Limbo: Silence is Terrifying

Ridley Scott’s classic movie Alien was advertised with the tagline “In space, no one can hear you scream.”  It followed a trailer that showed scenes from the film in quick succession where nothing that the characters did or said was heard over the white noise and “eagle calls” that have become famous from this trailer.  It was simple, it was eerie, and it was intriguing.  These are three qualities that are excellent for drawing an audience and all present in the game Limbo.

Limbo is a game unlike any other game. It could be similar to Journey in theme, but it has exact opposite in tone.  It sets up a challenging side scrolling puzzle world for a lone boy to face.  Whilst the protagonist roams through the black and white hellscape of a two dimensional forest and abandoned city distorted by shadows, everything is out to kill him.  Conveniently, this boy is silent, and he’s a protagonist, so we’re going to talk about him and his world.

It’s safe to assume the hero of Limbo is a young boy, and quite like many young boys he is faced with a great many fearful things.  The world of Limbo takes the most common fears like drowning, falling, the dark, strangers, spiders, separation, losing one’s mind, and an assortment of sharp things and turns them against the hero.  Under the pressure of the unsettling environment, the Limbo boy as he is commonly called must keep his nerve.  His consistent goal is to reach an unidentified girl.  However, this is the classical realm of Limbo:  the edge of life and death and the brink of heaven and hell.  As such, it is a world not devoid of logic but serving as a testament of a very disturbed logic.  Puzzles involve the manipulation of gravity and interaction with many threats blown out of proportion to teem with danger.  The consistent antagonist for the first part of the game is a giant spider that first captures him and then pursues him with a vengeance when the limbo boy cuts one of the spider’s legs off.  The spider is so hellbent in chasing the boy that even after plummeting off a cliff, the spider crawls forward with its single remaining leg trying to impale the boy with its last spidery breath of life.

There are strange men that set up traps to try and kill the Limbo boy, and worms that burrow into the boys head to hinder his ability to control himself.  In the end of the game, the boy smashes through a glass wall and finds himself right where he began back in the woods.  This is indicative that in the classical depiction of Limbo, it is a ring around the conic realm of hell.  However, before despair sets in he finds the girl. She looks up from picking flowers, and the game ends.  It is such an open ended conclusion that many interpretations have been made.  The developers were hoping it would open discussion.  However, in the many tormenting moments of this game, it is important to note that while the hero has eyes (unlike anyone else in this story) he doesn’t have a visible mouth.  Amid every terrible thing the hero must endure, it is important to note that if he wanted to scream or say something, he can’t and with no one to scream or speak to, it is all left to reside within his head.  This masterful terror makes Limbo.




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  • Andrea

    Spoiler alert! This game has been out for a long time, but still…

  • I think your last point is very interesting. I suspect the boy is trapped in his own head–a child’s mind–where things are big, scary, and cognitively distorted. Imma go place this now.