Burning A Little Time

It's difficult to even get myself to start playing a game these days.  It seems as though I have something more worthwhile to do, but I'm honestly unsure as to what, so maybe I should worry less and play more.  Even more a miracle is when I finish a game, but Little Inferno pulled it off just now, wholly because I was able to do so inside of 4 hours.  (It might have been five or six hours if I had sought all the "combinations," a wholly purposeless pursuit that does nothing to change the ending.)  I suppose another third minor miracle that I actually feel as though I got my $7.50 worth.
Were it not for this Yogscast series, I probably would not have
jumped on the Steam Sale to buy the game when I saw it.

Little Inferno somewhat defies conventional definition of what, exactly, it is.  Some would argue it's not a game so much as a sandbox.   Personally, I would say that Little Inferno is a hybrid game:
  • The vast majority of the game is a bit of a goofy toybox puzzler.  You simply sit in front of your Little Inferno fireplace, ordering packages of items from a catalog, and burn them, which often generates unique effects depending on what was burnt. 

    Each item you burn generates money to buy more items, creating a cycle.  The only challenge is identifying which two or three items make up a "combo" and making sure they are combusting simultaneously (with quite a forgiving window of error).  Complete enough combos, and you unlock another catalog.  Unlock all the catalogs, you've pretty much finished the game.

    The code involved in simulating the fire is pretty cool, and the heart of the game, so I suppose we can excuse a bit of pyromania.
  • The end of the game, and the overwhelming theme of it, is actually very much an "art" game, which basically have a goal of making the player have some kind of epiphany about some high faulting concept or another.

    Art computer games, being examples of modern art, are rich with meaning but elusive, even accommodating, when pressed for details. Is it because art is a lot more interesting when they are open to interpretation, or is it because it's a lot harder to come up with a concrete meaning and defend it against pundits?  There is much debate here amongst intellectual circles.
Little Inferno's gameplay is simple enough, so let the misinterpretation of the artistic message begin!

Overall, the message behind Little Inferno is a slap at consumerism, where it's pointed out you're essentially wasting your time, transfixed on a cycle of buying "meaningless, fake" things and consuming them (presented literally, with fire).   To end the game is to liberate yourself from the cycle, stop playing with meaningless, fake things, go out there and witness the world, "You can go as far as you like."

It certainly is a bold statement when a game developer tells you to stop buying games.  I wonder if perhaps having 50-90% of the copies of World of Goo pirated had put 2DBoy in a wholly anti-consumerist mood?

If so, it certainly didn't stop them from putting in an annoying real time delay in package arrival, often to the tune of 3 minutes or more!  It's a move that bears all the ear marks of micro-transaction money grabs but, mysteriously, they stopped short of actually selling (for real money) points to rush delivery of packages.  Did they have a change of heart, or are they threatening those nogoodnik pirates that they could gouge them with micro-transactions?  Perhaps it's on the opposite end of the spectrum, and 2DBoy is chastising those developers who do this, or using this delay against the player to reinforce the artistic message the players are wasting their time?

That said, if the message behind this game is about lambasting consumerism, it is doing so in a rather lighthearted manner, because it does not really hold the 1% as responsible.  The very head of the oppressive corporate egomass in the game is presented as a doting, grandmotherly dingbat who certainly hopes your playing with the Little Inferno has "kept you warm."  Having achieved everything she dreamed possible, she then simply sets her sights higher.  It's an inspirational message, perhaps, but then you're still left in the cold and she's gone.  Isn't she merely grasping after desires, never content with what she has, just as her customers, differing only in that the desires she pursues are a little more real?

What clues remain as to the message the game is trying to convey?  A love interest who thinks she may have found the sun by getting away from her fireplace, but she's somewhat insane, so probably not.  A weather reporter in a hot air balloon who sees all, but it's ambiguous as to how much he truly understands.  The fate of you, the protagonist, remains somewhat unknown, "You can go as far as you like, but you can never go back."  It's a phrase that refers to the passage of time, and/or the one-way street that is the dispelling of ignorance.

Does it really matter that you left your Little Inferno behind?  Personally, I don't believe the "where" of it particularly matters in life.  Whether it's in front of your Little Inferno fireplace or the Grand Canyon, you'll only wish you were somewhere else.  So stop.  Stop worrying about what's not in the here and now, and you will be able to pay better attention to what is.  That, finding infinite contentment in simple everyday living, is living life to the fullest.

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