Some musings on Limbo

LimboA friend bought me Limbo for Christmas and according to Steam I finished it in four hours.  For significantly more than four hours the game has sat in the back of my mind, refusing to settle, and I’m finally able to articulate why.

Limbo opens with the player character getting to his feet in a dark, monochrome woodland setting.  You move right, ever right, overcome traps, the environment, enemies and some evil puzzles, and then the game ends.  A lot has been written about the ending, which was left intentionally open-ended and ambiguous, with critics divided.  Initially I was a little irritated by the ending – what happened?  Did the journey the boy and I had shared mean anything?  Over time though, the game became more about the experience, the journey itself, than the destination.

I went into the game blind, having seen nothing more than some screenshots and knowing that a spider made an appearance at some point.  If I’d read around a bit I would have known that the game was a boy’s quest through Limbo to find his sister.  Even with that knowledge, I think I would have found the journey just as uncomfortable. Throughout the game, everything is in your way.  The environment – whether natural or industrial – is deadly.  Wildlife tries to kill you.  People try to kill you.  It was the people trying to kill me that made me stop and think.  Why were they doing it?  Were they evil?  Defending their territory?  Afraid of strangers? Hungry?  Or was it me, the boy, specifically?  It would be easy to assume that me, the little boy looking for his sister, is the victim here, but look at some of the things I did in the name of my quest.  Standing at a pool wondering how to get past, a parasite-infected man staggers in and drowns.  My reaction?  Use his body as a stepping stone.  Then drag another body along the ground to use for a similar purpose.  The dead are just tools to me.  Are these the actions of an innocent boy, a victim, acting out of love?  What would my sister think if she knew?  Perhaps me and the boy aren’t victims at all.

Spiders!There is no alternative though, no other solution, no other way forward.  The only options the boy and I have are to walk on the backs of the dead, or to give up and accept failure.  And of course I couldn’t do that.  Nothing must come between me and my goal.   So I jump on the dead, lead men into deadly traps, tear legs of spiders, all in the name of a few more steps towards an intangible, unknowable ending.

Despite being gorgeous, perfectly paced, a good length and full of interesting puzzles, Limbo left me uncomfortable, and this is why.  The game allowed me to go to extreme, morbid lengths to reach the end, and I could have stopped at any point and said “no more”.  But I didn’t, and I can’t shake the feeling that – more than a dark-side knight in KOTOR, more than a renegade in Mass Effect, more than an Elder Scrolls assassin – for four hours my character and I were evil.

[Required reading: Chris’ discussion of Spec Ops: The Line over on Errant Signal]

Leave a Reply

Post Navigation