Following on from #LoveYourBacklog Week with LightningEllen from Livid Lightning last month, I finally played LIMBO for #MaybeinMarch recently. This game had shockingly spent almost five years in my library since being added on 25 March 2013 so after leaving it in a dark corner for so long, it was time to grab the controller and do something about it.
I originally had this article planned in my head as a retrospective review, but conversations with Gao Li from Gao Li Occasionally Reviews along with The Gaming Diaries changed that. These lovely people joined us on Twitch as my other-half and I worked our way through the shadowy world of LIMBO over a couple of Saturdays – and expressed just as much surprise when we reached the end. It’s safe to say that none of us really knew what to make of it (although The Gaming Diaries herself did come up with a pretty good explanation which I’ll share later).
If you haven’t yet played LIMBO yourself and intend to do so, I’d highly recommend turning away now! The paragraphs below contain discussions about the game’s conclusion so you may wish to come back to this post another time.
Here’s part of the plot description from Wikipedia, which we checked while the credits were rolling on the stream to make sure we hadn’t missed something: “On completion of the final puzzle, the boy is thrown through a pane of glass and back into the forest. After he wakes up and recovers from the pain and shock, he walks a short distance until he again encounters a girl, who, upon his approach, stands up, startled. At this point, the game abruptly ends.”
One of the things I love about video games is having the opportunity to investigate unanswered questions and figure out what the developer was trying to communicate through their project. I’ve therefore been doing a bit of research into LIMBO’s conclusion since and have come across a number of interesting ideas… although all of them are somewhat depressing. This fits my conversations with Gao Li, where we both got the impression that whatever happened at the end of the title was likely not to be happy.
In an interview with Gamasutra published on 24 February 2012, Playdead co-founder Arnt Jensen said: “I get a little upset when people say, ‘It was a stupid ending and I don’t know what was happening.’ All those people who enjoyed the open ending, that makes me happy, because it was supposed to be an open ending. What it means, I don’t want to talk about.” He did go on however to say that someone got ‘very close’ but has never provided an explanation – only that the girl shown in the last scene is the boy’s little sister.
It’s pretty much accepted though that the protagonist is dead at the start of the game. The monochrome art-style and dread-filled atmosphere point to this and promotional material also states: “Uncertain of his sister’s fate, a boy enters LIMBO.” Some further Wikipedia-checking reveals that Limbo is the ‘edge’ of hell and home to those who ‘die in original sin without being appointed to the Hell of the Damned’. This could include innocent children who aren’t deserving of Hell but who also aren’t worthy of heaven.
A point of greater contention is regarding the status of the sister. Some claim that she is dead also based on swarms of flies which appear in locations on the menu screen and correspond to the placement of the characters in the final scene. In addition the ladder is somewhat frayed, the grass has become overgrown and several rungs have fallen off the tree, so many fans believe the siblings passed away after falling out of their treehouse. There is another theory worth covering here however!
Just before LIMBO’s final scene, the boy crashes through what appears to be a huge pane of glass and this could symbolise a windscreen breaking – so did he and his sister die in a road accident? Partway through the title the environment shifts from a sinister forest to a more industrial setting, and some have declared this to be reminiscent of a car losing control or flipping over. This theory is a little abstract but does seem as though it could possibly be correct, so I’m not sure which I prefer.
Here’s The Gaming Diaries’ interpretation: “The boy is stuck in Limbo and has to work his way through so all the deaths don’t really matter. I think the girl signifies the end. The boy has crossed the lengths of Limbo to meet her. This could be that she has joined the boy in Limbo and her entrance shocks him, or that she is the start and end for the boy. Either way this results in the end of the game. So Limbo is never ending, the boy can return to the start and go through it again. Or she signifies the true death for the boy and there is nothing after for him.”
We discussed this theory during the stream and, while it did make seem to make sense at the time, several days of pondering afterwards led me to come up with an alternative. What if there was another explanation in which the siblings aren’t dead (sort of)? Here’s my own idea.
The promotional material confirms that the boy entered Limbo – but doesn’t state from which direction. Rather than going there after his demise to meet his final end, what if he were going backwards from death to life? Maybe he and his sister were in some kind of accident (possibly a treehouse fall or car collision) and he’s working back from the end to get back to his sibling. The breaking glass and girl’s surprise in the final scene could signify a change in state: the boy has made it through all the trials of Limbo to return to the land of the living.
So now over to you. Have you played LIMBO and if so, what’s your interpretation of the end? A huge thank you and big hug to the awesome LightningEllen for being my #LoveYourBacklog and #MaybeinMarch partner – who knows, maybe we’ll see you again next year for another event!