Inside and Character Motivation

Inside and Character Motivation

I just finished playing Inside by Playdead,
and it has me thinking a lot about character motivation—more specifically, how my assumption
of what motivated the main character was drastically different from what actually did. Over the span of just a few minutes, my perception
of him shifted immensely, and it wasn’t because he grew as a character, but rather
that I began to understand him and his intentions better. Throughout the majority of the game, I assumed
that the boy simply wanted to survive and that he’d accomplish this by escaping from
the terrifying dystopian society where almost everything wants him dead. But near the end as the boy moves through
the Research Facility and comes face-to-face with the giant blob of flesh and limbs connected
to plugs that bear a strong resemblance to the mind control helmets used earlier, part
of his actual purpose became clear to me: he’s been trying to get to the blob the
whole time. Travelling all the way to what feels like
this society’s center of operations, finding a way inside of the blob’s tank, and taking
off the cords attached to it aren’t accidents; they’re what the character intended to do
from the start. Now, I’m not going to claim to be completely
certain of the boy’s motivations, because I’m not, but based on what is presented,
the blob seems to have control over a large portion of the population, and either the
boy is trying to disconnect it to take away its hold over the world or the blob is controlling
the boy in order to free itself. Due to the secret ending that shows the boy
unplugging what looks like a computer terminal wired to a mind-control device and then folding
into the same position that the human husks do when they aren’t being controlled, it
is most likely the latter. And this threw me for a loop because I was
so convinced that the boy just wanted to get away, but in reality, he wanted the opposite. Now, this kind of twist isn’t revolutionary,
and it’s been explored in all types of media. One of the most notable examples of it in
a video game, and the one that I keep coming back to when thinking about Inside, is Bioshock
with the reveal that Atlas, who acts as a guide to the main character throughout the
majority of the game, is actually controlling him with the trigger phrase “Would You Kindly.” This acts as a sort of meta commentary about
player control and following a game’s instructions blindly. Inside treads a lot of the same ground that
Bioshock does, but what sets it apart from Bioshock and other similar examples is how
it establishes the twist. See, Bioshock explicitly lies to the player. Atlas manipulates the main character and sets
objectives for him to complete, which in turn manipulates the player into thinking that
this is the right thing to do. But Inside doesn’t really lie to the player. It doesn’t even set an actual objective;
it only implies one. Inside’s absence of dialogue makes it a
story told entirely through movement, so the action that takes place in the first ten minutes
established my expectations for the rest of the game. This starts with the boy clambering down a
small cliff in the middle of a forest and sneaking up to a truck loaded with people. On my first playthrough, I assumed that the
boy somehow managed to avoid being rounded, and now wanted to get as far away from the
threat as possible. The rest of this section being filled with
strange figures wearing masks relentlessly chasing the kid only served to reinforce this
idea. Even the simple fact that he is a kid made
him seem more naive and innocent to me. While playing, my main priority was to keep
him alive, which made me assume that his was as well. In short, I underestimated him. After he becomes a part of the blob, I realized
that I had misread the introduction entirely. In this section, the kid moves with purpose
and confidence that goes beyond how a person simply trying to survive would act. When I looked back at the first scene, I realize
that he isn’t trying to hide from the truck; he’s trying to follow it. I held on to this feeling that the kid wanted
to get away from the weird, authoritarian government that’s controlling everything,
but the game starts in an extremely remote location, and the character only moves closer
and closer to civilization and the center of it all, which is because he wants to reach
the blob. I never wondered what I was doing when playing
because I thought I knew. I certainly had questions about the world,
but I didn’t have all that many about the character himself because he clearly had purpose;
I just didn’t actually know what that purpose was. I admire the subtlety of this kind of storytelling. It plays on and understands the assumptions
that players will make, but it doesn’t do it explicitly and it allows players to have
different interpretations of the main character’s motivation. Instead of feeling like a passive audience
member, I felt involved in the story being crafted, and This isn’t the first time something like
this has been done before, I am impressed by how well Playdead manipulated the way I
viewed the main character and the game as a whole primarily with movement.

26 thoughts on “Inside and Character Motivation

  1. Inside is a very open ended game and that's what makes videos like this a toughy for me, but it's still very interesting to compare the thoughts of a different person's experience with such a game.

    Gonna real quickly put the wall of text under here so an unfortunate soul won't scroll down to the comments first and see a spoiler.

    When I got to the point in the game where the kid get's sucked into the human blob. I felt that, that wasn't part of the plan. I initially always had the impression that the kid was trying to stop the experimentation done on his people, (That's based on the fact that for the entire game he keeps going closer and closer to the problem, as well as most of the game's promotional material showing him in the lab) but most of the last bit of the game confused me.

    When you first go into the massive holding space for the human blob, none of the scientists care that you're in there with them, and I can't figure out if that's because they just assimilated the human blob or that it's because it's the first sign of it moving. There's some very Human Centipede-ish shit going on in the game. And that ending where you escape from the laboratory after they capture you just leaves me with so many questions that I'll never have answered.

    The boy's motivation to go through with the Dark Project is something I probably will never understand, but I guess that was the point. The ending of Inside felt spontaneous, and too many loose ends were left untied for me to feel a satisfaction with what I accomplished, because I never knew WHAT I accomplished.

    But fuck if Playdead ain't good at making games that stick out in my mind. I'm really excited to see what they can do next.

    Also good video I guess.

  2. Awesome intro Raz. And I gotta play this game again because more than one playthrough definitely helps give a bigger understanding of this game's plot. And all those humans, I feel like those are more homonculi than human the more I think of it.

  3. Saw this video because Chadunda retweeted it. Even if I'm not the biggest fan of Inside, you put across one of the more interesting ideas about the game very well. Pleasure to listen to. Definitely subscribed.

  4. The problem with recommending games based on this is that it inherently spoils them, but OFF is really good example of this from all the way back in 2002.

  5. Daaang that's a nice intro animation dude! I don't want to be spoiled on this game so I haven't seen your video, but I'm sure it's as high-quality as the rest!

  6. Shoot, I missed the cue about spoilers at the beginning and had the whole game spoiled for me. Verbally saying you're about to spoil everything would have been nice.

  7. Writing this a year late, I really enjoyed this video essay. I just felt like there wasn't a conclusion to it, being surprised at the abrupt stop of you're luscious voice. Hopefully that compliment and my cute cat icon will distract you from the unfounded criticism I just dropped on ya.

  8. As soon as I took control of the flesh ball, I burst out laughing for a solid 2 minutes straight and the game turned into a big joke.

  9. I really liked your analysis, the ambiguity is mitigated by the player because that's just what people do – surmise and create goals and explanations for events, even where there are none – and how you can take advantage of this irony (or lack thereof) from a writing standpoint. Good videos man, very smart.

  10. i'm not a fan of stories like this. "decide for your self" is lazy writing.
    if i am going to decide what happens in a story…i make my own…i don't follows others to do that…

  11. Assuming this is true, how did he know about the creature or the lab or the men or any of it? How did he know where to go and how to get in? How did he know any of it?!

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