After spending a few hours working on code, I needed a break, and remembered Edmond Chang’s talk on straight-washing in video games. More specifically, I remembered that he had mentioned an interesting-sounding game, and I decided that if I’m taking a break, a video game that had gotten the approval of a queer media analyst sounded pretty great.
LIM’s mechanics are simple enough. You’re a little square trying to go through a maze. Arrow keys to move, Z button to blend in. Your square is uniquely able to flash colors and, in fact, cannot help but to sparkle in a epileptic-delight of a rainbow. The instructions are helpfully written just below the game screen with a trigger warning about aforementioned flashing lights and “shaking effects”.
Those “shaking effects” are, incidentally, shockingly anxiety-inducing. See, while you zoom along, you periodically come to a larger area with mono-colored squares. Following the instructions, you press Z and your square takes on the appropriate color, allowing you to get through the area without the mono-colored squares waking up. The catch is that the screen slowly zooms in and you slow down as you’re holding Z. The longer you hold it, the less you’re able to see, and then the screen starts shaking. Letting go of Z lets the screen start to zoom out again, but then you start to flash colors, blowing your cover.
When a mono-colored square “sees” you as multi-colored, it will start to move around. The brown ones sort of meander about slowly, but the blue ones chase you. I got stuck about ten minutes into the game, at this impasse here:
I’m the blue square in the dead-center of the screen. An important note is is that once the squares are awake, once they’ve seen what you truly are, they don’t stop. Even though I’m blue, they still boxed me in there. This screen shot was taken about two seconds before they jumped in and then shoved me out of the maze entirely.
That’s the second interesting mechanic of the game and what initially attracted me to it.
Visually speaking, those grey blocks are a wall. I cannot traverse through walls. My little flashing square shouldn’t be able to walk through them either. But the mono-colored ones can and will shove you right out of the maze, leaving you wandering. There are even a few of them in the “empty” space as well; outside of the game is still the game.
I wound up wandering for a bit, pretty confused, and then I decided to just try and follow the maze, just from the outside. I came to this one spot where there was another flashing square, after what would have been a grueling segment of mono-colored squares, and zoomed up to them immediately. Then the screen faded to black.
I can only assume that the other flashing square marks the end of the game and I’m definitely going to give it another try, but I have to say, I completely understand why Chang mentioned this in a presentation on queerness and gaming.
For anyone who has experienced the unique lifestyle of being “in the closet”, acting as someone that they are not, this game feels remarkably like that. Walking my little square through the mass of mono-colored squares while the screen started shaking and I had to try to remember where the exit was because I couldn’t see it anymore was pretty reminiscent of family gatherings with all the nods and smiles about hetero- and cis- normativity. I found myself holding my breath as my square’s zoom slowed to a pixel-by-pixel crawl to the exit. When it was blocked by the two blue squares, I was frustrated to a far greater degree than I should have been; I had only been playing for ten minutes, restarting wouldn’t be a problem, and yet I was muttering under my breath about the unfairness of how the path was too narrow to slip past them and that the doors shut behind me. I’m not exactly unused to having video games affect me emotionally, but I can’t say I’ve ever wanted to punch a square before.
All in all, I’m incredibly curious as to what anyone else who played it thought. If you’d like to give it a try, it’s available here: