Inside is one of those games that doesn’t have a story so much as it has a sequence of events connected by themes. The question of “what the fuck” is very much left to the player to answer, and my word have a lot of people been asking it over this game. Playdead have left the narrative and ending of Inside completely open to interpretation by the audience, much like they did with Limbo, and while they could certainly be accused of showing something of a pattern with their work, I personally still have a lot of time left for stories that leave space for the audience to insert a little of themselves. That’s why I for one intend to take Inside up on that offer.

Given the last thing I wrote for this site, it would be remiss of me not to preface this reading with the fact that this is just my personal interpretation of Inside and that I’m not saying it’s definitely right. Read that first if you haven’t already, then sign that little contract that says you won’t pitch a fit over me giving only one version of the story and not expressing other opinions that I don’t have. You’ll find the contract under your pillow. Don’t worry about how it got there, or how I’m going to get it back.

Inside 1

It started with something relatively banal: a sequence where the protagonist, a faceless young boy, must imitate the actions of a queue of equally faceless, albeit decidedly more brainwashed, figures in order to avoid detection from the oppressive authority figure du jour – his bright red shirt marking him out as the one individual in an immeasurably vast line of grey-clad walking meat puppets. A fairly uninspired image that may as well have had a big neon sign in the background that read “Think about it, sheeple!”, and one that I would not think about in any great detail until quite some time later. Little did I know, but this scene would be the groundwork for a far more interesting piece of imagery yet to come.

Before that though, there would be a few sequences of our red-shirted young player character controlling the literally faceless masses in order to solve puzzles and progress through the game. This was also fairly standard symbolism, with the child representing the ruling class and his colourless slaves, all coincidentally wearing blue collar work uniforms, obviously being the 99%. Here on display is more stuff we’ve heard before: those born into the 1% being handed the means to control everyone else, hints of other children in the background of scenes being groomed to manipulate as their predecessors had, the false unity of a shared objective imposed on the many for the sole benefit of the few…all very well done, if not a bit expected. An eloquent enough allegory for the hollow rhetoric of togetherness espoused by those who would rule, and a demonstration that when we are “united” under one leader, only that leader’s goals are ultimately served. One of many reminders that this kind of cooperation is merely the more insidious face of conformity – one that renders us the tools of anyone with the knowledge of how to use us.

But then Inside takes a step beyond the standard anti-establishment imagery. Then, within the closing moments of the game, Inside shows us a glimpse of true unity.

True unity is, to us, a strange thing to behold – a depressing truth in and of itself. It can seem unfathomable, unsightly, even a little unwieldy, but it is not something to be feared. As Inside shows us, true unity is how we achieve our goals. True unity is how we break free.

Inside 3

In the last leg of the game the player happens upon an amorphous living mass of flesh, limbs jutting out haphazardly from its indistinct bulk – an apparent amalgamation of countless human forms. After untethering it from a machine of unknown function, the mass absorbs the player and the player becomes the mass. The two cease to be distinct, and the player continues their escape in a new form – one that is visually horrifying, but functionally much more useful and powerful than the limited conventional human form the player had inhabited up until now. It takes some getting used to, certainly, and the extent of what this new entity can and can’t do isn’t immediately clear, but with enough muddling through the advantages soon become undeniable. Once the player adjusts to inhabiting this amalgamation – to operating in this form of complete and utter unification – they’re borderline unstoppable.

And indeed, they are not stopped. The amalgamation escapes. In this form of absolute conjunction, the player finally breaks free from the facility that served as their prison and into the light of day. And then it’s over. There is no fanfare or further explanation. The game just kind of…ends.

Some posit that this abrupt ending is simply to keep things vague, but I believe that it may be because Inside simply had nothing to add. The game had already made its point; by giving himself over to true unity and coexisting absolutely within the amalgam, the protagonist had won. They were out. Nothing further needed to be said.

Of course the fact I’m attaching meaning to this ending also fits within the premise of Playdead having kept the ending vague just so that people could attach their own meanings to it. We all know this. Remember the mysterious contracts I had you all sign before we started.

Inside 4

Now’s as good a point as any to talk about why it might be that I’m reading such statements of togetherness into Inside’s fleshy blob child: I am English, living in England, and many of you are probably aware that we recently left the European Union for a joke. I had to sit here and watch as our Prime Minister promptly fuck off and leave this calamitous mess to the frightened masses as they frantically googled what the EU actually was now that it had hit them that their reckless isolationism had actual consequences. A thoughtless separation that came in spite of everyone’s better judgement. Is it any wonder that I would want to see messages of perfect coexistence and conjunction in the media I consume? Living in such a time is enough to make anyone want to turn into some weird legion of meat – perhaps leading them to simulate the experience by covering themselves in raw steaks and severed mannequin arms before rolling down a hill to freedom. Not that I would know. I’ve never done that. Of course not. That would be preposterous.

I didn’t do that, you guys.

Maybe what I’m seeing was deliberate, maybe it wasn’t – that’s beside the point. The point is that it provoked thoughts that no other piece of media has inspired from me, and that’s worth a salute in my book. Amidst global discord, it was nice for me to catch a glimpse, even if accidentally, of what real unity might be. Not just copying everyone else in the que so as not to be singled out, not just playing along according to the machinations of the powerful, but a host of entities existing as one. A unified being that understands each individual that makes up its whole and coexists with them immaculately, with no relevance placed on how bizarre or even downright scary it might look. Certainly an image worth keeping in mind as you roll down a hill covered in raw meat.

Don’t pretend you’re not ALL doing it.

About The Author

Purveyor of "deep thoughts", talker of Things, non-associate of crows: Indie Haven's resident Good Video Boy lies in wait deep within the Clown Tower for your audio-visual enjoyment. Creator of Worth Mentioning and co-star of ThingsTalk and The Indie Haven Podcast.

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