Spoiler Warning: Plot and ending details ahead.
Maybe this is the last Inside think piece you read. You met a strange world somewhere between its obscure release and sudden stardom, and whether you played it or not, there hasn’t been a moment of silence since. Everyone has something to say about its wordless message. We all have something we need to say, because all Inside really offers is an overwhelming question we couldn’t leave unanswered: What now?
As a pile of amorphous flesh heaved slowly in the dirt, it’s all I could ask. I spent hours moving a boy through a mysterious setting and into this human meatball. Each day since Inside’s launch, my life and everyone in it had become a chorus of voices chanting this game’s missives, yet no game has left me so empty. I wanted so little to do with that meatball, wallowing in nothingness. If there was a message flowing alongside the dystopian platforming, what was it now? I stared at the screen.
Inside leaves you flattened and then pumps you with a void. Four hours of sinister, dreamlike puzzle-solving begins with a nameless boy. He will always be nameless, though we held his hand through the morbidity and dangers of what I could only call a building – walls filled with people, actions, and motives that will always be nameless. Humans follow commands, water floats on air, patrols kill on sight. We painstakingly follow these rules all the way to our destination, a mound of flesh, whose only purpose is to pummel its way through building X, and then sit on a beach for the rest of its unnatural existence. At the start, and still now, silence.
That silence lingers, excruciatingly. But at least it is a void with purpose. I know because it unsettles me, and because the entire world has been desperate to fill it. Without speaking, Inside questions everything, because it won’t answer, and we have to ask.
The game’s mechanics and characters challenge ideas of control without feigning concern. Its wordless moments tease the depths of purpose but do not care to delve deeper. It doesn’t want to talk. Inside says nothing; it is deafening.
What’s worse, Inside crawled under our skin wearing a genuine guise of disinterest. It doesn’t care, it isn’t involved. We follow and attach to it, and in the end, it removes us like a tumor so far unaware of its own purposelessness. Why – how – could we attach and follow something so quiet for so long?
Though a confounding, lonely, sometimes bitter an ending it created, “What now?” is the reason we bothered to play. Its a doubt that keeps us moving away from Inside’s calmer scenes. Forward through moments of safety or confusion, a puzzle and endless time at hand. For us, there’s something to do, to find, to accomplish, and the patient vacuum of control begs the question, propelling us forward.
It keeps us moving away from chaos. It strikes and we sprint from danger, roll down hills, embrace new powers and possibilities. The thrilling, momentous question bounces on the edge of a cliff and drives us onward.
The distaste of nothing and excitement for the new and the same question spinning in both create Inside’s sole driving factor. Chaos and control manage to be the only colors on its grey palette. The devices that command others glow a fluorescent yellow. Gateways at the whims of buttons and blocks are painted. This boy alone wears red.
What is Inside? It’s a rousing speech on free will, or a dark critique on society, or a staunch warning against technology. If you sit with Inside’s stillness long enough, and stare into its void, suddenly it isn’t so empty. It’s a silent mirror. A sequence that simulated the chaos and control that propel our life, then let go of our hand and let us reflect our troubles onto its brilliant, clean surface made of the most beautiful shades of grey. We gazed, and filled the emptiness with our own troubles of constraint and freedom – troubles with industry, with humanity, with purpose.
We stop asking. We start to forget. We stop writing think pieces. Our lives continue to be an answerless dash between two pillars, though. We don’t want to be as alone and still as the monster on the beach, yet we want its peace. We don’t want to fight through tyrannical factories, but we crave the succession of action. Of all the chaos and control in this game and outside it, we can’t rest in either. We don’t stop asking – about the unanswered questions, about the deafening silence, about the dualistic strife in our lives reflecting off a mirror. For us, the trouble will always be Inside.