Next level storytelling

INSIDE play dead

writer icon Erik Kjær Andersen & Kay Lagercrantz     Playdead   |   Game Development     🕐 26. Feb. 2018

INSIDE is a mysterious and compelling video game. Despite the absence of dialogue or text, it tells a short story rich in content. With an open ending, you are left to interpret the events yourself, and come up with your own explanation of what has happened.

Spoilers ahead!
From the moment you start to play INSIDE, you will continue to ask yourself “What is going on here?”. Everything is vague and shrouded in mystery, so it may take several play-throughs to get any sort of answer to that question. Even then, it’s not guaranteed that things will become clearer.

The main character is a small boy, whose red t-shirt stands out in a world of black and grey. We follow him as he runs through a dark, lifeless forest, evading capture by mysterious men who, for an unknown reason, are hunting him. The boy eventually finds shelter in an abandoned building, but it becomes apparent that he is not alone. The building is revealed to have been a facility for conducting bizarre experiments with live subjects. There is no clear explanation as to what is going on, just small hints and insinuations from the in-game environment. You are aware that the boy is in danger. Exactly what the danger is remains for the most part unknown, which contributes to the overall tension and paranoia felt by the player.

Created by Playdead
INSIDE was released in 2016 and is the second game from Danish game developer Playdead, who garnered attention with the release of their debut game “LIMBO”. LIMBO bears many similarities to INSIDE; the game world is dark, an environment depicted in shades of black and grey. LIMBO also has an eerie undertone, set in a sun-less purgatory. As well as having a similar artistic style, LIMBO and INSIDE are also of the same genres, namely “puzzle”, “platformer” and “adventure”.

It is safe to say that Playdead have mastered their approach to game design, as INSIDE is not only being praised for its unusual storytelling but also for its playability and distinctive visuals. It has received numerous nominations and won several awards including “Best independent game” and “Best looking game” along with receiving top score reviews.

INSIDE is easy to play thanks to its simple controls, and can therefore be played by almost anyone who has the nerves. It took six years to make, with the last two being spent on polishing and fine-tuning the gameplay and graphics. Director Arnt Jensen has said that the smallest details are just as important as the big ones, and this becomes very apparent when moving through the scenes in the game. Sometimes the answer to a puzzle lies in the tiniest element, and this attention to even the smallest components contributes to artistic scenes that are rich in detail and emotion.

The beauty of the art
Being completely free from dialogue or text means that there is never a clear explanation offered from within the game as to what has happened prior to the game’s beginning. You do not know who the boy is running from, or indeed what dystopian world you are playing in. You must set your brain to work, and fill in the gaps yourself. Theories and explanations are shared and popularised on the internet, as people try to throw light on the game’s ending and work out what it means. This extends from regular players to YouTubers, and even some gaming magazines have weighed in and tried their best to make sense of the wordless game. As long as Playdead keep us in the dark by not releasing an official commentary, the mysterious story will remain open to interpretation.

This is the beauty of INSIDE’s dark style. It lets you decide what has happened in this world and forces you to become imaginative, even after you have completed the game. It makes you become a co-writer of the story, and your own version is just as good as anyone else's, regardless of if you are the editor of a gaming magazine or just played your first video game. You may still want an official answer, but you will (probably) never get one.

INSIDE is the mystery you want to solve. It keeps the player in a state of constant intrigue, challenges the imagination and forces you to think long after you stopped playing. INSIDE may haunt you, but that might just make you love it.

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