The Beauty of LIMBO

As gamers, we are conditioned to expect a certain set of experiences in a video game. You are going to save the princess/world/best friend, you’re going to kill a lot of enemies, you’re going to meet a diabolical arch nemesis or madman, and most importantly, you are going to die.

Death is common in video games. It’s the basic obstacle, the most useful trick in a developer’s repertoire, the idea that keeps a player active in a game. Without death, players can dive head first into gun fire or jump knee deep into a circle of enemies. But death is also inconsequential in games. When we die, we just select continue and try again, sometimes from a different angle or a different mindset. Sometimes we throw our characters and avatars to their deaths, just to test a trap or see if we can make that jump to grab a secret item.

And why not? Death is never really punished. The camera will just fall to the ground in a FPS or your character will flop over in a hilarious display of Havok based physics. If it is gory, it’s usually comical or so fantastic that you can’t help but be wowed by the gore effects.


So when death is handled in a truly gruesome and horrifying fashion, as in LIMBO, this simple game mechanic becomes something much more powerful and can change how you feel about it and games in general.

It’s astounding that LIMBO can take video game death to next level, since it happens so often. LIMBO has been described as a "trial and death" game, where solving puzzles usually means the boy will be killed. It happens often and there is even an achievement for making it through the game without dying. Yet, in a game with so much death, it works at making you fear it.

The Boy’s deaths are horrific. He gets smashed, cut, shot, and impaled. Yes, other games also do this, and with greater visual effect, but LIMBO enhances it with its black and white scheme. The Boy is shrouded in black with only his glowing eyes as his defining feature. When he dies, you are treated to a visual that you can’t really see. Horror is always more shocking and scary when you imply it, rather than show it. LIMBO excels at this. You see something gruesome and your brain’s only choice is to imagine what it might look like and it’s more unsettling.


LIMBO also creates a connection between you and The Boy, one made without words or voice and The Boy is never named. He is a blank slate on which you can project whatever characterization or personality you want. The added shock of a young boy being killed also connects you to him and it all culminates in the attitude that you don’t want him to die. You want to help more than anything, to get this child to his destination, without harm.

LIMBO makes you think about throwing your character to his death at your whim, especially when you create a strong emotional connection between you and your onscreen hero. By taking the time to invest the player in your world and character, you draw them deeper into your world and provide a more rewarding experience. It’s amazing how well LIMBO does this, making it seem so simple and elegant. It presents a haunting landscape that is filled with dangers and horrors, much like our world. It’s familiar yet foreign and death is around every corner. The beauty in LIMBO is how it makes you feel and think about death in video games, forcing you to think about it and how horrific it can really be. After playing LIMBO, you may think twice about throwing your character to death. I know I will.


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Author: Matt Erazo View all posts by

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