Everyone deals with grief in different ways. Sometimes, we reflect on happy times in our lives, and other times we can’t help but dwell on the sorrow that’s drowning us. In Between, a recent indie game for PC, Mac, and Linux that can be downloaded on Steam, tries to help the player experience the five stages of grief through playing the game. It’s an emotional, thought-provoking, and introspective journey, a journey that not only taught me about what it must feel like trying to deal your own impending death, but also what it feels like to reflect on your own life.
In Between is the story of a terminally ill cancer patient struggling to accept his own mortality. The entire game takes place in the mind of the protagonist as he progresses through the five stages of grief. Each stage of grief is used as a theme that permeates each set of levels, informing the puzzles you’ll have to navigate, as well as the bits and pieces of his past that you uncover along the way.
For example, once you finish the first set of introductory levels, you progress through the stage of denial, the first stage of grief. The narrator tells a story of being afraid of the dark as a child and his mother teaching him to face his fears head on. This portion of the narrative demonstrates lessons in acceptance and overcoming fears. In the game, denial and fear are represented by literal darkness that closes in on you as you progress through the level. In order to push back the darkness and keep it from consuming you, you must face it—literally. Dynamics such as this are what keep the puzzles fresh and engaging the further you get into your character’s deteriorating mind.
All of this is presented with a strikingly beautiful hand-painted art style and really satisfying platforming and puzzle-solving gameplay. Rather than simply running and jumping around like your average ordinary Mario impostor, the protagonist of In Between employs a much more physics-defying skill. By flicking the right analog stick (I chose to play the game with a controller plugged into my PC) either up, down, left, or right, you make the gravity of the room shift and reposition yourself to the new surface.
While the developers at Gentlymad made the game simplistic at first, they did a wonderful job of slowly ramping up the difficulty over time. Let’s just say that some of the stages themed after anger evoked that emotion from me much more quickly than I had anticipated. That’s not to say that it’s too difficult to enjoy, but it’s also a much more challenging game than your average run-of-the-mill casual experience.
In Between is one of those rare games that is able to tap into so many aspects of what makes the game industry the most powerful form of artistic expression and storytelling on the planet. Players get to peek into the mind of a dying man, reliving his pain and happiness in equal measure, while simultaneously teasing their own braisn to solve mind-bending puzzles of increasingly deep complexity. Rarely are small, cheap, independent games able to adequately represent such a diverse range of topics and emotions. For that reason alone, In Between is worth a look if you’re a fan of challenging puzzle games or enjoy stories with true meaning behind them.