I’ve just finished playing Little Inferno, a silly, repetitive, but ultimately charming little game from the makers of the excellent World of Goo. As I played it through, about an hour into it, I started to think whether or not there was a hidden meaning behind the simple mechanics, and an idea formed in my head.
Now, it’s probably nonsense. Just as when people stare at a strange abstract painting and project all manner of interpretations onto it, when the artist was probably just flailing his arms around on a canvas without a thought in their mind. I’m not saying that this interpretation is what the game is about, or what the developers had in mind as they made it, but rather just a thought that could fit into the structure that was displayed in the game.
Please note that I do discuss the entire plot of the game (yes there is a plot) so don’t read it if you intend to play the game and don’t want any spoilers.
The entire game (well, almost) takes place with a single, static backdrop – your fireplace.
The basic mechanics of the game involve you buying items from catalogues, awaiting delivery, and then burning said items in your fireplace. That’s basically it. Burning an item causes it to drop cash, usually more cash that you spent buying the item, which provides you with a way to buy more items. The more you buy and burn, the more money you get, and the more items you unlock in the catalogues. simple, if a little dull.
The “story” of the game comes in the form of letters that you receive, from 3 main sources. The first is from the “weather man”. Who, as determined from his letters, eternally floats high about the skies in a weather balloon giving regular updates about the dire conditions of the world outside. For as long as people can remember the world seems to be getting colder and colder, and there is nothing but ice and snow outside. he warns you to stay indoors, where it’s safe and warm.
You will also occasionally get mail from the “Tomorrow Corporation”, the creators of your Little Inferno fireplace, and the company which provides you with catalogues of weird and wonderful junk to burn. These mostly consist of tongue-in-cheek marketing material telling you how wonderful the fireplace is and telling you that it’s cold and dangerous outside and that you should spend every waking moment by the comforts of your warm, safe fireplace. These letters are all sent by the CEO of the Tomorrow Corporation, Miss Nancy – a stereotypically warm, friendly and kind grandma figure.
The main plot comes via letters from a mysterious girl. While you never meet or even speak, a friendship grows through the letters she sends you. As the story progresses you learn that she lives in the house next door to yours. Later, as the story gets darker, her house burns out, and it appears she willingly jumps into the flames.
As i played through the short (~3 hour) story, I started to imagine it as a story about a child attempting to cope with some kind of trauma. Bear with me while I try to explain how the game fits this idea.
The games title is the name of the new fireplace that you buy at the start of the game, and where most of the game takes place. But I think the games name also describes the character you control, a little boy filled with fire and anger and emotions that he is trying to understand and overcome, you are the Little Inferno.
The game’s setting represents your current state of mind. The fireplace is the place you have regressed to in your own mind, a safe spot of warmth and quiet and isolation. Outside the four walls is nothing but a wasteland of ice and snow, an idea that is constantly reinforced by the weatherman, a part of your consciousness attempting to determine how safe is is out there, how safe you are.
The basic premise of the game is that you burn stuff. This is your anger. You burn your innocence as you burn an endless supply of children’s toys and your anger rages as you burn tokens of adult life. You’re also burning memories, trying to erase something from your mind. As you progress the voice next door encourage you, telling you you’re getting closer to leaving. A warm, motherly figure, Miss Nancy, allows you to burn more and more items as you progress. She represents the comforting adult presence you crave but can’t find.
The girl next door, who sits there burning items in her own fireplace, represents a sister, or a friend, someone facing their own issues and dealing with their own anger. She desperately tries to communicate with you and a friendship grows are you help each other by sending items back and forth. She provides a spark of hope and guidance. She breaks free from the fireplace and apparently willingly gives herself into the flames. She embraces her anger, and while at first it seems she is lost, you later realise that she survived and is now far away from the cold, in some sunny, happier place.
As the game nears to a close, once you’ve burned every item possible, you are told it’s time to move on. You learn that a delivery man has been coming into the house to deliver packages, but you never once notice him or look at him, you are closed off to all communication with anyone.
While it’s cold, just as the weatherman said it would be, you are fine. The cold doesn’t affect you and you realise you can survive, you no longer need to regress into your safe place, but rather you can go out into the world and live. As you walk you meet and interact with people on the street. You proclaim “I’m here…I exist!”.
When you eventually meet Miss Nancy, who I imagine is another figment of your imagination, she seems as friendly as kind as she did in the letters, but she also tells you that the world is always getting colder, day by day, and that you need to always move forwards, never look back. and things will get better. She is telling you that you need to face the realities of the world, and not regress into your fireplace again, and that while things will be tough, there is always hope. With those last words, she disappears. You’ve heeded her words and no longer require her presence.
The game then ends with you finding the weather man. He asks you if you’re ready to leave, and once you are, you jump up into his weather balloon and float off. Leaving behind the anger and the trauma, off to a new world. You’ll never come back here again, the Weather Man tells you.