper doesn't seem, outwardly, very eventful. There's some detailed character art but beyond that, everything plays out in text. There are no voice overs or animations or cutscenes. It's all, to a large degree, in your head. And when you layer on top of that some clinical boxes for dice rolls, and pie-chart gauges, there's an air of impenetrability about it, at least initially.

There is a time limit to get everything done by in the final piece of DLC, Purge, but with a late-game character and their bonuses, you should have more than enough time to do that, and tie up any loose ends you had before.Watch on YouTube

Yet, I've rarely found a more welcoming place. The actual experience of playing Citizen Sleeper is one of the most friendly and relaxing I've ever had. There's no sense of punishment or being obstructed in your progression. In some ways it feels as though you're swept along and controlling only the speed at which things happen, and success is predetermined. And for a while that bugged me because I didn't feel the challenge and I didn't feel the authorship I wanted over outcomes and events. Which isn't to say you don't have any authorship at all, because you absolutely do - making decisions about the outcome of things, of lives, of events, is absolutely what Citizen Sleeper is about. But often I felt like I was led rather than leading.

Now, though, I don't mind that. A gentle rhythm settles in, and though you are being led, the hand that leads you is warm and encouraging. And I think it leads you in order to show you things you might otherwise not have noticed or seen. I feel this in the exchanges I have with other characters, which are, really, the heart of Citizen Sleeper. That's where all the big moves happen, and where all the revelations are stored. I'll have a meaningful exchange with someone and it will feel like it's finished, but then there'll be an extra bit of writing, a kind of observation, that will elaborate on what I'm doing or how I'm feeling.

Normally, that would bug me. I would want to make my own mind up because I am the one playing the game after all. But Citizen Sleeper has such a way - I think it's more accurate to say the game's creator Gareth Damian Martin has such a way - of deepening and broadening a thought, in ways I wouldn't otherwise have considered, and in ways that moves storylines forward, that it always feels rewarding. Gosh if being led always leads to this, you can have my hand any time.

An image from Citizen Sleeper of a person leant up against a wall, a text box to the side, and a spaceship in the background.
Peake is really the star of the show - your closest new companion. | Image credit: Jump Over the Age / Citizen Sleeper

All of this came flooding back while playing the DLC, and while reading the excellent interview Ed did with Gareth Damian Martin the other day, about the deeper themes in Citizen Sleeper. The DLC tells a story of a flotilla of refugees abruptly arriving at The Eye space station you live on, and the struggle they face in being accepted there. It also brings a sense of danger in the form of the thing they ran away from.

You, naturally, are forced into the middle of the situation to act as both arbitrator between factions, and as enabler of their plans they hatch to try and sort it out. Who will you help? It's a timely conundrum to try and solve, particularly with the shameful plans the UK has for treating refugees.

But it's not overly massaged as a theme, or preached or anything like that. Really, as with anything in this game, it's not so much the themes that come through but the characters who carry them. And there are a handful of new faces to meet here, some of whom are as memorable as any of the characters from the main game, and by the end of the three-DLC story arc, you will care what happens to them too.

And it's that aspect of caring, I think, which gets at the core of what Citizen Sleeper is about. Caring about other people, for sure, but also caring about a life, caring about a place, caring about a community - and in turn, and because of it, their caring about you. And ultimately, you caring about you.

I wasn't at my highest ebb when I returned to Citizen Sleeper but, snuggled up under a blanket, controller in hand, playing it was exactly what I needed. It warmed me and it restored me.

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