My grandmother use to tell me stories of her mother. She spoke extensively about the strength her mother had and how she managed to care for all seven of her siblings. My grandma also tells me stories about her father, a strong-willed man with an iron fist of discipline but a soft heart for grandma.
But she never talked about my great-grandparents together. Not once until I was about 16 years old. She was looking at some old photos of her childhood in Puerto Rico. She told me how much she missed home and being with her mother.
“But grandma, didn’t your family move to New York?”
“Yes, yes they did.”
“Then why did you go?”
“Because Papí hurt Mamí.”
And since then she’s given me bits and pieces of a story so intricate to my family’s that I feel sick. The abuse was beyond the physical, it was a mental burden on my great-grandmother, this need to please the iron fists of my great-grandfather.
And then I played Loved, and I finally understood what my grandma meant, what my great-grandmother’s pain meant.
Loved is a browser-based platform game reminiscent of games like Limbo. Loved can be seen as a choose-your-own-adventure game, but there is something eerie when you follow (or don’t follow) the directions of an aggressive, omnipresent voice. The game begins with a question,
I identify as a woman, and so I hovered my mouse over. Immediately, the voice responds, and it’s so jarring I’m sucked out of my assumptions of this game.
It answers, “No, you are a boy.”
Not a woman. Not even a man. A boy.
The gameplay is simple enough. You move across a world, jumping over barbs and pits and climbing up pixelated hills.
But then the demands began.
And from here, the demands become more aggressive, more angry, and I never felt so scared playing a video game. The game became destructive, became a monster on a screen and I was stuck in its rage.
The decision element comes from either disobeying or obeying the voice. There are, surprisingly, a multitude of endings depending on whether you play as a man, a woman, and whether you follow all, some, or none of the demands of the voice.
But here’s the rub: as you disobey more and more, the world becomes more pixelated, more complicated, harder, even, to have good quality gameplay
Things like barbs and traps become covered by these colorful squares the more you disobey this voice, as if the voice is making it harder and harder for you to leave the game. However, when you do obey the voice, the voice praises you with demeaning terminology that implies your inferiority.
When we talk about the relationship between the gamer and the game, Loved is a perfect example of the form, the platform, reflecting the narrative. The distortion of the gameplay parallels the confusion and fear of emotionally abusive relationships. It is a game that in its simplicity showcases eloquently and beautifully the grotesque nature in the language of abuse. It is a game that is striking and ultimately shows that, no matter who you are and no matter what you do, you can’t escape this language. However, that doesn’t me that there isn’t an escape, and that hope pushed me through this dystopian world.
So the question is, will you throw yourself into the barbs?
You can play the game here.
*WARNING: Loved is extremely triggering when it comes to misgendering, abuse, hateful language, and distortion. If you’re thinking of playing this game, please consider these things.*