I played Limbo for the very first time a couple of weeks ago, when it finally landed on the PlayStation Network. After a single play session that lasted all of four hours, I had gotten through the entire game. Normally, I like games that are a bit lengthier, but I found Limbo’s lasting value perfect due to its engrossing level design, wonderful atmosphere, and open narrative. I can honestly say that the game propelled itself to the top spot on my personal “best games of summer” list. Part of the reason I loved Limbo so much was because of its story, which is completely open to interpretation. Upon completing the game, I immediately came up with several different takes on its plot. Sure, the game could be about a boy facing his fears as he looks for his lost sister. However, what if Limbo was a tale about men and our relentless search for romance?
When it comes to romance, I have to admit, I can be a bit of a sap. Sure, I like giving girls a hard time, but at the end of the day, I’m willing to do incredibly stupid shit just to please them. Then again, aren’t plenty of guys that way? You know who you are. You’re the guys who stay up late talking to a girl just because you like her, regardless of the fact that you have to be up early in the morning. You’re the guys who drive long distances just to see a pretty face. You’re the guys who do things you wouldn’t normally do, just because you want to get closer to that special lady. In the end, we’re not very different from the nameless protagonist in Limbo.
In Playdead’s mysteriously wonderful puzzle platformer, you guide a small child through several environments, from a gloomy forest to a saw blade-laden industrial zone. The whole experience goes from creepy to terrifying. Hmmm… that’s a lot like plenty of interactions I’ve had with members of the fairer sex. It’s always exciting talking to someone new, but for a guy like me—an unnecessarily nervous guy—it’s scary as hell. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate and cherish the act of getting to know a girl, but there’s always a deep fear inside of me. Of course, the more I get to know a girl, the more terrified I am of her. Now, this could be because I’m attracted to difficult girls who love nothing more than giving me a hard time (that’s also why I play Super Meat Boy), so I’m pretty much seeking out all of this terror.
Just like the boy in Limbo.
You see, that nameless child was willing to risk life and limb just to get to his ultimate goal: a girl. He can’t swim, but he traversed deep waters. He can’t run very fast, yet he put himself in a position where he needed to outrun several dangers. He can’t jump high or far, but he continuously scaled uneven terrain and pitfalls. All of that was done for a girl. Now, I’ve never risked my life for a woman (and I hope most of you reading this haven’t, either; if so, seek help), but I have done things just to get the attention and adoration I so desire. I’ve run on nothing but an hour and a half of sleep just because I was out late with a special lady. I’ve driven a beat-up car long distances with the risk of being left stranded. I, like so many of you, have made an ass out of myself trying to impress girl. It’s male nature, and we do it in the hopes that we’ll get to our ultimate goal: a girl.
Perhaps Limbo is in fact a tale about love. It could be the story of man’s love for woman—or possibly even man’s love for love. Saw blades (emotional risk-taking), giant spiders (fear that the relationship will fail), deep water (possibility of making mistakes), and horrific children (the ex-boyfriend and all of the emotional baggage he entails) are all dangers in the world of Limbo, and they symbolize fears. They symbolize the fears that the game’s unknown protagonist must conquer in order to get to the girl, and he does so in an unrelenting manner. Sometimes he fails, and the cost is death. Then, what does he do? He gets back up and tries again. Like so many relationships, Limbo urges you to try again—even after you’ve failed—because the payoff is clear. Keep on pushing forward, and you may get what you want.
Of course, giant spiders and saw blades can only provide a finite amount of imagery as far as fear is concerned. What about the boy? What does he symbolize? Simple: the shadowy boy in Limbo represents a lonely guy, desperately clinging to the idea that there’s a relationship in his future. In all honesty, what is a better representation of the male gender than a child? Like most children, guys don’t know about giving up. As far as romance is concerned, a lot of guys have hope that there will be love in their futures. They face their fears, do the stupidest things imaginable, and put themselves in difficult situations, all for the adulation and affection of a woman. As idiotic and as ridiculous as that may sound, it’s the truth, and Limbo is a perfect indicator of that.
Why else would the boy jump over spikes? Why else would he risk drowning? Why else would he risk his ass just to get to a girl? Is it because he’s a guy? No, it’s because he’s a child, and he has absolutely no grasp of what his limits really are. Like so many of us, the boy in Limbo doesn’t know when to quit. Take that as stubbornness, or take it as perseverance. Ultimately, his goal is to get the girl, and he’ll do whatever it takes to do so, because until he does, he’s stuck in limbo. He’s neither here nor there. He’s lost, tortured, and terrified. So it only makes sense that he goes through all of the horrors of that forest and all of the terrors of that warehouse, because the ends justify the means.
The means, in the case of Limbo and in the case of romance, are proving your affection. We live in an era where words don’t mean crap. In order to win over a mate, you need to show that person that you care. In Limbo, the main character did just that. He showed the girl that he cared by putting himself in danger just to get to her. Or maybe, just maybe, he put himself in danger because that’s what she wanted of him. Maybe she wanted him to show her that he cared by expecting him to complete these hideous trials.
Regardless of whether he’s putting himself through hell for a girl, or whether she’s providing hell for him to put himself through, in the end, it’s worth it for the boy in Limbo to have gone through his horrid experience. Then again, if you’ve played through Limbo and witnessed the abrupt ending (also open to interpretation), is it really all worth it? Or is it just another story about a guy performing a series of foolish acts just to end up absolutely confused and terrified once more, with no vision whatsoever of what the future may hold?
Maybe I am just over-analyzing what is, in actuality, a story about a boy looking for his lost sister? F*ck if I know.