Disclaimer: Very light spoilers for Inside are contained in this article.
Playdead’s new release Inside isn’t a particularly fun game.
It doesn’t lead to the dopamine-like release of giddy emotion that other games may bring. There isn’t much of an objective, other than keep moving forward. I don’t really know if I even had fun with the “game.”
Yet, when I finished my three-hour journey with Inside, I came away with shock, awe, and wonder. For some reason, the slow-paced, dark, sometimes even boring 3-hour adventure evoked more inside of me than a full length 60-hour game.
Perhaps it is the fact that Inside places the character in the role of a child, and not just in a literal sense. Exploring the haunting world of Inside is like discovering a new world for the first time. Around every corner there was something new, interesting, and eerily unnerving. As if relegated back to to the age of a five year-old child, Inside put the player in a state of helplessness and unease.
Isn’t that what a game is about? Sure, most games have a beginning, middle, and end – a clear goal for which to strive for. But, at the center of it all lies interactivity; developers want the player to feel the emotion of the game as if they were there.
So here we are in Inside’s world. No tutorial in sight to inform us of what to do or where to go. No clear signs that influence our thinking. Instead, the developer shows us a grim, creepy environment and says “Go!”
In my playthrough I died a lot. Almost everywhere the developers planted a puzzle I probably died. My character would fall, or drown, or get torn apart by a wolf. Then, I would revive and think about what I did wrong. The game would not tell me what to do differently. There was no indicator telling me if a particular item would be useful to me. Instead, like a child, I would have to explore and learn from my mistakes. I would hit levers, move boxes, push buttons, and eventually everything would click together, a wall would crumble, and I would move on.
I felt like a child.
Most games do the opposite. Most games empower the player. They give the player a breadth of tools to play with and abuse; they give players items with grandiose descriptions and myths full of lore to dive into. Most video games want the player to feel powerful and in control, Inside does a lot of the opposite.
Meanwhile, the world of Inside, a character in itself, is a daunting one. There is so much there, but at the same time there is so little there. Most is up to the imagination of the player.
There is so little direction within Inside that it is difficult to garner what the developers’ true intentions were. Perhaps the developers had a full story behind the game, a “true” intent and story that they wanted players to figure out. Maybe the story is a secret for just the developers to know.
More likely, however, is that the developers put together this game with nonlinear puzzle pieces as its story. These puzzle pieces fit together in nonstandard or different ways, with each player coming up with a distinctly different version and interpretation of the story. Sure, the drab gray may permeate as a motif through each one, but the pieces fit together in distinctly different ways.
So, why is Inside such a damn good game?
Perhaps it is the player choice, or lack thereof. Perhaps it is the story, or lack thereof. Perhaps it is the game’s message, or lack thereof.
If there is one thing for certain, however, is that Inside sure did make me feel like a child, crawling and exploring its dense world as if I had never walked before.
This piece was first published on Xbox Enthusiast.