Limbo was the critical darling of the video game community in 2010. But as per usual, it took nearly 7 years to float to the top of my pile of unplayed games. But as much as I poke fun at myself for being so far behind the zeitgeist, I don’t think it’s such a bad thing to let a game age. The hardcore gamers have been carried off by an ever-rolling tide of new, and I’m enjoying things in my own time.
So as I leisurely stroll through the games I neglected to play half a decade ago, I continue to ask myself what makes a game interesting. Is Limbo still interesting enough to talk about?
The game opens in a dark forest, a little boy lying on the ground. Moments later, I was guiding the boy through a hazy, monochromatic nightmare where everything was bent on killing the boy. Quite often, the nightmare succeeded, and the boy met some gruesome end… only to be returned to life as if he’d never died to begin with. No penalties. No “game over” screen. Just second chances (and third chances, fourth, fifth, etc.).
The boy never died as a result of my inability to execute precise platforming. I don’t think Limbo‘s intent was to present a challenge—in spite of it being contemporary with the revival of uber-hard platforming games. Death was simply what happened when you couldn’t solve the puzzle in front of you; but again, there were no penalties for death. And in the absence penalty, it was only a matter of time until I figured out how to maneuver through the challenge.
I drove the boy ever onward. But why?
The boy entered limbo because he was looking for his sister, and the final scene of the game, he finds her. What about everything that took place in between those moments? What does it all mean?
I would argue that the boy is dead at the beginning of the game, but he refuses to pass on to the the afterlife until he can be sure that his sister is safe. Thus his spirit becomes trapped in limbo between life and death. While in limbo, the boy travels through his memories, but these scenes are distorted by the hazy darkness of death. Places that were full of beauty and wonder when the boy was alive, have become scary and dangerous, constantly pulling him toward death. In the end, the boy literally crashes through the barrier between life and death. He finds his beloved sister still alive, presumably burying his body underneath the treehouse where they used to play. Having learned her fate, the boy lets go and death takes him… but not before the girl feels his presence one final time.
But that’s just my theory. There are no definitive answers in Limbo. Everything is open to interpretation, and that is the point of the game. That is what makes Limbo interesting.
What a time to be alive!