Close Playing — Inside

Inside explores a seemingly dystopian world complete with some form of mind control. This mind control is achieved by connecting the main character to devices that hang from the top of the screen. If the device, which for the purpose of this essay will be called a mind control helmet, is on the character’s head, the player can then control other people in the game. The mind control helmet then allows the player to manipulate other beings to help solve problems and further themselves in the game. This scene from Inside follows an instance of this that is made even more perplexing by extending the mind control to more than one being at a time. Through this strange advancement of mind control, music, and the design of scenery and characters, Inside provokes ethical questions about the game and its story.

The entire game has a dark atmosphere from the start, but it is particularly prominent once the main character, the boy, enters what appears to be somewhat abandoned factory/city buildings. The colors of everything are gray and washed out, and the buildings are mostly empty and quiet. This is extended to the other people that are seen in the game. These people actually seem to be more like zombies as they are also gray and lifeless, and move slowly and as if they are not being controlled by their own organic mental processes. The boy is the only real point of color, with his reddish shirt, and he is also the only person who seems to be truly alive and conscious, aside from the characters that chase him and are perceived to be the violent enemy. This distinguishes the player as different from every other character in the game and also establishes him as a force opposing whatever plot is occurring with the zombie-like population and aggressive enemies. In these buildings, the scenery also heavily evokes a sense of industrialism, right down to the mechanical nature of the mind control helmets. Painting industrialism in such a dark and depressing light might connotate a negative attitude towards industry and mechanization. Based on the appearance of the scene alone, the boy could be in a dismal dystopia.

In this scene from the game, the player must use a mind control helmet to take control of a zombie character in order to move the boy through the building. This in itself seems like an unethical choice, as he is quite literally utilizing another person’s unconscious body, without consent, for his own personal gain. This section becomes more complex when the player must put another mind control helmet onto the zombie they already control, linking him to yet another zombie character. Now the boy is controlling two mindless beings in order to advance himself through the building. No context about the boy or the men chasing him is given at the beginning of the game; the player basically just operates on the idea that if they are caught by the conscious people in the game, they will be killed. This leaves the player to do whatever is necessary to keep the boy alive, meaning running, problem solving, and this unsettling business of mind control. The lifeless, gray, zombie folk that are being controlled are being taken advantage of by the player. There is no context for their situation or mental states, so players don’t necessarily have to take their humanity into account while playing. Nonetheless, the player is still taking control of people who already seem to be unwell and helpless.

The music adds to the confusion surrounding the mind control elements of the game. It almost sounds like music that could be played for meditation and mental reflection. Having an almost trancelike audio playing in the game pulls the player into the lull that it seems like many of the zombie characters are living in. The relaxing sounds that are calming to the mind juxtaposed with the act of mind control and manipulation give the player a false sense of security in that there is no relaxation to be had; the player is both actively manipulating strangers and on the run for their life. The sound design here could be intentionally trying to draw the player’s attention away from the ethical problems at hand, or it could be attempting to add the mysterious vibe of the game in general.

Is the player, the boy, perceived to be the hero in this situation if he is controlling other beings in this way? If the player ignores all of these ethical questions and decisions while playing the game, the game just sits as a strange problem solving experience. The questions are present in the game whether the player chooses to think about them or not, though, leaving each player to discover and participate in their own individual experiences.



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