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 normal world. That doesn’t mean automatically something bad, because a game can provoke our imagination and it can lead us to a completely new, literally fantastic world. The cute puzzle adventure “Candy Cave Story” is about exactly that kind of positive isolation: A little girl imagines her small child’s room as some kind of dangerous dungeon, where the wardrobe isn’t the place for the coathanger anymore, but for a speaking skeleton – and her little kitty plays the role of its life as a mean spider. In that case, isolation can make something more exciting.

But as we all know, isolation is pretty often something bad. 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” (spoiler: it is totally mundane, because Becky just works all day long) and “Darts Are Everything”. In the last named game the character is so much in love with his favorite sports, that he even does everyday life activities with his darts. His girfriend and friends can’t take it anymore and outcast him, so that he will take his own life in the end.

Close-Up, part 4, image 1

Many entries of the Ludum Dare 38 dealt with another kind of isolation and their effects: Forced isolation. 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. “Alchemist’s Prison”, a game where you have to make several potions for your customers, tells you a bit of a background story: Some witch caught you and now you have to work for her. Oddly enough, you can’t even try to escape your new small world – you always just go with it and follow the instructions.

But then there’s another special game, which doesn’t 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 ‘dream’ land. In each room you have to answer a call from someone you love(d?). These messages are like a mirror for the actual stage of your depression. It’s hard to explain, just play it yourself, it’s one of the best entries of the whole Ludum Dare.

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 for each day (like lawn mowing, repairing the roof et cetera). What’s remarkable about the last named entry is that we as players become witnesses: With each passed day our protagonist reveals his own madness 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 self-made scarecrow, he raves on gigantic maggots and also he reveals some dark 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 won’t win the game when you aren’t curious about trying things in a different way; when you just follow the instructions, you’ll lose. But incautious curiosity can be dangerous like “Until Tomorrow” proves: Here our hero wants to explore the world behind his own home, because everything and everyone in his village is boring. But that decision will make him just more alone.

Society as a small world

Society as a small world

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

Small worlds are often just small spaces, so that you can’t 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 don’t play the role of a guest, but of the host – and here you want everybody to have some nice and friendly conversations and not raging discussions about politics and stuff, even if you have to use some violence to guarantee that.

Close-Up, part 4, image 3

Other games are also about conversations, but on a much more abstract level. 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 of you 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 way of communication, when you have enough money to do so. In both games you can connect small worlds with each other, so that they can stay in touch. You act as a go-between, so to say: As 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 races on a tiny planet. The problem is that some of them dislike other races or that they have preferences where to stand. You have to figure out the best order for all of them.

But there are also a bunch of other attempts to use the society as a small world like the one that can be experienced by playing the amazing online drawing game “IN CHARACTER”: It’s a perfect summary of the creative aspects of fan cultures. You get the task to create little (comic) figures and to create fan art for figures drawn by other players. And hey, you can even get and write comments for your most beloved fan art! It’s a wonderful little toy to feel almost instantly joyful. But of course there are more serious games as well, like the mini games series “S.A.V.E.🐣”, which shows off the impact of human activities in the matter of climate change and animal rights in a drastical, but also kind of cute way.

Feeling of oppression

Feeling of oppression

I already stated, that small worlds often equal small places. By following that thought it’s a logical conclusion that are(n)a shooters like “tinyarena” and “SUPER Space Barrel” had to be created. Both games are crowded with enemies and that way they are providing a feeling of oppression for the players: 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 feeling, but it’s realized by transforming the whole level itself as the enemy. The walls 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 and way to jump to the exit of each room. That’s far more difficult as you might think now – and it’s brilliant.