Ever since LIMBO
from Playdead Studios
hit the PC (Steam) and consoles (Xbox360 and PS3) in 2010 there has been much talk about the awesomeness of the game. All of which is more than justified in my opinion. If you have not had the chance to play it then do so. It is well worth your time and money. Myself, I played it on the Xbox360 and for me this is probably one of my personal favourite video games of this decade.
The story--well, gameplay-wise at least--is rather simple. Your character, a small boy, wakes up in a dreary black and grey world. You have simple movement controls (left and right) as well as a jump and an interact button. That's it. No fancy special moves or upgradable abilites. No speech or even text at all. Just the barest of basics. But from it the developers craft an immersive game that is an excercise in reduction and sophistication at the same time. And it delivers atmosphere and a feeling of foreboding in spades. You set out to discover something, to get onward to an unknown destination, overcoming obstacles by jumping and running and solving physics-based puzzles. But what exactly is the story of Limbo? Given the alleged end of the world on the 21st of December I thought it might be a good idea to talk about the subject matter.
Ever since I completed the game I have been wondering about it. And I am not alone, oh no, sir! It seems that while certain views about the game are shared by a majority of gamers everyone also has his or her very own explanation about what happened (or happens) to the main character. From the official description we only glean that he is looking for his lost sister. That's about it. Attention: from now on there will be spoilers galore. If you haven't played the game yet but are planning to do so, do not read on. It might spoil a lot for you. Thanks!
Take a look at the teaser to get a vague feeling for the game.
*** SPOILERS AHEAD***
What most people share - given the name of the game - is that the boy is dead and finds himself lost in a place between life and death. Yes, I believe that, too. By the end of the game you crash through a wall of brittle material and find yourself lying on the ground - just like when you start the game. If you continue to the right you find a girl which is presumably the boy's sister. Above her hangs a broken rope ladder from a large tree and you can make out some structure in the treetop. The girl is kneeling or sitting on the ground, picking up or touching something in front of her, her back towards your character. Finally, when the boy has gotten nearer she suddenly looks up as if she has heard something. Then the game ends.
As for the interpretations, they really go wild. For some the whole journey represents mankind's fate from its humble beginnings (the boy starts in a wilderness) to end (where the background takes on a more and more urban look and gets increasingly threatening with traps, crushers, sawblades, automatic guns, giant cogwheels and other weird contraptions. For others it represents the increasing urbanization and pollution of nature. Or war. Or even the third world war and how mankind discovers true peace. Some have suggested that the boy is a sort of villain who lives through flashes of his life again and finally gains understanding about himself and what he did. This is somewhat supported by gamers who believe that the title screen shows two graves. Well, there are two swarms of buzzing flies over some nondescript patches of ground. Actually nothing that would ultimately hint at a grave. But nonetheless people have formed the theory that both the boy and his sister have died and that he finally meets her in the afterlife when he completes the trials of Limbo. Going even further into wild speculation is the theory that the boy's family had a car crash and his breaking through the aforementioned "pane of material" at the end of the game represents the crashing windshield. Jumping onto this train of thought, others claim to discern the wreckage not of a car but of a school bus in the title screen (which I am totally unable to perceive) and believe that the other kids which you encounter while playing Limbo are the ghosts of this alleged schoolbus crash.
What is the most amazing part of all these speculations and theories? That a small indie game developer could produce a game that in it's reduction of visual stimulation manages to engage players into seriously wrapping their brains around their play experience in order to find meaning. Maybe this is Limbo's greatest achievement.
Well, as for my own theory, I believe that all of what happens in the game is some sort of near death experience where the boy re-experiences parts of his life. For me, the game represents his personal journey through Limbo, fraught with all the things and obstacles he had to face in his life. Now he must face and overcome them again to be able to acertain his sister's fate. When he reaches his sister in the end she is trying to wake up her brother who is lying on the ground. If you look closely you can see that right in front of her the fuzzyness representing the grassy ground is not really that prominent thus providing for the theory that some something solid might be lying on the ground. The treehouse is not "rotten away" (as some have claimed) but just broken and the little swirling motes of dust in the air could represent recently broken dry wood. The boy fell from the tree house (or the rope ladder) which is represented by the final slow motion crash through some pane of material (be it glass or wood) and he finally found out the truth about it all - he died and his sister is alive. When his sister suddenly starts and looks up it is because she feels her brother's presence. That's where it fades to black.
What's your take on the meaning of Limbo? If you've played the game let me know. If you haven't played it then go and get it. Even with the spoilers you have read the game will likely enchant you in a morbid but beautiful way. If you consider yourself a deep video gamer then you owe it to yourself.