Every me and every you.#
Change isn’t easy, but it’s everything - and few people know this better than orionvalentine. Their musical stylings in Dreams are rangey, dancey and endlessly stylish, shifting between genres and rhythms as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. And maybe it is.
Their identity, after all, has been evolving from the moment they first picked up a game controller. It started with Atari. “I’d never seen anything like it before,” they tell us. “Like, it was a toy, but it was also TV?” After that, it was Sonic games. Growing up in Birmingham, they spent much of their childhood gossiping with friends in the playground about the latest cheats they’d seen in game magazines, before visiting each other after school to put their newfound knowledge to the test.
And then Lara Croft came along. “I was obsessed with the first Tomb Raider game on the PlayStation,” they tell us. “Obsessed with the way she looked, as well. Like, I’d never been able to play as a girl before, properly. To have a game where you get to play as this badass woman was everything to child Orion.”
Back in those days, videogames were predominantly fronted by big, muscle-bound male characters - an expression of gender that Orion, as a non-binary person, never really felt like they could relate to. “But with Lara, it was totally different,” they say. “Just pure escapism, to not be a little boy for a little while.
“I feel like that kind of escapism is something that people could only have dreamed of before videogames were a thing. I think we're very fortunate to have the escapism of being a completely different gender - or anything, really. Just to resonate with something like that, and to not be who you were born as for just a little while is huge, and it definitely awakened something in me.”
Orion would go on to play the entire Tomb Raider series. Videogames continued to be a huge part of their life - and creation games made an early appearance. They’d spend hours tinkering in Jester Interactive’s PS1 music creation game Music, layering preset riffs together and experimenting with sounds. “It was so good to put stuff that I had floating around in my brain into a program.”
It would spark a lifelong fascination with music games, particularly on PlayStation consoles like the PS2, where they remember getting more adventurous by creating their own bespoke drum beats. “It never really translated to using a PC for, maybe, Fruity Loops Studio stuff when I was a kid - it was just too big and too scary, and intimidating,” they tell us. “Which is why having something on a console, like Music and like Dreams, is huge for my creative process.”
Orion’s instinct for making music even outpaced their listening to it. “This is maybe gonna blow your mind a little bit,” they laugh, “but when I was a kid around about 1998, that kind of era - I did not listen to music. Like, I actively avoided music.” While classmates would be talking about the latest Top Of The Pops or the new Britney Spears record, they’d hang back, uninterested. Why? “I have no idea. It was wild. I think it really took something to sort of take me out of that space that I was in to actually appreciate music.”
That something came in the form of Placebo’s debut album, bought in a charity shop one day by Orion’s mother. “That CD really did shape the way that I see myself and my gender expression,” they tell us. In frontman Brian Molko, they finally saw someone representative of how they felt as a person. “I was like, ‘Wait, boys can do this? We can wear makeup and dresses and stuff, and still have a career? People will pay for my CDs?” They soon headed to their best friend’s house, which contained a computer capable of accessing a weird new thing called the internet. “I just Google image-searched pictures of Brian - and almost absorbed it, and was like, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ So I did.”
We can’t help but wonder if Orion’s mother knew something they didn’t, choosing that particular CD. “I’d love to think that it was a purposeful decision,” they say. “But I think it may have just been one of those really freaky coincidences - one of those timeline-changing choices.”
Music, fashion and identity all started to link together for Orion, who sees leaving high school and entering college as a turning point for their personal style and self-expression. “I’d reinvented myself”, they tell us. It was off to college armed with clear lipgloss, heavy mascara, low-rider jeans and a righteous emo fringe. Not everyone approved of the new look - least of all some of their less accepting classmates, who’d also made the transfer. “I rock up to college, first day of the semester. I’ve got straightened long hair, I’ve got a face full of makeup, you know… the bullies were just gobsmacked.
“One of my favourite outfits had about five belts on it,” they laugh. We joke that Tetsuya Nomura would approve. “Yeah, I really did love a belt moment, maybe not so much anymore. Fashion is such an easy way for me to express how I feel inside, and how I want people to perceive me - how I perceive myself, really.”
College ended up being a formative space for Orion. They began an IT course, but would “dramatically leave” and return several years later to a better fit: a theatrical and media makeup course, through which they would get acquainted with the art of drag while further exploring their own gender identity and expression. And always, at the back of their minds - the idea of making games. “I wanted to be a developer. I wanted to make things, you know: I wanted to make the next Tomb Raider, to be involved in something like that.”
When they first heard about Dreams years later, they were back at university studying psychology, and looking for a creative outlet for their study breaks. “It just kind of came out in early access one day, and I was like, that… that’s the thing,” they tell us. A childhood spent playing with console creation games came rushing back. “And it really did help break up the process of getting the degree. That third year at uni was very intense.”
The first thing they put together was an environment: a few cliffs in the distance across the ocean, an island and a lonely lighthouse. “And then, because I was doing psychology and counselling, I decided to make it about dementia.” They found some music already available in the Dreamiverse, and started to craft scenes together. “I love the way that you can put together a dream and the doorways connect,” they say, “so I had it so that the doorways would always connect in a different way.”
As a player moves through the creation, parts may be skipped, or reshuffled in a different order - echoing the kind of memory continuity difficulties seen in dementia patients. “Looking back, I’m like, ‘That was really intense, Orion, maybe you should have started somewhere smaller,” they laugh. But the ease of the tool set, and having elements like music, sculpts and animation made by others already readily available, made everything less intimidating. “It was so easy, although it sounds very advanced. And that’s the beauty of Dreams,” Orion says. “It was a testament to how talented everybody in the beta and early access was.”
It was Dreams’ music tool set, however, that would spark the greatest creative fire in Orion, despite it initially being the more overwhelming prospect. “I was like, ‘Huh? There’s so much stuff in here’. It was a positive kind of overwhelming - like, in awe of the majesty of not knowing how to do this. You see all these terms and stuff in the gadgets menu. I’m like, I should have maybe gone into the tutorial…”
Instead, they did something ultimately even more significant for their creative process: they started to make friends. While commuting on the bus, they’d hang out in the streams of another Dreams player, Gribble Grunger, chatting with other community members like Beatlebum and RekliSnipes. As the Gribble Grunger streams became less frequent, Orion found themselves with more time to make music - and more friends to make it with.
A big part of this was the Monday Night Crew, a regular music jam stream that became the place for musicians in Dreams to regularly collaborate and support each others’ work. “It kind of blossomed,” Orion says, “and I’d say we all blossomed as well.” The diversity of the group and their individual sounds was striking; we’ve spent a few of our own hours listening in those streams, astonished at the sheer range of genres and styles. Orion nods: “It’s so wild, because if you were to play a piece of music from any of those amazing artists, you could probably pinpoint it and say ‘That’s a Pudazuka, it’s so Puda - oh, this one’s a blackcattracks because the drums are like, killing my eardrums in such a good way”.
Orion describes their own musical approach, especially early on, as “a spacey kind of vibe - the heart of the cosmos kind of sound. Very ethereal, but you can dance to it if you want”. But much of their most memorable work was a result of forming bands within Dreams, and fusing their distinct, unique style with others. “You kind of meld into the other people you’re working with. But funnily enough, I remember venwave saying a very long time ago that my music is ‘space dominatrix’.”
We sense just that from Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Bass?, a bizarre, hypnotic, utterly compulsive drum-and-bass slam poetry track from the Big Bad Bass album by Orion and blackcattrack’s band, orioncattracks. Our favourite way of describing it is this: what if an alien cult came to Earth and used musical mind control to make everybody throw it back? “Obviously, I have a lot of experience being the therapist, just from studying that for years,” Orion tells us. “So a lot of the influence there was, wouldn’t it be cool if in the middle of this banging tune, there was a moment of calm? So I kind of did that.
“And it was like, why does it sound a little sexy like that?”, they laugh. “Like, it’s a bit dangerous? So I leaned into that.” The voiceover became part of the track before rapper Lugadi was brought in - and incredibly, from the uncanny breathing exercises to the menacing vocal twists, all of it was ad libbed, then edited around the rap verses. The collaboration worked well for all parties, mainly because the group felt like a safe environment to give and receive honest feedback. “Like, if it was not good, [blackcattracks] would have told me,” Orion says, “which is good because having people around you that will say, ‘Bestie, that is not it’, is very needed.”
Through collabs, Orion “definitely learned the best way to work with other people. And it is to kind of let go of control - just enough to hear something new, basically.” They practically light up when talking about Scarlet Lashes, the band they’ve formed with IMpotantMINK. “I’m so obsessed with us. A lot of it is leaning back and saying, you know what? We’ll see what happens with this. And it’s just happened in the most spectacular way.”
It’s a wholly different sound to Orion’s previous band. The group’s first album, Outward Transgressions, is even more experimental and rangey, a mad fusion of jazz, bass, synth, vocal samples, visual storytelling. As we noted in our review, it portrays a clear identity and viewpoint, despite being constructed of so many beautifully contradictory elements. Indeed, that is the viewpoint of this proudly queer album. “It’s a trans experience, first and foremost,” Orion says. “And for me, it’s reinvention. Like I’ve said previously, I reinvent myself a lot over the years. I only came out as non-binary just before the pandemic hit. There was finally something for me to say ‘That sounds like me, that is me.'
“And I feel like even now, and going through the album, I’m still coming to terms with who I am and how I want to be - how to live. That informed a lot of the themes of Outward Transgressions; it’s kind of, how can I make myself the best person that I want to be? How can I express that?”
The album cover-slash-menu screen sets the tone early, featuring a fabulous android woman being built by robotic arms in perpetuity. “It’s literally a visual of, we want to change, we want to be the perfect ‘us’,” Orion says. “And that might not be perfect to other people. Because some people will probably be like, ‘Oh, that’s not for me’, or some other thing.
“But yeah, I feel like we infused a lot of the album with our desire to be our true selves, and not beg for other people to accept, if that makes sense. It’s kind of, ‘This is what we are’.” The idea really hits home for us: that becoming yourself is not a process that has an end, or an ideal ‘final form’. “It’s also like that musically,” Orion nods, “where me and Mink will have a track that’s amazing, we’ll really love it - but then there’s something else we could do to it. And then there’s something else we could do to that, and it keeps building into these huge tracks. But with the music, it does have to stop at a certain point if you want people to listen to it! But if we had our way, we’d still be improving upon it, and making bigger tracks.”
There’s something in that thought, we say, about how we build everything. We put out the best and truest version - whether it’s a piece of music, or our own identities - that makes sense to us at the time. Something being out there helps us connect with people. And the natural thing is to make adjustments, and put out new versions as we discover them.
Speaking of which: the follow-up album to Outward Transgressions is imminent, and a “different flavour” once again, Orion says. “Because why not? I think musically, we’ve come a lot further from Outward Transgressions. And our ways of working are so easy now. The two of us, we almost preempt the other!” Orion describes the new album as “essentially a road trip of escapism” - and they’re partway through another creative jaunt, too, working with a group of collaborators on their first ever game in Dreams. “It’s inspired by Journey, Sky, things like that, so very little conflict,” we’re told. “It’s about a jellyfish who is trying to find their flock. The premise is a journey to find yourself and to find your people, basically.”
A full circle moment, perhaps: after Tomb Raider’s representation had such a big impact on a small Orion, it’s lovely to think that the game they’re finally making - featuring a fabulous gender-transformative creature, no less - might have a similar positive effect on someone.
Dreams, happily, has opened up that possibility for Orion, and more besides. “Dreams is important to me, because it has everything I could possibly want,” they say. “If I’m feeling musical then I’ll make music. Or if I want to convey a feeling through visual art then let’s do it - it’ll take 15 minutes, I’ll just put it all in, and somehow it’s cohesive. It’s so easy when you know how to tame it, and as a tool it’s very useful. It’s something that shouldn’t be slept on, and it’s definitely something that should be built upon - and you know, maybe reinvented in the future to be its best self.
“But also, Dreams is so important to me because of the friends I’ve made - the people I share the space with”, Orion says. “I have so many memories of the Monday Night Crew, making friends, streaming, watching other people stream Dreams... It’s been such a huge influence in my life since I got it.”
And, despite their observation that Dreams is “a different beast than it was a year ago”, the core of it all has not changed for Orion. They remain invested in creating meaningful art in the game with their friends. “For me, it’s a period of thinking, how can I keep this feeling going for a little while longer?” they say. “And how can I come to terms with change, and the fact that things might not always be the way they’ve been?” The only thing that never changes is change itself, after all - and artists like Orion show us, quite tenderly, the ache and the wonder of it all.
Visit orionvalentine's creator page to see their full body of work in Dreams.
The Dreams User Guide is a work-in-progress. Keep an eye out for updates as we add more learning resources and articles over time.