Limbo is a game originally released on the Xbox Live Arcade which has made its way onto quite a few platforms, including Steam. I picked it up out of a desire for something fresh and unusual. I wasn’t disappointed until the very end.
Limbo is an extremely minimalist game in all aspects of its presentation, from the black and white graphics to what little story is provided. Steam’s description has only one sentence: “Uncertain of his sister’s fate, a boy enters LIMBO .” You don’t get much more than that through the entire course of the game. You wake up as said boy, try to evade a number of gruesome obstacles in a macabre world, and eventually…well, that is the topic of my ruminations. What follows is highly spoilerific, but to be honest I’m not sure how much knowing the “ending” would hurt your experience. Much of Limbo’s enjoyment comes from its atmosphere and mood rather than any semblance of a plot.
And what is the ending? After being chased by a giant spider through a swamp, dodging sawblades in rotating rooms, and evading machine guns, the hero of Limbo falls through a pane of glass. Sideways, but that’s another matter entirely. He gets up and walks to the right, where he finds a girl, presumably his sister, who appears to be digging something. When she notices his presence she stiffens as though in fear. There is a ladder to her right. Then the credits roll and the same place appears on the title screen, except that the ladder is rotted and there are flies hovering where the two characters used to be. There are other small details throughout the game. The hero encounters some other children that are hostile, though he is the only one with white eyes. He also briefly has a vision of his sister in the middle of the game.
There are pages and pages of theories describing what it could all mean. Amusingly, “Limbo ending wtf” is a leading search on this topic. Some people doubt that the girl in the game is even the hero’s sister. Others, based on the presence of gravity switches, rotating rooms, and that pane of glass, theorize that the boy died in a car accident. Some say that he and his sister fell from the ladder featured in the last scene, died, and entered Limbo. There is a faction that says both children are dead, another that says only the boy is dead, one that says that the girl is dead, and so on. It’s an endless cycle of speculation because there is so little to go on.
So instead of discussing the meaning of the ending, let me offer my thoughts on its open-ended approach.
I don’t like ambiguous endings. Every story has a countless number of variations at any given point, and the whole role of the storyteller is to select the path. Some paths are more appealing in and of themselves than others, but oftentimes it is the authority of the storyteller which defines the route. That is why canon is important with large franchises like Star Wars or that of the various comic book characters. And once the storyteller has selected the path, the way that he or she presents it creates added value.
Having an ambiguous ending is the ultimate laziness in this respect. It fits to a degree with a minimalist game like Limbo, but such a conclusion is ultimately nothing more than fluff. The speculative meanings that fans create are unsatisfying because they carry neither the authority nor the expert presentation of the storyteller.
To be honest, I wouldn’t want a ten minute epilogue from a game like Limbo. Only a direction–a little bit more to go off of. A stronger sense of what has happened and what it all means. With something as simple as that, I think the ending could have been quite moving.
Any thoughts on the game, its ending, or endings in general? Comment below and I will certainly reply.