March 27, 2012 by cchung9
Gameplay Reflection – Limbo
A beautifully haunting example I find as “videogame as art” is Limbo. This 2D, black and white videogame caught me off-guard because I normally enjoy brightly caricatured videogames like Mario, the complete opposite of Limbo. Its simplicity and openness for emotions enthralled me. Limbo is not just any videogame: It is an artgame that is stripped of the unnecessary to expose and expand the player’s experience.
After watching a fellow classmate play, I finally take my shot at Limbo. Watching the game is nothing like playing it. Even though I learned what to do from my predecessor’s gameplay, watching the videogame had me separated from the emotional experience. Perhaps because the room I was playing in was pitch black, I was suddenly warped into an eerie swamp-like Hell. The room is silent and all I can hear are my character’s child-like shuffles through the grass. There is no suspenseful music. The suspense is actually from the lack of music. I continue to approach to the right of the screen, secretly knowing I will die within a few feet. With the lack of distractions such as colors and music, my anxiety rises. Although I know that there is an infinite number of “lives,” it is still painful to die each time. Still, the stress drives me to continue. This pain and anxiety is directly reflected in the game’s graphic choices of a swamp environment with a boy’s silhouette, approaching immediate doom.
This “trial-and-death” videogame is simple in more ways than one. There are no colors, no music, and only a simple setting of a swamp, which is mostly blurred out in the background. The narrative is also very simple: save your sister. This objective is sometimes forgotten as I strive to stay alive a little longer than the last try. Also, the game’s details are purposeful. Without them, the gameplay would be at a stalemate. Details can range from a needed bear trap on a tree branch to climbing tree branches. It is hard to sometimes distinguish what is needed to be done because the background and foreground seem uninteractive except for the giant spider.
I find art to have both narrative and experience. In the case of Limbo, I find the player’s emotional experience as the sole objective. Ian Bogost puts it very well when he says that “in artgames… a procedural rhetoric does not argue a position but rather characterizes an idea. These games say something about how an experience of the world works, how it feels to experience or to be subjected to some sort of situation” (13). Mario dies a number of times just like the child in Limbo, but Mario’s death is a cute bounce off the screen with an optimistic opportunity for a bright future. In the case of the little boy in Limbo, he too dies a number of times but with a choice of, not limited to, drowning, beheading, stabbing, infection, etc. Unlike Mario’s death that has a sense of a “light at the end of the tunnel” sense, Limbo is a morbid idea that has the player experiencing death in the most cruel and anxious way possible.
Limbo is tragic and cruel, yet beautiful and simple. The game’s take on artistic choices helps the player experience the character’s own experience on the screen. The character’s objective is to help his sister and the player’s objective is to help the character. The game, with little color, sounds, environment, and plot, focuses on the dark side of death. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. The most light the player can find is in the place where the boy’s eyes should be. The boy’s fear is absent and is replaced with stoicism. This fear is instead installed into me, the player, as I play the game. The simple aesthetics definitely created an environment where I personally felt each of the boy’s deaths in my hands.