It Is Better To Have Loved And Lost

By Kieron Gillen on June 15th, 2010 at 9:45 am.

Last Night I Dreamed Someone Loved Me, etc.

It’s been a while since we’ve had a cerebral short-form indie platformer we could throw our weight behind with an unreserved recommendation. It’s a bit – as its creator Alexander Ocias says “confrontational” – but in a good way. It’s got the sort of meaningful choices interlaced through it which Fallout fans are always crying out for, has a genuinely oppressive atmosphere and at least a couple of killer endings depending on which way you choose to go. As a meditation about control and free-will – which is what I’m going to say it’s about – it’s really quite excellent. Also, jumping. You can play it here, here or on Alexander’s site here. I’ve played it a couple of times already, and I suspect I’ll go back for another one to try a few more choices.

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63 Comments »

  1. Jayt says:

    Beautiful, but I found it a bit unnecessarily frustrating at times.

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  2. Chiller says:

    Hmm, another platformer with instadeath and poor air control (read: inertia).
    Oh well. At least I understood what it was trying to do. But especially because of that, it probably should have a big “I give up” button. And possibly one labeled “F-you”.

  3. rei says:

    I enjoyed that. But after a lifetime of disappointment I’m not sure I can agree with the title (and the game manifested in something distinctly like that as well, at least with my choices).

    (please hug me, John)

  4. Kele says:

    Huh? This game isn’t hard at all! I only died a couple of times and if you do it just brings you right back to the checkpoint.

  5. Taverius says:

    Too frustrating to finish, tbfh.

    • Frankie The Patrician[PF] says:

      I second that…my platforming years are looong over :)

  6. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    My first playthrough was me being rebellious. I wonder if it’ll be easier if I played nice with the Text.

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      tomeoftom says:

      It’s much, much easier if you Comply. Which, if I’m guessing, is the direction I’d gesture after calling it “very interesting”.

    • Pani says:

      Not always easier if you comply: One time it told me to jump into the spikes. First time through I did it and died! Second playthrough I told the voice to bugger off and it was all disappointed.

  7. Narretz says:

    I wonder how many ways there are to finish it. A special ending for not dying once perhaps?

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    Sagan says:

    Cool game. So without getting into spoiler territory I want to know this: Are there more than two endings? I have played through three times now and I’m not certain right now what else I could explore.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Sagan: Dunno. As you say, I suspect not, but there’s people on the comment threads talking about playing it 5 times to play with various stuff along the way.

      KG

  9. Dinger says:

    Fallout? I think it’s more In the Shadow of the Grinning Collosus

  10. Arreh says:

    If you do everything the voice asks you to do, there’s a special ending. Gonna rebel at everything next time around.

  11. Barts says:

    Umm, I don’t get it. It all became pixelated near the end and my black whazza-thing walked out. And it was supposed to mean anything?

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    drewski says:

    Hmmm. Played it twice with the most obvious choices. Interesting concept, but I’m not sure there’s enough there to bother teasing out alternative endings.

  13. Hulk Handsome says:

    I played up to the “do I own your body or mind” question to which my response was “neither” and I closed the game.

    I’m pretty sure that means I won.

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    Biscuitry says:

    I find the mutual exclusivity of shape and colour to be an interesting concept, especially given the chaotic overtones that come with the latter.

  15. nine says:

    Spoilers ahoy!

    I thought it was about the passage from puberty to adulthood, and the difference between doing what is expected of you and being a freebird. It was quite interesting to see this obviously creative game have such a negative view about not doing what is expected (such an eventless ending! And in the end, disobeying your guide has only one meaningful impact on your path (the second room with shurikens, the direct route is blocked off)), but the irony of getting a single solitary coin for obeying your guide makes it obvious which camp the author is in.

  16. negativedge says:

    obtuse and a bore.

    if I want to watch developers question the role of the player, I’ll play Portal or Metal Gear Solid 2. Bioshock, even.

  17. RC-1290'Dreadnought' says:

    I made it crash.

    I sort of… Jumped out of the screen. That sure made the voice shut up.

    Flash went: OI! Now I can’t checkForSlopes().

    • Nezz says:

      You call it crash, but what if you just fail to grasp the deeply symbolic meaning of your experience?

  18. Xercies says:

    I think it is about someone walking out on someone who loves them and all the pain that goes with that….thats why when you rebel you get a really kind of sad ending. And Then i didn’t want to play anymore because it just brought back memereries that are a bit to close still to me. Good game though…but the platforming is a little anoying.

    • Xercies says:

      Elaborating on that basically the Lover in this point is actually making your life easier for you..but because you don’t see it that way you must rebel and so you are not taking the lovers advice and giving them grief because they only have your best interests at heart.

  19. lokabrenna says:

    I don’t know, “dash yourself upon the spikes” or whatever, seems like a kinda douchey way of teaching you meaningful life lessons. The Lover isn’t an unconditional good guy here, it’s an authority figure playing with and controlling the life of a pet. The best thing about the possible endings are the ones that come with compromise, IMO.

    I rebelled, and at the end chose not to leave him, incidentally. The end result was pretty good.

  20. Kieron Gillen says:

    (It’s designer as god, and god as capricious designer, innit?)

    KG

  21. nine says:

    Three alternate readings in the comments so far, and all of them are plausible. You’ve linked us to the videogame version of Waiting for Godot, Kieron.

  22. CMaster says:

    KG – not sure about that one.
    Yeah, interesting how different it goes if you play rebellious or very, very obedient. Can’t help but feel the ending choice is a bit mocking of “I don’t like boys, I like men!” lines. (And “real women do X” type things too I guess).
    Funny how I initally played rebellious, because that is how most follow the announcer/rebel type games want you to play. Thats right, I’m rebelling against the authority in front of you merely to please a higher authority (the designer) who almost always puts the “good” endings for those who rebel.

    • CMaster says:

      Expanding a bit.
      I’m not too sure about “meaningful” choices either.
      I mean, yeah, your choices have an effect on the game, both in visuals and play. They have meaning in that way. But obey arbitary, demand/disobey? It’s hardly soul-searching stuff.

      (Yes, I realise that comment was a little tounge in cheek).

  23. feighnt says:

    are there really three or more endings? i found two. SPOILERS HERE.

    first playthrough, was complicit until it told me to take the lower path. i refused. from there-on, i continued to refuse every request. at the end, i choose to leave, which resulted in walking down a tunnel and then the game just ending.

    second playthrough, i was utterly obedient. should’ve tried this first playthrough, would’ve been much easier. the narrator professed its love for me, and the game ended with me getting the coin.

    third playthrough, i played same as the first playthrough, but in the end, i choose to stay. the narrator told me we could start over again. i walked down the same tunnel, and the game ended suddenly at the same point as it did in the first ending.

    while there are differences in little bits of text, it seems there are only two endings, from what i’ve seen – one where you get the coin, the other where you walk down a tunnel. has anyone seen different?

  24. feighnt says:

    ps: seems to me that this is pretty plainly about love, and it’s not necessarily saying one thing or another. it’s just a matter of perspective.

    if you disobey, the lover is cruel, the relationship is abusive and frustrating.

    if you obey, even though the lover seems to make you jump through hoops at times, it ultimately makes things better and easier. and the lover treats you more sweetly.

    … as i’m currently going through a sort of relationship which involved, at first, a lot of the latter, and then now, lately, has transformed into a lot of the former… this is resonating a lot with me.

    and i’m currently at the point where i’m hesitating whether to choose go or start over.

    • The Innocent says:

      @feighnt

      That’s what I’m getting out of it too, though the relationship that it’s getting me to think about started out as more demanding (though still worth it) and became far better with time and compromise, much like in the game. I don’t think (for me) that it’s about the control of the director at all; it’s about the thousand lives and deaths that every relationship goes through every day (whether worth it or not, which is largely based on the input of the player/partner).

      At first played the game how I don’t “play” life — stubborn and indignant — and the ending was very unsatisfactory to me, though I can see how it would be the “good” ending to some people.

      Then I played it more like I would in a real relationship, trying to understand the point of view of the director/partner and trying to be helpful for their sake, and I was pleased that I got more out of it in the end. Maybe the coin at the end is meant as a sort of trite little “reward” for obeying the commands of the master, but for me it worked because it was the only collectible in an otherwise empty world — it was really the only thing that you could take for yourself, and it made me think of the rewards of sticking with relationships that seemed for a time like they weren’t worth it. Of course, some relationships simply aren’t worth the fuss, and I’ve had my share of those too, but I liked that both endings could be considered “good” or “bad,” but almost entirely based on the life experiences of the player. I, for one, think this game is brilliant.

    • misterk says:

      This game plays like an abusive relationship, and the idea of submitting to someone who belittles and degrades you, only to tell you he loves you and you can be together forever is deeply disturbing to me. That said, I’m currently stuck playing stubborn, being unable to make a jump and not seeing another way to progress.

      Still, some nice ideas.

    • Bret says:

      Plays different depending on your decisions. Lot more bitchy feeling if your denials start at the start.

      Less the other way. Interesting aesthetics, really.

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      drewski says:

      misterk – I got a similar vibe. The whole “obey your abusive master” thing for a tiny reward at the end, as if that makes it all worthwhile, is indicative of that for me. Contrast with the disobey and rebel path, where the designer makes things as hard for you as possible – blocking off paths, distorting the visuals – but in the end is powerless to stopping you leave.

      Either way the designer claims to love you, but does s/he? Or is s/he just loving control?

      It’s not perfect because of the disobediant path still resulting in the easy walk out even if you choose to stay at the end, and I got a few of the other themes people have commented on too, but that was the one that reasonated for me the most.

  25. dvdz says:

    I got pissed off in the beginning when I said I was a man and the game told me I was a not.

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    mechtroid says:

    I was fine with the guy telling me I was a woman. I was fine with her telling me to touch the statue. But throw myself on the pit of spikes? Babe, if you truly loved me, you’d want me to live. Bitch.

  27. misterk says:

    I need to play through again, but another thing that made me think abusive relationship were the red squares which persued you, trying to hurt you, while the colour felt like my resistence to his abuse protecting me.

    • misterk says:

      Hmm, yeah I definitely get abusive relationship. When you obey the game gets easier, and he gets nicer, but the world loses colour and excitement.

    • misterk says:

      ooh, even more thoughts. While trying to be obedient it initially annoyed me that the final section “do not fail” made it rather difficult to do so, but of course in an abusive relationship it is exceedingly difficult to live up to the expectations of the partner- you will often fail.

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      drewski says:

      I thought that fed more into the theme of control – when you obey, your master give you this tiny helping in visual fidelity, so you can see a little more of what is around you. When you disobey, your master distorts reality further to attempt to control you in the future.

    • cjlr says:

      @misterk
      Abusive relationship was by far the heaviest vibe I caught from it…

      But I’m not sure what it says that I was mostly disobedient and still got an “I still love you” ending, complete with coin…

    • misterk says:

      I think its a reflection that abusive partners are always willing to fold you back into their abuse- they are “forgiving” only in that they will take you back, then continue treating you terribly.

      (note, I have no personal experience of domestic abuse, so this is all my hearsay knowledge of it. I apologise if I am misrepresenting it.)

  28. Hat Galleon says:

    It’s funny how such a simple framework of mechanics and graphics leads to the player filling in the gaps and coming up with a completely different picture than everyone else after they’re done. I started out following the orders. It told me to go, I went, not to die, I didn’t. Then it told me to take the bottom path. However, I was curious. What’s different from that upper path? It looks fine to me. It seemed to be an arbitrary decision, so I said “You know what, I’ve gotta find out what’s up there myself. It’s probably a harder path, but I’ll still get through it.” So I hopped up, and instantly it called me an ugly creature. I instantaneously decided that it did not have my best in mind for me and that I would only follow it when its orders made sense, but over time, its insulting comments led to me becoming more resentful of its demands. I was completely surprised at myself when it told me not to jump on some spikes and I DID IT ANYWAYS WITHOUT THINKING. Not because I wanted to die, not because I missed a jump, but because it told me not to. I had to think about that for a bit.

    • Hat Galleon says:

      As an addendum to my comment, it’s not like I started out ambivalent to the voice. I accepted when it told me what gender I was, thinking it was a bit strange but not complaining, assuming it knew what was best. It was only at that turning point between two paths that I began to question it.

    • sinister agent says:

      I wonder how much time most commenters would have had for it without an RPS recommendation, though.

      I found myself filling in the gaps with another, better game.

  29. George says:

    I really loved it :) some of the platforming section were a bit difficult for me.

    spoiler: I played it twice once obedient and once as a rebel. Both endinging were quite satisifing and feel vindicated for your choices. When you obey the misogynistic voice you eventually get its approval, when you rebel you eventually get earn you freedom. Even tho you can view it as a metaphor for any love/hate relationships we might have in our lives, but the one I thought was closest to was the one opressive parent who tries to shape his child in the best man/woman possible, with a child(player) that either obeys or runs away from home.

  30. Coded One says:

    Perhaps due to the fact that I’m young, I didn’t really get a vibe that it was about relationships and love.

    However, being raised religious before becoming atheist, it resonated to me as the story of one’s journey with God. God could be both kind and cruel. He makes you do things you don’t want, and calls you an ugly creature when you have sinned. The irony is that if you obey, you’re prize is a single coin, like the hope of a false heaven. However, if you disobey, you’re given (what I interpreted as) freedom.

    The line “Touch the statue. I will forgive you.” really seems like the words of a God.

    • MadMatty says:

      yes your analysis seems to add up…. also someone who IS LIKE GOD TO YOU, like one type of love relationship, like: how far would you go for your loved one ? throw yourself into the spikes?

  31. Seamus says:

    There was some of it I really liked – The way the graphics distorted around you as you got more and more disobedient was awesome. The graphics themselves were minimalist and beautiful. I also really liked how the author managed to keep the plot almost completely ambiguous while still having some semblance of structured narrative. That was great.

    However, the gameplay itself fucking sucked.

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    phlebas says:

    Didn’t Mighty Jill Off do something similar better?

  33. medwards says:

    I’m not going to be on-side with the lovey-dovey interpretations of this, partially because my first play thru was really weird. It opens with the boy or girl question to which I answer boy but then it dictates to me that I am a girl which really undermines the question in the first place and seems very passive-aggressive. It also immediately seemed to invoke ideas of gender privilege inversion (recently featured here on RPS). So after the ‘sure, duh’ instruction of jump over the spikes I was somewhat leery of the ‘touch my column’ bit. Having failed to avoid touching his/her column the ‘good girl’ encouragements became a little less whimsical, and the ‘disgusting’ condemnations a little more puritanical. Anyways, I found it interesting if probably a little more oppressive than without the gender overtones.
    (disclaimer: I did not bother reading the forum threads related to gender privilege, I already have enough background from my radical politics scene)

  34. MadMatty says:

    neat :) Me and my friend are playing now, discussing the differences- just finished it- i did a mix of choices, and ended up just running down the tunnel

  35. Jymkata says:

    The character guy/girl looks like those stupid things that Yahtzee draws.
    Apart from that, good!

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