Little Misfortune | Review
Elegy to the memory of an unfortunate lady
by Martin Hare Michno
Image courtesy of KillMonday Games via Press Kit
If ever there was a story whose subject was paradise
And whose theme was its loss,
It is this.
Epictetus might say of Little Misfortune that she is a little soul, carrying around a corpse. He might even say this of the entire game, for it is not only the loveable protagonist who is constituted by duality but the plot, design and mechanics too. The creators Natalia and Isak Martinsson have dusted off the ancient artistic formula which has yet to fail in millennia – contrast.
Contrast is almost intuitive. The effect caused by the clashing waves of two opposites has resonated for centuries; one might even argue that there is something to be said about contrast and the human condition. In the philosophy of Hegel, contrast is used regarding his idea of the dialectic, which is defined as a contradiction between ideas. This contrast between two ideas leads to a third. Thus, when a thesis is juxtaposed with its anti-thesis, there results an inevitable syn-thesis. The Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein wrote that “the juxtaposition of two shots by splicing them together resembles not so much the simple sum of one shot plus another – as it does a creation”. So, what kind of contrasts do we find in Little Misfortune? And what is the inevitable effect of these contrasts? It seems to me that pretty much every significant aspect in the game exists in contrast to another.
We can start with Little Misfortune herself – a little lady who waddles and toddles through an unforgiving life, sprinkling glitter on dead crows and repeating cute catchphrases in horrific situations. The obvious contrast here between the Innocent and the Macabre is the overarching theme of the game. Even in their earlier game, Fran Bow, the developers explored the ‘childhood-terror’ genre and relied heavily on the perversion of innocence. Little Misfortune’s naïve relationship to the horrid world around her, however, soon becomes tiresome. The writers saturate the effect when trying too hard to be excessively dark (read: “edgy”), and relying too much on a superficial shock-factor which adds nothing to her character or the game in general. Generally, KillMonday Games should think about being more subtle with their approach to the contrast between the macabre and the innocent. (Yikes forever!)
Nevertheless, the most crucial contrast between the two is actually the most subtle. It is easy to forget that Misfortune’s existence is physical and material, while Mr Voice’s existence is mental or immaterial. The duality between the material and the spiritual has been discussed mercilessly in the field of philosophy. Of course, the division of Mind and Body has great implications, and thus we should not take it lightly – even in a game like Little Misfortune. For the French philosopher Descartes, while the body is a material substance, the mind is an immaterial substance which engages in activities beyond the laws of physics. In the game, Misfortune seems to embody the material and Mr Voice the immaterial of Descartes dualism. Indeed, Mr Voice foretells the future and speaks directly to the player, implying he exists beyond Misfortune’s reality. His prophecy of Misfortune’s death and a world beyond her life thus gives rise to another contrast: Life and Death.
Mr Voice wants to play a game with Misfortune, and promises her Eternal Happiness if she completes it. It is easy to apply a religious interpretation to the game, where a certain god-like voice promises Paradise if the right choices are made throughout your time spent on Earth. However, this analogy can only go so far. It seems to me that an existential perspective can take us further, as we must remember what Mr Voice tells us very early on in the game: “There is no right or wrong, only consequences”. Thus, unlike in religious philosophy, where morality is pre-determined, Little Misfortune’s world has no pre-existing right and wrong choices – only consequences. Perhaps it is this existential quality of Little Misfortune’s world which makes it so void of empathy. None of Misfortune’s choices actually change her inevitable fate. The effect of juxtaposing two choices is thus anguish. The player is offered no easy answer, no obvious “right” choice. All the player can do is act, and they must carry with them the burden of freedom.
Just like in Fran Bow, two opposite worlds seemingly collide in the game. One might argue that it is a clash between the light, material, natural, ephemeral world and the dark, spiritual, unnatural, eternal world. It is implied that Little Misfortune transitions from one world to another on a boat with a ghastly figure who strongly reflects the Greek Charon carrying the souls of mortals over the River Styx and into the Underworld. However, it is worth considering the possibility that these worlds do not exist separately or independently from one another, but are rather intertwined in a complex web of realities. After all, Mr Voice might be from another immaterial world, but he nevertheless exists in Misfortune’s material reality. Similarly, life and death are not two independent states, but rather where one ends and the other begins is unclear. We cannot be too sure when Misfortune dies; while her body dies early on the game, we continue to play as Misfortune, perfectly alive. Thus, we return to Epictetus and his haunting words: “You are a little soul, carrying a corpse”.