It can be difficult to find time to finish a video game, especially if you only have a few hours a week to play. In our two-week short play column, we propose video games that can be started and ended in a weekend.
Sometimes what is not said in a story is as important as what is said. This is usually because it can help the audience better understand the characters and their actions, but it also leaves things up to the audience to interpret. And because the human brain loves to find patterns with enough information, they will try to put things together for a complete picture.
The Bookshelf Limbo is a game about a character who tries to choose the right comic book for her father's birthday by browsing the shelves of a bookstore. There are only nine books on the shelves to choose from, and each one has little text on it. But much of what the game tries to convey is not explicitly expressed in the text. Much of the information that you can get comes from reading between the lines of what has been said and the decisions that you can and cannot make. This sometimes gives the feeling that storytelling takes place more in the negative space of writing than in the text of the work.
The game is played with only a mouse. When you move the mouse pointer over parts of the bookshelf, circles appear that show you which books have drawn the character's attention. If you click on the book, you will see the cover, title, author and a brief description. You will then be asked with a few choices: you can read some online reviews for the book, you can read the quotes on the back of the book, you can decide whether this is the book you want to give away, or you can put it back to look at another.
The online reviews in particular offer a good insight into who the book might appeal to, since they are usually rather blunt sentences that get to the point. You will also find that the same reviewers appear in different books. This is a subtle way to get your mind to profile what reviewers might like based on limited information. It also matters that you don't actually know anything about the character or his father, which makes it seem impossible to actually choose a good gift for them.
There is actually a lot of information that you can collect. They're just a little hidden until you have a book you want to choose. If you select the "This could be the book you want to give" option, you have three unique choices for each book. These decisions are different concerns of the character when choosing that particular book. For example, a book contains poly relationships, and the character notes that he does not want to have a discussion about poly relationships with his father.
You have to go through all three options before you can tentatively select the book. Every time you select one, the player puts the book back on the shelf. You must then mark it and click it again before you can select another matter. While this is a somewhat annoying set of interactions that need to be repeated, it generally helps to convey the meaning of a character who is undecided and paralyzed by decision. In addition, the various reasons why you did not choose a book help to provide a lot of information about you as a person and what kind of person your father is or at least how you perceive him.
With these little snippets of information that you get from the text, gameplay, and even questions, you can start building an incomplete understanding of the characters. It's like a puzzle full of missing pieces. The fascinating thing about The Bookshelf Limbo, however, is that there is just enough to see what the whole picture is. Especially when you start to fill the holes with people or things from your own life, be it from stories you have read / seen or from your own experiences. It helps turn a simple game into something a lot more engaging and empathetic.
The Limbo bookcase was created by Deconstructeam. You can download it for free from Itch.io (Windows). It takes about 30 minutes to finish.