Developer & Publisher: Alexander Ocias
Platform: Browser-based, playable at ocias.com, kongregate.com, jayisgames.com.
Prepare to have your self-esteem lowered by Loved, a short, arcade-style adventure game that unabashedly sets out to frustrate and verbally abuse players. The game was conceived and developed by Alexander Ocias, an artist and graphic designer. Loved was constructed in Ocias’ spare time over the course of half a year. It is a game that is difficult and equally harsh in its criticism.
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The browser-based game rides on the laurels of The Stanley Parable, a first-person interactive that flirts with the concept of meta-narration, and bridges the gap between reality and the game-world. The game experience becomes more enjoyable the more you irritate the narrator. The Stanley Parable was a huge success in indie circles, causing a flux of independent gamers familiar in code to start developing spin-offs. Loved appears to be one of these, but it takes the narrative aspect of The Stanley Parable to a new extreme.
“Are you a man or a woman?” The game asks as you begin. No matter your answer, the narrative contradicts and infantilizes you. Instead of “no, you are a man,” for example, the game replies “no, you are a boy.” It’s an immediate assertion of superiority over the player, setting the stage for subsequent emotional abuse. Loved treats the player like an aristocrat might treat street scum. “Go and touch the statue, and I will forgive you” it says, even if you have yet to disobey.
To begin with, all scoutable land is black. Your character pops up and down like a traditional nintendo character, a black little totoro against a swath of white. It reminds me a little of Limbo’s design, where the player must navigate the silhouette of a little boy through a dangerously brutal, 2D landscape; which, like in Loved, is bleak and featureless except for the silhouettes of upcoming deadly barriers. In Loved these obstacles are essentially spikes and moving boulders made from rocks, so meeting your demise is a lot less creative.
Like with The Stanley Parable, to disobey orders reaps rewards but in a very different way. You’re treated like an insubordinate child. Your failure to comply is “disgusting” and “disappointing,” and just like that parent who thinks you’re an utter waste of space, it tells you “you will fail.” Loved brings back every kid’s worst nightmare, failure in the eyes of their parent.
Yet the more you disobey, the more colorful the world becomes. Little square pixels dance about as you progress. Quickly, the light show begins to corrupt that distinct world of black and white. The spikes and moving rock-squares are covered with large red spots, so that it’s possible to keep going, but then it’s easier to get confused if you’re travelling quickly. In some ways, this emphasizes Loved’s underlying premise. In order to experience the beauty of life, you have to break away from the rigid “black-and-white” perspective of your parent(s). It means that the world is not as conceptually distinct, but there are more possibilities. In one of my playthroughs, I somehow managed to scale up the squares of colors I had generated through my failures. It was probably a glitch, but it certainly put the paradigm in perspective.
If you’re looking for a pleasure-filled adventure it may be better to choose The Stanley Parable over Loved. Still, if you’re looking for a game that will make you laugh simply out of wry humor, it may be the ticket. Just remember that despite its harsh words, the game only wants the best for you.