Metatext and Playdead’s INSIDE

I recently played the 2016 video game INSIDE and, after finishing, immediately scoured the internet for answers. What I found was mostly disappointing. So here are my thoughts!


While I did discover a plethora of conjecture on the nature of the zombies, the world, the facility, the sirens, and so on, there were two questions that were often asked, but which I believe have clear answers that are overlooked.

The first question: is the boy free or is he being controlled?
Answer: of course he is being controlled. After all, if you don’t touch the gamepad, the boy won’t move.

And the second: is ‘the huddle’ free at the end of the game, or has it fallen victim to another layer of control and manipulation?
Answer: of course the huddle is free at the end. After all, it no longer responds to your inputs.

The problem with most INSIDE analysis is they approach the game from a purely textual standpoint: the environmental storytelling, the background details, and so on. But INSIDE is a meta-textual work, and this is clear from the start. Let me explain.

You begin the game with the boy on the left-hand side of the screen, facing right. So naturally, you move the boy to the right. This is the way platformers work, and have worked for nearly 40 years. It is natural to move the character to the right. And, except for a few detours around obstacles, you continue right for the entirety of the game.

And as the boy moves ever deeper into the heart of the dark facility, past man-catchers and through flooded buildings and abandoned mines, as the depths of the lab’s mind-control experiments become clear, you begin to wonder: what drives this boy? Why is he venturing on? What compels him? What does he seek?

And the answer is obvious: it is because you are making him. You are making him go right.

Consider: with a flick of a d-pad, the boy will dive into dark waters where monsters wait to drown him, he will jump from perilous heights, will run headlong into goombas… oh wait, I’m thinking of Mario with that last one.

Of course the boy is being controlled.

Header image via Playdead promotional material; fair use.