When I was young, I was fascinated with fire. According to my parents, I tried to set a table on fire during my 5th birthday party when they weren’t looking. Though I have no recollection of that specific event, I definitely have vivid memories of accidentally burning myself while studying the properties of flame. Tomorrow Corporation made Little Inferno for people like me. (I am not a pyromaniac.)
I fully expected Little Inferno to be a tame experience. I assumed it would be the sort of game that is built entirely around a novel mechanic and and a charming sense of humor. I would enjoy it for an afternoon, maybe write a humorous blog post about it, and then simply forget about it. Perhaps at its surface, Little Inferno is exactly that sort of game, but there is something more to it that warrants discussion.
Little Inferno is a game about burning things. You place things in your “entertainment fireplace,” light them on fire, and watch them be consumed by the flame. Burning anything grants you money (not sure how that works), which you can use to buy more things to burn. It’s almost like one of those high-definition fireplace videos, only faster and a bit more alarming. You get bonuses for burning special combinations of items, and you quickly get access to new, unusual items to throw into the fireplace.
Eventually, I burned all of the combinations, and as I approached the end of the game I realized that Little Inferno is a subtle parody of itself. The entertainment fireplace is a stand-in for the mindless amusement provided by (most?) video games. The game begins to poke at the protagonist—an unseen extension of the player—for throwing everything into the fire without any consideration of purpose or consequence.
When I burned the final combination of items, the fireplace malfunctioned and burned the house down. For the first time, the perspective of the game shifted, and I was in control of the protagonist as he emerged from his house for the first time. The boy and I were now free from the allure of the fire. Free to explore the outside world, which held some beauty in spite of the fact that it was in a perpetual state of ashy winter. This seemed to confirm what I had begun to suspect: the endless cycle of cold was caused by humanity’s obsession with entertainment… and perpetuated by the very cold that it caused.
However, this Huxleyan nightmare remained playful enough to avoid devolving into a heavy-handed indictment of video games. These dark thematic implications were very subtly implied, much like a delightfully morbid Tim Burton film. Instead, the game quickly wrapped wrapped itself up and faded to black, leaving me to question if I had spent my afternoon wisely. Or perhaps I had just over-intellectualized an otherwise charming experience.
What a time to be alive!