So you may have read my review of Inside, Playdead’s long awaited sophomore outing. Much like it’s debut in Limbo, Inside has some strange and startling moments … but what does it all mean? Interpretations can be many, but having completed the game and seen its rather somber endings, I’ve got a few ideas of my own.
Now bare in mind, if you haven’t played the game yet, I will be mentioning a few plot points, so SPOILER WARNING.
The story is rather simple when you break it down to its core, a little boy on the run through a scary and dark environment to an unknown destination. Control, of both the environment and the objects you come across, are the key to survival, but control plays a more deeper meaning across the board. That becomes clearer once you reach the first ‘zombie human’ scene, in which our protagonist uses a device to move a number of humanoid creatures to shift a wooden wall on the far side of the room.
I say ‘zombies’ and ‘humanoids’ because in truth, we’re not really sure if they’re human anymore, but they’re certainly not out to eat our brains or destroy the world around us. For the most part they just sit there, waiting to be called upon by our little hero (of sorts). They’ll do whatever we ask of them, whether it’s jumping to platforms, falling from heights, we control their destiny to aid our own.
The same human drones are seen a number of times walking, jumping and spinning on the spot by command of what appears to be a scientific group, possibly a government controlled organisation, though neither is explained in-game it’s an easy assumption to make.
Control also comes in the form of our own avatar, the lead character. We don’t know why we’re here or where we’re going, but we’re driven to continue moving forward, unlocking doors and diving into the depths of dark and disturbing secrets. When we finally reach what could be described as ‘the end’, we find ourselves as part of a much bigger picture, and our assumptions of what our goals are suddenly become eschewed.
The final main room of Inside is a giant chamber, experiments left and right, but the main circular dome seems to hold the biggest secret of all. When we finally breach the entrance and move in, we discover the most horrid of creations at its heart. A mound of muscle, skin and body parts, this hive mind seems to be our goal for reasons still not explained. When our hero gets sucked into its form, becoming one with it, we’re thrust into controlling its eventual escape from the containment unit and the entire compound.
Whether you were weirded out or just plain confused, there are a number things to take away from this ending, as the giant ball comes to rest near a sunny beachside. We’ve escaped, found freedom from control, but for what purpose? What do we do now? We may be content, at ease with our surroundings, but do we have a reason for continuing anymore? It’s the trade off that plays with our minds in every day life, that drive to reach our goals (whatever they may be), but when we reach them, what do we have to fight for?
As mentioned, control is a key defining factor in Inside, but there’s another key part to this, which I’ve seen a few other players suggest.
It’s entirely possible, as we’ve been playing the game and leading our character through these challenges, that we’ve been under control of the hive mind the entire time. The theory revolves around the child being an element or ‘piece’ of the blog like creature, or in turn being a former escaped experiment that’s somehow linked to the hive mind. This theory becomes more credible once you discover the secret drones, and in turn the secret ending.
Dotted through-out the landscape, you’ll discover strange lit up orbs that can be destroyed once found. Each one links back together through a series of yellow power cables, leading to a giant orb at the back of the same main room where the hive mind resides. A panel near this giant orb shows a set of lights, each depicting an existing orb. If you destroy it from the inside (heh), the panel will flash and (as long as you’ve destroyed every previous orb), only one remaining light will shine. That light represents the second orb, found underneath a wheat field within a secret bunker back near the start of the game.
Whether you complete the game as intended or not, if you go back to this bunker and unlock the door you’ll find a small room with what appears to be a server. Pull the switch and eventually the entire thing will shut down, though here’s where things get interesting. As the game ‘ends’ within this room, our hero leans over and ‘shuts down’, in much the same way as the zombie like humans did earlier when you controlled them via the mind-control device. Many believe this to be a sign that the hive mind had control of you the entire time, that the devices were linked to it in some way and by disconnecting them, you were removing yourself from the system.
There’s a deeper meaning to this, and a lot of it has to do with being a video game player. We choose to play games to escape, to unwind from every day life. Inside attempts to remind us that, in many ways, we’re still under the control of a system. Though we have our little character and we’re moving them around as we see fit, we’re still stuck within the confines of rules and regulations, invisible walls and pre-determined situations. Open world games like to make us believe we have no limits, but there’s only so many places we can go, only so many miles to travel before we hit that barrier.
Pulling that secret switch is like Neo pulling himself out of the Matrix, it’s the choice of disconnecting ourselves completely from the system without following the rules set out before us. This secret ending isn’t an easy way out, you have to work to achieve it, but it’s almost feels like it’s a choice we make to forgo the calls of the hive mind, to escape from the horrid world around us for good instead of seeing it through to the end. We don’t want to be controlled anymore, we want a true and ultimate sense of peace.
Is Inside any of this at all? Maybe it’s just another story of good challenging evil, of helping the helpless and sacrificing oneself for the greater good, with some weird sci-fi stuff thrown in for good measure. Then again, if it were me and I was completely of my own mind, I seriously doubt I’d go running into a strange science centre only to have myself sucked into a giant blob. Just saying.
I think we can all agree that Inside will be talked about for quite a while, in the same vein as Limbo all these years later. It’s impact goes beyond just ‘being’ a character in a video game, profound reflections on reality and how we see our world today taking precedence over generic storytelling and cliches.
What are your thoughts on Inside? Did the game resonate with you in the same way, or an entirely different way? Let us know in the comments below.
Mark Isaacson is a blob … I mean … is the editor of PN2. Go say hi @Mark_D_Isaacson