09.28.12

The indie platformer that lies to you as you play it

The Japanese indie platformer, La-Mulana, is a game that constantly misguides players. The difficult, Indiana-Jones-inspired game has inspired similar games like Fez and Spelunky. Jason Johnson at Bit Creature found its unpredictability a relief. 

Games are typically more trustworthy than Abe Lincoln and a St. Bernard combined. And even if they bend the rules, I know when they are bluffing. For instance, I Wanna Be The Guy: The Movie: The Game, a hack created from old NES games, would be clinically diagnosed as a pathological liar. There is never any doubt in my mind that I am being lied to. It’s like listening to Mitt Romney. The same goes for Portal. By now, who doesn’t know that the robots of Aperture Science are lying through their artificial larynxes? I nod along and grin and say, “Okay, sure. I believe you,” like talking to my friend who always has the most amazing nights at the bar, which somehow involves doing coke with a midget, when I’m not there.

But La-Mulana is a good liar. I’m never quite sure when to take its word. A switch on the ground could open a treasure chest, or it could drop a crate of snakes on my head. As a result, I’m scanning the screen for anything suspicious. Each point of interaction becomes a possible lie. It’s like having a conversation, when sincere thoughts quickly become a meta-game of successive lie detector tests. A flag goes up, and then you’re analyzing every other word for inconsistencies. Meanwhile, the liar begins to suspect you are onto the little white lie, and is trying hard to change the subject, or scrambling to explain it away with a bigger lie. Lies make us think on our feet and arrest our attention. They can also be manipulative (rhetoric), entertaining (the big-fish story), and fun (bullshitting).