Loved is a flash game that …
Let me start again. Loved is a flash story …
No, not quite right. Loved is abusive.
Yes, that’s more like it.
I’ve tried a few times to write this while not spoiling Loved, but I’m finding that impossible, so this is your chance to decide whether to keep reading or not. If you do keep reading, then you may not get the full ‘Loved experience’ if you decide to play it yourself.
Have you made your decision?
It was the wrong one.
Alright, I admit that was more than a little ham-fisted, but then I’m not the creator of Loved.
Loved abuses you, disparages you, degrades you and is condescending. It gives you hope, then crushes that hope. It gives you choices but you will never make the right one, because you’re not good enough.
If you’ve never been in an abusive relationship and you want to have some idea of how it feels, Loved does it very well. For those who have been there, Loved may either be triggering or therapeutic.
On the surface, Loved is a chunky looking platformer game. You can go left or right, you can jump or crouch. There are spikes to jump over. There are moving blocks that can kill you with a touch. There are statues that work as checkpoints.
But before you even begin, there’s a choice. Then another. It doesn’t matter what you choose, you will be wrong. As you begin to play, and try to determine the controls, the game will likely insult you for getting it wrong.
As you go on you’re given instructions; and much like The Stanley Parable it’s up to you whether or not you follow those instructions. If you don’t follow the instructions you’ll be disparaged and insulted. If you do, you’ll get condescending pat on the head. You might even begin to hate the game.
There’s another level to this. The graphics at the start are chunky and black and white. As you go on, they change. The more you obey the instructions the sharper the world becomes – though still a stark black and white. If you continually disobey the world becomes flashing, colourful blocks. It’s very pretty but makes it very, very hard to work out what type of obstacles you’re facing. Do you want a clean, but colourless world, or a colourful, but far more indistinct world?
Loved is an interesting exploration of using a game to evoke emotion. The platforming is just the right level of frustrating until you learn how the momentum works, and you rarely have to redo sections that are too large due to the checkpoints. That means the ‘story’ isn’t overwhelmed by the gameplay – but also that the gameplay isn’t too simplistic to destroy interest.
What’s fascinating is that the game instructs you to do both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ things. It offers to forgive you if you touch a statue, and yet also orders you to jump into a pit of spikes. However, what have you done that needs to be forgiven? Is it worth ‘dying’ and having to go back to the last checkpoint to gain a pat on the head?
A little later you’re told not to touch a statue, meaning that now if you die you have to go back even further. Is that fair?
Of course, fair doesn’t really come into it. You can obey and be condescendingly praised; or you can disobey and be degraded. It’s your choice.
What fascinates me about this is how well it’s done, and how simple it all is. There are no voice-overs. There are only words on a screen, and few of them at that. The graphics are simple, but functional – as is the gameplay. Yet with so little, it can evoke so much emotion.
Even if playing Loved is a somewhat depressing affair, it’s something I felt was worthwhile playing and experiencing.