lsdheader-800x450 The Real Dreams Behind LSD Dream Emulator

Creative types have been inspired by dreams for centuries, but not until the medium of video games have people been allowed to actually experience what it’s like to be inside someone else’s dream. Probably the best example of this is LSD. No, not lysergic acid diethylamide. This is LSD: Dream Emulator for the original PlayStation.

The game was designed by Osamu Sato, who began his career as a digital artist and moved on to video games in the mid 90s. Sato may have been the director of the game, but the real mastermind behind a lot of the content found within was Hiroko Nishikawa, an artist working for developer Asmik Ace Entertainment. Her dream diary, which she had been keeping for 10 years, was the basis for the surreal scenarios.

This very same dream diary was published alongside LSD: Dream Emulator during it’s 1998 release in Japan as an extra promotional item. These kinds of lavish bonuses are the norm for even minor game releases in Japan. However, Sato, being ever the digital artist at heart, didn’t just release a simple dream diary, he gathered artists from around the world to interpret Nishikawa’s dreams and turn the dream diary into a hybrid artbook called Lovely Sweet Dream.

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The dream diary turned artbook of Hiroko Nishikawa

All of the artists involved read entries from Nishikawa’s original dream journal and chose how to interpret them visually for the book. The art inside runs the gambit from pop-art freak outs and early digital showcases to surreal designs and experimental handiworks.

The most amazing thing about this book is that almost all of the dreams within, originally written in Japanese, are translated into English. Unfortunately, the book had a very limited run, as most promotional items do, and has long been out of print. When it does crop up on auction sites and second-hand stores, it runs in the hundreds of dollars to snag a copy.

Just a few examples of the range of art found in Lovely Sweet Dream

Thanks to the due diligence of an early YouTuber turned streamer who goes by the handle of Mike Mnemonic, scans of the book can easily be found online. Mike was one of the first Western let’s players to introduce the game to a larger audience in the late 2000’s. You can check out his partial playthrough here. Just bear in mind, this is a pretty early let’s play from 2008, so it may not be up to the standards of today’s YouTube video game personalities.

In recent years, especially with high profile gaming YouTubers, such as PewDiePie and the Game Grumps capturing gameplay videos and providing commentary, LSD has become more well-known. However, Mike was the only one to really dig into the origins of the game and look beyond just the fact that it was another odd Japanese game that never made its way to the West.

You can watch those playthroughs or read the various articles written by Hardcore Gaming 101 or Kotaku to find out more about the gameplay. Even better you can do all of the above. What we’re here to talk about in this article is that elusive dream diary.

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What a lovely baby you ha–OH MY GOD!

The book helps shed light not only on some of the more puzzling images in the game–though be warned, LSD is only based roughly on the diary–but on the psyche of a young woman in Japan in the late 80s and early 90s.

It’s long been said that dreams are doorways into a person’s deeper self, and reading someone’s dream diary can give a very personal view into those hidden feelings and buried anxieties. If you’re at all interested in dreams or dream analysis, I’d recommend trying to track down the book or some scans online.

Take for example an early entry from January 6, 1988, shortly after Nishikawa began keeping the diary, titled “The Alarm Clock Keeps Ringing.” Here she details a scenario that we’re all probably familiar with concerning an alarm clock that won’t stop ringing no matter how many times she batters it. She even takes the batteries out, but it continues to ring.

As she contemplates smashing the clock to the floor, her mother’s face suddenly pops into her head. “Holding the ringing clock in my hand, I feel lost without knowing what to do,” the entry ends.

[T]he diary chronicles 10 years in the life of Nishikawa from 1988 to 1998.

Another example of Nishikawa’s anxieties are on display in an entry dated–perhaps un-ironically–February 14, 1989, titled “Solitude.” In the entry, she describes being on her way to a spot to meet everyone she knows, but when she arrives, most of them have left on a truck to go to a department store.

“Once again, I am all alone. I don’t belong with the people who left nor with those who remained. Nor will I belong where I’m headed.”

Not all the entries are so haunting, some are very silly and surreal, such as “Swimming Pool Room in Hawaii.” This entry, written a few days after the previous, begins with a continuation of those same lonely feelings while Nishikawa is on a trip to Hawaii. The tone changes when she visits a friend’s hotel room that is filled with water. After a button is pressed draining all the water from the room, the friend explains, “it’s only possible in Hawaii because the air is so dry.” A perfect example of dream logic.

All in all, the diary chronicles 10 years in the life of Nishikawa from 1988 to 1998. As mentioned, many of the images in the dream diary are either reinterpreted for the game or taken completely at face value. There are several recurring images, such as a fish floating in the sky, lions, a baby with an old man’s face, and the city of Kyoto–where it can be supposed Nishikawa was originally from.

Much of the dream diary doesn’t connect or make a whole lot of sense, though. The beauty of this kind of collection is that they don’t have to. They are dreams after all.

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Does that lion have…? What are they…? Is that a robot…? Whatever.

Though people have for centuries struggled to make sense of dreams, interpret them, and relate them to their waking lives, maybe in the end the whole pursuit is a fool’s errand. When one element starts to make sense, a whole slew of others show up contradicting whatever logic was first drawn.

There’s really no way to draw any definitive conclusions without knowing Nishikawa’s history, and there is little information about her available online outside of Lovely Sweet Dream and whatever notes people have managed to scrounge up from the development of LSD Dream Emulator.

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In the end, it’s all just a dream

The whole thing is probably summed up best by Nishikawa herself in the afterword to the dream diary:

“There’s a difference between actual dreams and remembered dreams. Even the ones recorded in my dream diary are different from the real thing. The dreams reconstructed by the artists that read them are different as well… Don’t try to analyze them or read too much into them; just enjoy this book as if walking through a dream.”

You got it, Ms. Nishikawa. And thanks for the dreams.