Life Lessons in LIMBO
Every single one of us has experienced a low in our life that's almost seemed to take our existence down with it.
And it's not always the catastrophes and the tragedies that do it, either; sometimes, it's that one bad grade we got on that test for which we spent countless hours honestly preparing. Or it's that brief period of exploration, a calculated, high-stakes risk we took, that didn't turn out so well at all.
But there's always an outlet, a conduit of some sort, through which we're able to channel our feelings and feel a little better about ourselves. For some, it's music and writing; for others, it's sports and athletics; for many, it's isolation and video games.
I came across LIMBO many years ago in grade school, within the first couple of years of its release. At that point in time, I wasn't really emotionally developed nor was I conscious of the impact that the game was having on the indie community. I passed it off as another indie game with an interestingly-depressing visual.
But in light of some recent events, I've festered an absolute obsession with this game; more specifically, I've been obsessing over what the game means more than its entertainment value.
In fact, I haven't even played it. I've been studying it in an effort to dissect its ambiguity and intentional mystery that has so many fans of the game puzzled. To me, LIMBO seems like so much more than just a game. It seems like a testament to our mortality, to the moments when we feel the most alive and the most human. Usually, these moments come right before or during times of trial and suffering, and that is almost exactly the theme within LIMBO. That is where the artistry in the game lies.
Throughout my studies, I've put together a small list of some of the life lessons that LIMBO teaches us through its playing, starting with the most basic lesson of...
The entire environment of LIMBO wants to kill you. Everything from bear traps and spike pits to giant spiders and indigenous tribes of strangers want to see you dead. But that's the very mission of the game: to get through it, to come out alive on the other side of the chaos.
The puzzle mechanic of the game works on a basis of trial and error; to clarify, the game encourages you to try what you think might be the way to solve a puzzle when, most of the time, that way gets you killed. There are no pre-game instructions or guidelines to help you through anything, either. It's all up to you to figure it out. And how do you do that? You fail until you succeed.
There Is Always a Way out of a Raw Deal.
Imagine this: One moment, you're playing in your backyard tree-house with your sister, having a great time and enjoying each other's company. The next, your eyes open and you're engulfed in more darkness, disease, death, and depression than you've ever experienced. That is the exactly the premise behind the opening scene of LIMBO. At least, that's what one of the popular theories say.
This kid wakes up in what is essentially hell, without any explanation, and has no choice but to get through it. When's the last time you felt like you were about to enter hell knowing that it was going to suck? Multiply that feeling by ten and you've probably got an inkling of what this kid was feeling when he first opened his eyes. Not to mention that fact that he's just that: a kid.
There are many theories that try to explain how the boy ended up in LIMBO. But almost all seem to unanimously agree that the boy has died and is experiencing some sort of test in the afterlife. He has no choice but to traverse what lies ahead of him and hope for the best, yet that is but another of the game's principles: There is always a way.
Failure Is Required for Success.
No matter how intently we convince ourselves that we're going to make it, it's just never going to happen until we fail a few times, first. Why is this the case? Because we need to learn. We may think we know everything we need to know before entering the lion's den, but we'll never have any way of finding that out until we do just that: enter it. And chances are extremely high that, once that happens, something will surprise us, hit us from behind, because we just don't know for sure until we do.
This is similar to the first lesson I covered and one of the most salient mechanics on which LIMBO operates; the only way to find out if you're right is to try. Once you die a couple of times, your mental and sensual understanding of the situation massively improves, and then you're eventually able to figure out a solution. The same exact principle applies to the real world; you just don't know until you do.
Sometimes, Nothing Is What It Seems.
The information the game developers gave us about the story behind LIMBO is scant and incomplete; frankly, they never gave us much information at all, leaving massive room for personal interpretation of the game, its lore, and, most specifically, its ending.
This is what fascinates me the most about this game. The fact that these guys essentially said, "We don't want people to be able to label this game at all because, when that happens, you're figured out and you get pushed to the side." It's a risk that comes with great reward and great danger, but LIMBO pulls it off in entertaining style.
Just think about it for a second: No one will ever, ever know for sure why the boy is in LIMBO, why his sister is in LIMBO, how he got there, and anything else that pertains to its plot because that's how the developers wanted it. They wanted the game to remain a permanent mystery.
And yet, even when we know that this is for sure, we still tell ourselves that our own personal theories are correct because, well, how could they not be? We gather our own evidence, we stack it up against what we know and don't, and then we make a conclusion. As time progresses, we let that theory cement itself into reality until it becomes truth; self-perceived truth, to be exact. And after that? When all doubt has dissolved and the questioning disappears, it becomes absolute truth that still lives within the realm of our own perceptions.
This is why people blow themselves up in the name of their God. It's why bullied and psychologically unhealthy 15-year-old's decide that enough is enough and shoot up their school. It is the very reason why most, if not all, of all major political and moral dilemmas exist: because of self-perceived, absolute truth.
But, in the world of LIMBO, no such truth exists because we have absolutely no way of knowing what is absolutely for sure and what is not. That is how it will always be, forever. And until the day comes (if it even does) when the developers reveal and tell all, nothing will ever be what it seems.
But isn't that just life, too?