The game seems innocent enough. It actually isn't. Even in its simplicity it evokes powerful messages. Loved is browser game that was developed in 2010, however, it actually has prevalent themes that carry on today. Alexander Ocias, a graphic designer and artist from Australia, made the game. The game uses Adobe Flash.
Loved's button system seems easy enough to play but the game has some difficulty. You are introduced to a monochromatic landscape with a hypnotic, resonating music. As Duncan Geere from the Wired puts it, it is a game that makes you challenge blind obedience. Would you do anything just because you were told?
The following article has some trigger warnings of body dysphoria, emotional, physical, psychological and verbal abuse, and shows the mature of a toxic friendship/relationship. Reader discretion is advised and the paper does not support these kinds of abuses.
Loved starts with simple instructions. The game seems to be a conversation with someone. This someone asks if you are a man or a woman. You answer one option. The "person/persona" does not agree. They call you a "boy" or "girl." The game first starts with how our self-image itself is distorted and infantilized by abuse. Our abusers will not respect our self-identification. Furthermore, they will reduce us as codependent.
The red flags are already out. Then the persona asks if you wish to be helped while playing or do you wish to not receive help. If you choose you require help the persona completely disregards your needs and says that you do not deserve their help and that you are wrong. Even if you say that you don't need help the persona tells you, you will fail and you feel, even if there is no dialogue, that the abuser is taunting you.
Yes, an abuser. Geere calls the narrator abusive and I agree with him, as he states: " So do you obey the voice who's been abusing you, or resist?" The path of obedience actually changes the landscape of the game so does the path to resistance. Complete obedience leads to a sort of secret ending; however, it means you cannot fail the difficult last challenge. The challenge itself will immerse you in the game as a game play but Ocias wants you to see what happens when you do obey the abuser.
As Geere puts it, "Loved might be tough, but it also explores a lot of interesting themes - relationships, love, and (most obviously) those of control." When you obey the abuser, things don't get better. They severely get worse but you don't realize it. You think you won something but you only won what the abuser wanted you to win: their game of condescension and erasure.
The abuser/persona first starts, as any toxic person, to seemingly make genuine requests. Readers can think about their abusive relationships, either platonic or romantic, and recollect a "golden time" when their friend/lover/spouse made reasonable demands. Loved is no different to this. When you control your character, you are told to jump over spikes to save your life. This is a good direction to give.
However, as soon as you do something the persona wants you to do they say "good girl/good boy." This makes you feel uncomfortable. They are not treating you as an equal but almost like you are sub-human and have no faculties. Soon, you approach a statue that you must touch anyway as they serve as checkpoints in the game. However, the abuser says that touching the statue means they have forgiven you. And, you start wondering what you have done wrong?
This is a depiction of gas lighting where someone invalidates your experiences, emotions and feelings and puts their perspectives onto you. However, the so-called reasonable requests become horrible and illogical. The abuser tells you to jump onto spikes later on. Now, if you blindly obey they will commend you for diminishing yourself.
However, why would you do that? The game asks you then if blind obedience is something you should comply with. Abusers make illogical and severe demands on the person they abuse. They try to take advantage of the person they are trying to dominate. To them, it is not why you should jump but how high. Of course, if you disobey the persona starts verbally abusing you.
Here is where the game dynamics become interesting. The monochrome landscape gets more details if you keep on obeying. However, there are still spikes, pit falls, moving blocks and many things that can destroy the character you are playing with. Metaphorically, this means that you understand in detail the nature and familiar patterns of an abusive cycle.
You are not escaping it: the details are just there to show you more concretely the abuse that is happening. If you choose to disobey and listen to yourself the landscape starts getting fragmented and hard to discern. However, it is no longer monochromatic but filled with vibrant colors. It seems the more you resist the abuser the more color, as a metaphor for self-agency and power, returns to you.
During the game, the abusive narrator also asks you some questions. They want to ask what they have control over, your mind or body: you might be wondering neither but whatever you choose the abuser wants you to keep on doing things for them. Everything seems to revolve around them.
The landscape is still deadly but of course this harsh terrain is also an embodiment of the abuser's psyche. They are harsh, cruel, prone to horrible mood swings and gas lighting. They are emotionally abusive so no matter how devoted or even understanding you are they will always try to take more from you and/or humiliate you. They do not care about your needs, wants, time or life. They solely want you to be focused on them and their perceptions.
As you try to escape the traps and pitfalls and close in on the ending the abuser asks the gamer that they will meet and if you are excited or frightened of this encounter. Both answers yield disturbing results. Excitement shows they are excited as well.
Saying you are frightened shows that they are taking a sadistic delight in your fear and finds it more enjoyable. An abusive person usually loves to see you unhappy, upset or scared around them and concerning them. It is completely unethical the way they demand for things, ignore you when you don't listen and also seem to never care about you.
The last traps are the hardest. It seems completely inhumane to make your character go through a maze of traps but the persona states only: "Do Not Fail." And, if you do they start scolding you. If you have followed the path of blind obedience in the game and do not fail this last challenge the abuser is so happy. They say you are finally theirs. They have broken you and now they are sadistically happy.
Then they ask the question again: Are you a boy or girl? You answer and now they say you are a man or woman. How many times have anyone faced an abusive person who only "accepts" them when they only listen to the abusive person's demands?
The fact that they made you codependent and infantilized you and now seems to wish to rework you as a project becomes apparent. You enter a new monochrome landscape and proceed to a coin like object. The game ends there. You do not feel like you have won. You feel like the abuser has you in their clutches.
This materialization of the game was so intelligent and wonderfully orchestrated that I felt both chills and a sense of awe and understanding the whole psychology of an abusive friendship/relationship. Yet, what happens if you disobeyed and/or even failed the last challenge? The abuser plays the victim.
They ask why did you hate them? As if you have done something to them and not the other way around. Still gas lighting the gamer and making them feel culpable of crimes they didn't do. They claim they loved you but you see their words and actions speak otherwise.
Then they ask if you wish to still be close to them. If you say yes, the abuser seems to be willing to try again with you. After all, they haven't satisfied their sadistic desire to break you. You run out in a color tunnel but not necessarily to freedom.
If you say you wish to leave the abuser realizes you have understood your worth, your autonomy and the fact you can be independent. They beg of you not to leave. Their power over you is gone. You run out the same color tunnel to freedom.
You have escaped and though you may have been severely wounded and broken sometimes, you still made it. In those final moments, you feel you have triumphed in a way that conventional games may not always make you feel. You feel acknowledged and you feel happy.
Loved is a game that details abuse and it does so in the expert way of game play. It wishes to show how manipulation, toxic behaviors, gas lighting, verbal, psychological, emotional and physical tortures can start from seemingly innocent requests. Yet, the game promotes hope. It promotes it in a way in which one can know their own strength, individuality, worth and autonomy. Loved empowers the gamer and that in itself does make one feel loved.
The writer is a Copy Editor at
The Asian Age
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