Now that we’re halfway through October, I can officially retire my shorts, sunglasses, and sweaters from the summer and transition into the sweaters, scarves, and seasonal sadness of the fall. It’s also the perfect time to get in the spirit of all things spooky. Since it is Halloween, of course.
I suffer from anxiety and am easily frightened no matter the time of year, so I’ve never understood the appeal of scaring oneself. Taking part in activities is something I like doing.
This month’s Backlog Club picks are a pair of Playdead games that are both enjoyable and spooky: Limbo and Inside. These two games are not (to my knowledge) connected narratively, but they may be brothers because they both have youngsters who go right and encounter many terrifying creatures who want to murder and devour them.
I tried playing a little bit of Limbo, but then I saw a spider and had to stop. As far as I can tell, that happened within the first five minutes. As a matter of fact, I am a newborn.
Despite the fact that Limbo is one of those games that everyone seems to have, even if they don’t know where they got it or when they got it, I can’t seem to track down my own copy. Most likely, it’s stored in the depths of an iPhone or PlayStation 4 account. Never mind! Simply said, I’ll start with Inside and save Limbo for closer to Halloween.
So! At the beginning of “The Secret,” a little child is shown fleeing from canines and police spotlights. We know he fled and the sinister powers that lurk in the game’s shadows want him back, but they don’t seem to want him all that bad since they’re willing to let him get crushed, mauled, exploded, and drowned by a hideous underwater lady. He must have committed some type of crime.
While running from these sinister groups, the young guy sneaks inside a sinister laboratory/factory that is likewise committing several atrocities, this time against humankind. They’ve turned their workforce into a horde of mindless zombies, all too ready to throw themselves into holes and smash themselves against walls in an effort to solve a challenge.
As the story progresses, the child encounters a [REDACTED], and things quickly deteriorate from there. gooey? Squelchy? There may not be a phrase to adequately convey… that.
I’ve learned that journalists are madly in love with Inside’s themes of mindless labor and the fascinating mystery of the [REDACTED] since there are around ten billion articles analyzing What Inside Means. However, Inside stubbornly refuses to explain anything, providing only the barest of contextual cues and zero spoken or in-game lore explanations. Even those can be interpreted in many ways.
Even the stranger stuff in Inside has a Point and a Purpose, but it’s all just academic, anyway — it doesn’t change the game’s core mechanics. I assume the designers knew what they were making, and weren’t just sitting in the Playdead office going, “hahaha let’s add a bunch of baby chicks here that you have to Pied-Piper into a big machine and then they get brutally murdered so you can solve a puzzle.”
That is, except that it does, sort of. You see, and this is really a spoiler, so fair warning, Inside has a hidden, alternative ending that can only be accessed after completing the game and watching the [REDACTED] on the [REDACTED]. The next step is to uncover several secret bunkers, each with a bright orb, and destroy them all.
What we have seen thus far seems pretty standard for a video game, right? Destroy the items, make a beeline towards the right side, and get the hidden item; you know the drill. A Warp Zone, perhaps? You can also find a way to play as Inside Boy’s taller sibling, who sports a green shirt instead of a red one.
There’s a hidden ending when the Boy unplugs a huge drain. Why? Simply said, that’s just how games work. If the game instructs you to press A to proceed, then you must press A. Simply said, socializing is enjoyable.
You won’t be bothered by any inquiries. Contrarily, in Inside, when you turn out the lights, you… let the Boy get away from you. He says, as though dead or transformed into a zombie. The other end of the plug was you, the gamer. The stupid.
Indeed, there’s more. Assuming a typical conclusion, the Boy will continue to be dragged to the right until he reaches the [REDACTED] as if he were under the [REDACTEDpower. ]’s The Boy is not as mindless as the zombie-like folks we see, but he is nonetheless completely oblivious. As is customary, he takes a right turn.
He takes a right turn since he’s smart enough to know what video games demand. And you, the gamer, execute it without question because it’s your nature to follow orders. The zombie here is you. Or perhaps you’re the [REDACTED]? Uh. The truth is, I have no idea. Nobody has a clue.
A game with no plot is both a breath of fresh air and a source of intense frustration. No matter how hard I try, all I ever come up with are more hypotheses and more questions.
From what I’ve seen, though, it’s clear that Playdead’s Inside is attempting to tell a tale about freedom and power, one in which the player must consider what it means to use their willful manipulation of another character as a puppet, leading them to commit increasingly grisly acts of violence because they weren’t paying attention.
The inside doesn’t even have a “good” conclusion. A sense of “oh. Now what?” is left behind after reading the [REDACTED] conclusion, which leaves the reader feeling dissatisfied and confused. Nothing was won, and the princess was not saved (unless the [REDACTED] is a princess, although there is no textual evidence for that idea), but the mess you made has been cleaned up, so well done.
You have no concept of the [REDACTED], its motivations for seeking freedom, or the nature of freedom as it applies to something like that. Lumpy.
What happens in the hidden ending depends on the player’s perspective; it might be seen as positive (you saved the Boy from the puppetmaster!) or negative (you made the boy into just another zombie). Are you a monster because you manipulate this Boy for your own ends? Did you really intend to assist him? Does his disconnecting set him free or doom him? Absolutely no one has any idea!
So, in my opinion, Inside is a game that purports to be about what we see on screen, a story about a player who thinks the conclusion justifies the means before realizing, to his or her horror, that the end makes no sense at all. But in reality, Inside is a video game that, like contemporary art, is more concerned with how it makes the viewer feel than how it appears.
What matters is not what happens on screen or what the player does in-game, but rather how they feel afterward. So, you think you’re a monster, right? Does he have some time to himself? What right does a [REDACTED] have to the blood, sweat, and tears he has invested in his… lumps?
True solutions do not exist. Only “why?”, and it’s the most essential question there is. This is the question for which there really is no correct response. Exactly “why” can be debated. It’s up to you to explain the “why.” Additionally, “I don’t know” is an acceptable response.