The Small Worlds of the Ludum Dare 38 – Part Four

About curiosity, obsession and isolation

About curiosity, obsession and isolation

Whenever we play a game, we become a bit more ‘isolated’ of our usual world for a short amount of time. That does not mean automatically something bad, because a game can provoke our imagination and it can lead us to a completely new, fantastic world. The cute puzzle adventure “Candy Cave Story” is about this kind of positive isolation: A little girl imagines her small child’s room as some kind of dangerous dungeon, where the wardrobe is not the place for the coathanger anymore, but for a speaking skeleton, while her little cat acts as a mean spider.

But we all know that isolation is often something bad for people. Whenever we get totally obsessed by something, we tend to cut off our important connections. We end up alone, just like the protagonists in “Becky’s very very Small and TOTALLY not mundane World” and “Darts Are Everything”. In the last named game the character is so much in love with his favorite sports, that he even handles everyday life tasks with his dart arrows. His partner and friends cannot take it any longer and outcast him.

Close-Up, part 4, image 1

Other submissions for the thirty-eighth Ludum Dare are about another kind of isolation and their effects: Forced isolation. For example, in the rampage game “Den” a monstrous creature breaks out of its cage to seek for revenge, while in “eiland” the character awakes on an island and tries to escape it somehow. None of both games explain how exactly it comes to these circumstances: Things just happened, now you are isolated and you want your freedom back. Only the effects of this forced isolation get displayed. “Alchemist’s Prison”, a game where you have to mix up several potions for your customers, tells you a bit more of its background story. Some witch caught you and now you have to work for her.

However, there is one very special game, which is very close to my heart, that does not just put your character into such a scenario, but will let you feel a strong, empathetic connection with it: “A Mind Is A Small Place”. This altgame shows you the effects of a depression by putting you in a bizarre ‘dreamscape’, which is actually a living nightmare for many people. In each room you have to answer a call from someone you love or at least loved once. These messages are acting as a mirror for the actual stage of your depression.

Close-Up, part 4, image 2

Forced isolation can also be found in “OUTWORN INSTINCT”, where some time-related magic trapped the character into his own flat, and in “To do list”, where we have to fulfill several tasks like lawn mowing or repairing the roof each day. What is remarkable about the last entry is that we as players become witnesses or rather voyeurs. With each passed day the protagonist reveals his own madness a bit more thanks to the forced isolation. He lives on a small island in the middle of the galaxy, all alone. Some day he starts to speak to a self-made scarecrow, he raves on gigantic maggots and also he reveals his darkest secrets.

Some games also thought about the importance of curiosity in that manner. In “Daily Routine: the smallest worlds are the ones we get stuck in” you will not complete the game when you are not curious about trying things in a different way; when you just follow the instructions, you will lose. However, incautious curiosity can be dangerous as “Until Tomorrow” shows. In this game, the hero wants to explore the world behind his own home, because everything and everyone in his village is boring. This decision will make him just more alone.

Society as a small world

Society as a small world

But what happens if game characters cannot be alone at all, regardless if they do not want to be alone (like in “Six Degrees of Separation Between Me and the Party”, where two people want to find out which person in their expanded circle of acquaintances could help them to join a party) or if they are not allowed to be? This question is the center of many games about social interactions.

Small worlds are often just small spaces, so that you cannot have much free space for yourself. Such a ‘breathing room’ must be found in “Awkward Party”, where you just want to get out of the whole situation. Nearly the same scenario can be found in “Fancy meeting you here”, but here you also try to be polite by doing some small talk with your encounters. The whole constellation can be reversed though: In “Party in Buntingville”, you are not the guest, but the host, and naturally you want everybody to have some nice and friendly conversations and not raging discussions about politics and other contentious topics, even if you have to use some violence to guarantee that.

Close-Up, part 4, image 3

Other submissions were also about conversations, but on a much more abstract level, and thereby they are showing different elements of communication itself. For example, you have to morse correctly letters in “Go Morse Go!” under time pressure. By doing so, you are in the role of a medium in general, because only thanks to you and your transmission skills people are able to communicate. Same can be said about the idle game “Talk Isn’t Cheap”, where you have to connect places with each other with the most up-to-date communication technology, when you have enough money to do so. In both games you connect small worlds with each other, so that they can stay in touch. You act as a go-between or rather a mediator.

Close-Up, part 4, image 4

Same can be said about the puzzle game “Smalltrek”, where you have to place different aliens of several species on one tiny planet. The problem is that some of them dislike each other or that they have other very particular preferences about their surroundings.

Another attempt to use the concept of society as a small world can be found in the online drawing game “IN CHARACTER”. It acts as a perfect summary of the creative aspects of fan cultures. You can create little comic figures in there, create fan art for characters other players have drawn, you might get some feedback for your work and of course you can also write comments for your most beloved fan art. But of course there are more serious games as well, like the mini game marathon “S.A.V.E.🐣”. It shows the impact of human activities regarding climate change and animal rights in a drastical, but also deceiving cute way.

Feeling of oppression

Feeling of oppression

Arena shooters like “tinyarena” and “SUPER Space Barrel” also were often submitted. Both games are crowded with enemies, which always provides a feeling of oppression for the players, as the action space is fairly limited and they have to react quickly to succeed.

The concept of the ingenious platformer “Dungeon In a Bottle” also leads to such a feeling, but it is realized by transforming the whole level itself to the enemy. The two walls of a room are moving to each other constantly and the only hope of the character to escape out of his misery is to push one wall away, while finding the precise timing to jump to the exit.