When I sat down to play INSIDE this past Sunday morning, hot cup of coffee in hand, wide eyed and awake, i really don’t think I was ready for what I experienced over those short couple of hours.
INSIDE is a much more troubling and ambiguous game than Playdead’s previous title, LIMBO. That’s not a negative, it just makes it a tough game to really dig into objectively; It’s a far more personal experience.
INSIDE is really good, but it’s going to mean wildly different thing to different people.
Before I dig into the message and story of INSIDE, let’s tackle the stuff that isn’t ambiguous: INSIDE is masterfully constructed. The controls are tight, you’re taught the concepts of the game without a single bit of text explanation (a decision I love whenever it is made), and the character animations are beautifully fluid. The environmental and background art is stunningly bleak and depressing, while being mysterious enough to peak you’re curiosity and keep you intrigued.
About the only somewhat negative thing I can say about INSIDE is that I felt many of the puzzles where non-puzzles. It’s a problem that INSIDE shares with this successor, but I think it’s far less noticeable than it was in LIMBO. INSIDE feels far more cinematic that LIMBO ever did, and I think it can safely be called a bit more of an interactive film than a puzzle game. LIMBO is a fairy tale; INSIDE is a thriller. There’s certainly a good number of puzzles that did stump me, but I didn’t feel like they were the point or focus of INSIDE.
The focus is clearly the mystery at the heart of this facility you’re trying to get inside of, and the symbolism that surrounds it.
~ SPOILER WARNING ~
After making you’re way through the entrance to this facility, miming you’re way through a line of zombies, sneaking through underground birthing forests, having fun with gravity defying water and avoiding embryonic underwater banshees, you find what I am going to call a conglomerate golem of other humans at the center of this facility. With a woosh of rushing water, you’re stripped and proceed to cut the cords to this monster before being absorbed by it and re-born, no longer a scared and weak child, but a maniacal many, intent on destruction and escape.
Ignoring the fact that it’s incredibly fun to go on the Monster-Movie-esq tour of destruction that follows, I hesitate to assign meaning to the entire scene. Part of me thinks its what it is at face value: the powerless boy becomes a monster and turns on those who threatened him before in classics movie form.
However, another part of me thinks that its an expression of anxiety and anger, about hiding your emotions and feeling about the injustices in the world, seeing all the horrible things that happen to other that have helped you growing up, and then unleashing that anger back at those who did it once you’ve found your own power in a cathartic fit of rage.
Or maybe its all about birth and rebirth and the harshness of the world; there is birth symbolism everywhere in the game. Maybe it’s showing how children see wondrous, and terrifying, adventure but as they’re shown the horrors of the adult world, of death, and of the loss of dreams (a.k.a. becoming a zombie), the only truly reasonable response is not to fall in line, but escapes and lash out.
There’s even a part of me that thinks INSIDE is a political piece, decrying the way that commercialism has turned one class people into zombies doing the manual labor (this is actually seen at a couple point in the game), while the class in power treats them like cattle. Yet, when those who have been trodden on come together, they are more powerful than their masters, even if they risk becoming horrific monsters only capable of dolling out violence.
Or perhaps its simply a dystopian science fiction story with a liberal dash of body horror at it’s conclusion
There’s too many possible meanings to INSIDE to call any one interpretation correct. It’s going to mean many different things to many different people, even though they’ve played the exact same game, and I think that’s wonderful. Ambiguity isn’t something you’re going to find in AAA titles, or in the mainstream. There’s no one right answer or interpretation and that’s something we should encourage more in Indie Games. It encourages self-search and discussion, and that’s something everyone can use.
Got you’re own thoughts on the meaning of INSIDE? Let us know in the comments and get a discussion going!