Finding Meaning in the Narrative of Limbo

TW: Violence, spiders

Limbo is a minimalistic 2-d platformer that came out in 2010. It tells the story of a young boy looking for his sister in a black forest full of dangers, including bear traps, spear-wielding enemies and a giant spider that obsessively hunts him. The game is entirely in black-and-white, with many of the traps hidden in black grasses. The overall theming of the game is based around the contrast of the small protagonist and the increasingly complex environments, as forests eventually give way to sprawling urban landscapes and dangerous industrial machinery. While the game does not shy away from dismembering enemies by tricking them into their own traps, and deaths can include decapitation, the game is not terrifying on a visceral level as Dead Space or Resident Evil are. Rather, the horror of the game occurs due to a mix of unsettling scenery, the unexplained hostility of the enemies, and a deeply unsettling ending.

Spoilers following this picture.

The game ends abruptly as the Boy crashes through a glass wall and lands in a grove of flowers. There he sees his sister again, for the first time in hours of gameplay. She appears to be patting the ground, before getting up and leaving, not noticing her brother. The ambiguity of the ending leaves many questions open; why did every human found in the game either run away or attack the Boy? Is he dead, and was his sister burying him? Interpretations vary; some argue that the plot is about the protagonist literally traveling through purgatory in order to move on after his death. My own interpretation is that the game is about the successive fears of the human race; from nature itself, to other people, to the terror caused mechanical overhaul of labor and dehumanization. I am curious to hear others’ interpretations; if you’ve played the game, I welcome responses in the comments below.

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