I finished Limbo a second time today. It’s a great little game, and I wanted to go back through it to re-experience the world and pay more attention to what it feels like to play.
Of course, it’s a radically different experience to play a (linear) game like Limbo for a second time. You know everything that’s coming (memory permitted), you recognize the puzzles immediately and know what to do. At worst, you mess up a little bit of timing and die a few times, but the deaths are trivial, just delays in the timeline rather than judgments of your skill and intellect.
The difference in “performative” experience also very much changed my experience of the game aesthetically, in terms of its narrative, say, or mood, or whatever. Because I was marching through the world, the hostility and flat affect of the environment was reconfigured. Now, rather than feeling that the other humans were mean, I immediately marched up to them, eluded their traps, drew them into their own traps mercilessly, and so on. Likewise, whereas much of the experience of the first playing was fear about the next way to die, this time the little boy I played was resolute and ever moving forward, deeply unafraid.
This is an excellent illustration of how a game isn’t just “the game”, but also the performance (and experience) of the player playing it. And it’s not in the banal sense that you “just add player” to get the designed experience, the experience depends on the performance and context of play – thus, a first playing full of fear and trepidation becomes a second playing of confidence and bravado.
The game world might be a stage, but we’re the players on it.