Little Nightmares / The Stuff of Dreams

Little Nightmares / The Stuff of Dreams

It’s rare that a game captures my attention the way that Little Nightmares did. From the moment I saw the trailer – a mere 12 hours to it’s April 2017 release – I found it constantly lingering in the back of my mind. It nagged away, like the unshakable feeling of having a monster under your bed.

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I’ll admit that despite my sudden obsession with the stunning world of Little Nightmares, I hesitated to pick it up – mind you, not  for very long. I was completely enthralled by the setting. It’s a world equally depressive and beautiful, shadowed with mystery, and a sense of utter helplessness. The two minute long launch trailer was more than enough to pique my interest – and yet I hesitated. It wasn’t until over a week later that I finally had enough of wondering. I was finally worn down enough by my own curiosity to dive in, and see this world for myself.

It was breathtaking. I could honestly go on and on about how much I adored playing this game. The world was everything I’d hoped for. It was a seemingly endless maze of dark, lofty corridors, and dimly lit passages. They’re eerie in their emptiness, and delightfully reminiscent of one of my favorite platformer games, Limbo – I was drawn right in. Navigating this desolate world, as a tiny little barefoot child in a yellow raincoat, I felt small, insignificant and desperate to escape. The emotional reaction I had to playing this seemingly simple puzzle platformer was impressive. Though I would gladly write pages and pages about the nuances of why I enjoyed it so much, I’m finding myself compelled to instead talk about why I hesitated to give it a chance.

Like most people I know, my days and weeks are broken into bits and pieces. Time is a commodity for many of us, something we feel we can only divide and never multiply. Try as I might, I can never physically add an hour to my day. Instead I have to chose very wisely how I spend the precious little free time I have. So when reviews started to pour in for Little Nightmares that both praised it’s beautiful aesthetic, and criticized its relatively short runtime, I wondered if it would really be worth the hours I would want to commit to it – however few they may be. Most reviewers claimed it took them somewhere between two and three from start to finish. Just from watching the trailer I knew this was the sort of game I’d like to settle in to, and complete in one sitting if at all possible. However, I was certainly hoping for more than a couple hours of playtime, especially at the $24.99 (CAD) price tag.

"Navigating this desolate world, as a tiny little barefoot child in a yellow raincoat, I felt small, insignificant and desperate to escape."

I scrolled through negative reviews that all said the same thing. This was an excellent game, but not worth the price. Despite the slew of sad, thumbs-down reviews popping up on Steam, I couldn’t quite shake the curiosity. Scraps of the soundtrack had already crept into my head, and were following me along my morning commute. They carried along an interesting and important question.

How could I, as an artist, be debating the value of someone else’s art? Little Nightmares is a stunning artistic experience, something that has so much heart and soul and story poured into it. Who am I to dictate its value? I’ve had the displeasure of listening to outside opinions debate the monetary value of my art. My quick judgement of Little Nightmares based on its reviews felt too much like that I’ve sat through two hours of a terrible movie because I wanted to feel like I got my monies worth.  I was already enamored with the concept of Little Nightmares. If I only got two hours of entertainment, at least they’d be quality hours. Within a day of purchase I had completed the game, and I can say, with all honesty, my only regret is that I ever hesitated.

However, It’s impossible to navigate the world without some regrets, a lesson that Little Nightmares teaches beautifully. Throughout the game you’re faced with some tough and terrible decisions, the outcome of which determines if you live or die. No matter how good your intentions, you have to make some terrible choices in order to survive. In the bleak world you’ve been dropped into, you’re faced with needing to adapt to the horrors around you in order to escape them, to the point where it can be hard to differentiate yourself from the monsters you’re running from. A surprisingly apt echo of my hesitation to purchase the game due to the overbearing social ideal that art isn’t worth what the artist says it is. A stance I try to actively combat in my day to day life, but am still susceptible to.

In the end, I put a little over seven hours into Little Nightmares, and adored every moment of it. The bleak and brutal world, and the adorable protagonist is clearly a labor of love – their effect on me is evidence of that. Yes, it’s a touch on the short side, but the compelling puzzles and incredible visuals were more than worth it. With every level I could feel all the effort that went into creating a wholly unique experience. It gave me the sort of lingering emotional fallout that I strive to create in my own work. Being able to leave your audience with many questions and feelings is the sort of thing that writers work tirelessly for. I would rather regret enjoying something for too short a time, than never try it at all.

I could sit here and tell you the game was worth every penny. I could tell you that artistic games like Little Nightmares are rare, and should be encouraged, but that’s a story we’ve all heard before. Frankly, I’d rather focus on something a little different. In a world where we’re so strapped for time, and often so desperate to make ends meet, it’s important to take a few hours here and there, and indulge in something purely for the sake of one’s own happiness – regardless of what others may consider a waste of time, or money. As you continue to divide up the pieces, spend time watching a film, or playing a game, or reading a book, and do so without the burden of worrying about what someone else might think.