Playdead created Limbo and, obviously, Inside. This is a fact that can be proven by lots of legal, audio, and visual proof that I don’t need to bore you with here. While not quite self-evident, that studio’s claim to their properties is one few would argue against, which, of course, lends credence to the simple statement we started off with. Simple statements can hold both paradox and magic. All it takes it the correct scenario.
Epimenides was a philosopher that popularized the potential logical contradiction of language. An example would be “All video game villains are liars” coming from Sephiroth; how can you believe what he says is true if he, being a villain, is indeed a liar as well? It’s one of the first examples of a self-aggrandizing philosophical trap that many villains, and ironically heroes, sharpen their character arcs over.
What I love with all my heart about Inside is how you can almost hear the simple statements used to justify the grotesque, the guttural, and the deeply terrifying acts found within its world. Then, you can see the game’s evidence to make that statement a paradox.
In a world that is very likely post-apocalyptic (or at least on the brink), you can very clearly hear the statement “I am afraid and alone” emanating from the main character. He’s a child clearly on the run from something with enough resources to be tracking him in the deepest of woods. A few side-scrolling screens later, you can hear “We’re going to catch you” from men with violent implements. Their seeking nets seem pre-destined to snatch as you, the alone and afraid boy, have no great power to deal with these threats. Your luck is bound to run out.
The tension these scenes create is awe-inspiring from afar but nerve-wracking in the moment. It’s the bi-product of a world that feels real enough to drown in, and one that continues to peel more and more layers away with the scent of terror stronger with every step forward. Inside takes its story through silence and deafening noise, coming out the other side with those paradoxes firmly in hand.
By the phenomenal end, the logic of those in power has been thoroughly looped. Your character can be heard screaming, “How can you catch me if you’re the one running?” and further self-defeating answers for those that had every plan dashed. Despite the health of this world, it becomes very clear by the end that no one is ready for the opposites of any simple statement, including the player.
You control your nameless character with simple left-to-right movements with a touch of three-dimensional sliding. He’s a strict non-combatant, which gives a lot of the gameplay over to timing jumps or noticing the environment for clues and salvation. Beyond that are puzzles that will task you with a moderate amount of problem solving that usually only require a few steps to master. The goal, as always, is to get towards a mysterious exit that the character is hoping to find.
This, boys and girls, is exactly how one should do the hide-or-die gameplay mechanics. While not strictly running and hiding, you are a lost, lonely little kid that one would assume is helpless against the horrors circling like vultures above. Instantly, you feel engaged because you’re invested in the helpless child being helpless, and that engagement is constantly reshuffled by the changing environments and predicaments therein. You can swim, but is it fast enough? You can run from pursuers, but can you run fast enough? This is a system I’ve never liked. Yet I now have proof that the concept can indeed work when it’s applied to this gratifying a level.
Circling back to the world of Inside, the inherent darkness of Limbo is given color and life here. You no longer have one tone to differentiate but a wide array of darkened shades. At it’s cheeriest, you’re still looking at a dystopian setting with ominous “hunts” constantly feeling close by, and the visual spectrums colorful swathe helps you feel the tension and purpose of newer environments. It’s not all just black or white…wait, is this a metaphor!?
Inside will likely have theoretical analysis laid at its doorstep for a long time with the implications these configurations lay down having that beautifully broad sense to them. Anyone that wants to know what fear, desperation, and utter helplessness feels like can find no better a simulator in their gaming libraries. All you have to do is be willing to embrace this little paradox that could.