It’s no secret that I really enjoyed my time with Limbo. I’ve also really enjoyed hearing other people’s reactions, whether it be critics, developers, or lay folk. So when a former GameSpot exec and current developer for 2K Games speaks up about the latest indie gem, I listen. (Once again, those looking for an unspoiled Limbo experience – and you should, if you on playing – should perhaps not read this.)
In a recent post on his blog Truth, Love, and Courage: Games as Stories, Greg Kasavin examines the narrative feedback loop that is Limbo. Sure, it’s a pretty game. Sure, its puzzles constantly challenge the player. But its story is nigh impenetrable, or perhaps nonexistent. The game’s store description says the boy is on a journey to save his sister in Limbo, but Kasavin wonders “if the creators of the game had much of a part in writing that description.” Kasavin sees it differently:
“[Limbo] makes you think there's a story, and fills your head with dozens of interesting questions: who am I? where am I? why am I here? what am I looking for? who else is here besides me? am I even alive? The game's presentation is so strong that you in turn play through with the confidence that the authors of the game, and the game itself, must hold the answers.”
He’s ultimately a bit dissatisfied with the game’s narrative restraint. Some of the most memorable (see: unsettling) imagery comes early, falling away as the puzzles become increasingly complex. And for Kasavin, it’s the promise of a stronger resolution – or at least a more thorough revisiting of the opening area – that keeps you going. Games with libraries of boring backstory could learn a thing or two.
Ultimately, Kasavin concludes that the player’s search for narrative, that search for a definitive meaning, neatly parallels the boy’s search for his sister. It’s most powerful not as a story with a clear beginning, middle, and end, but as a “game about what it feels like to take a wrong turn.”