Throw Yourself Into The Barbs *WARNING*

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.*

0 thoughts on “Throw Yourself Into The Barbs *WARNING*

  1. Thanks you for sharing your post and experience. Loved seems like a really interesting and intense game. Interesting in that it puts the player in the mindset of an abused, manipulated person and shows the dangers that they face when they reject or accept their abuser’s commands. It also makes me wonder what it means to create a game that would want to put someone in this situation. It offers an avenue for understanding the trauma and empathizing with the traumatized but it does so in a way that reifies the abuse by making the player become the abused. I am not sure what exactly that signifies but I think it is an important question to consider nonetheless.

    1. It’s definitely a game that leaves you with more questions than answers. What does this gane speak about when it concerns the abused? By understanding trauma, how do we process what that trauma means? By creating it in this platform, do we become desensitized or oversensitived by something like abuse? Loved is definitely a game that sometimes lack closure and its this lack of closure that completes the narrative.

  2. Interesting post. I remember playing this a long time ago back when Indie games were free and Flash based(those were better days.)

    I always took it as a critique on the one sided nature of videogames and false narrators. As you ignore the game’s commands, it grows unstable and glitchy because you are breaking the rules yet somehow advancing. Unlike many games, which lead you to make the only choice because you are coaxed by by a friendly narrator, Loved offers true choice and makes you realize it through an abusive one. If I remember correctly, the achievement for the game was even a BioShock reference, which pertains to the same general concept.

  3. This is one of my favorite posts of the semester. This post has a very beautiful narrative voice which seems to be a trend in my favorite posts. It also gets at the heart of the game. If I had played this game without reading your post, I’m not sure that I would have realized the significance and purpose of it fully.

  4. This is also one of my favorite posts of the semester. It was moving to read about how playing a videogame could help you understand more about your family. While many people attempt to ignore negative family dynamics, I admire your willingness to explore how the relationship between your great-grandmother and great-grandfather related to your experience playing “Loved.”

Leave a Reply