Film Studies as a discipline emerged in the 1960s and 1970s as a means of critically examining the nature of cinema philosophically seeking to promote film both as an emerging form of legitimate media and radical and evolving art form. This critical body of work calcified around 50 years after the invention of cinema as a commercial and mass form of entertainment and culture. Game Studies comparatively began to emerge in the 1990s and 2000s, a mere 20-30 years since the beginning of home consoles (such as the the Atari 2600 and the Magnavox Odyssey) and the arcade era (e.g. Pacman, Space Invaders etc).
The intellectual battles to promote games to the state of being considered as critically engaged material by the academy was not instantaneous yet the existence of other media studies that pre-dated it could be considered to have helped the process. For Game Studies to apply concepts such as feminism, Marxism, existentialism and so on to games was not a novel concept and the prior world of Film Studies and broader media studies provided an intellectual precedent for this emergence with copious comparable texts for an increasingly comparable medium. 
Similarly, both the design and cultural consumption of games would be influenced by film’s greater cultural and critical establishment and legitimacy. This is noticeably illustrated by King & Krzywinska’s argument that ‘more cinematic equals “better”… a judgement accepted by many reviewers’ (King & Krzywinska, 2002) and by Galloway’s common sense claim that ‘video games and film are influencing and incorporating each other in novel ways’ (Galloway, 2006). This essay will explore this concept of cinematic legitimacy and what it means for critical analysis of games from the perspective of both their design and consumption using the opening five minutes of Playdead’s 2010 videogame, Limbo. 
As this analysis will explore, Limbo itself is as an experience both cinematic and interactive and this contradictory and hybridised nature makes the game fruitful for wider analysis. Through examining the design and consumption of this game the strengths and limitations brought out by the convergence of approaches to the study of linear ‘cinematic’ film and dynamic ‘interactive’ gameplay are clarified.
Notably the oft-ignored sub-genre of the ‘cinematic platformer’ offers a deep insight into the design and analysis of this game as through a recurring set of concepts and approaches. As defined by Minkkinen, the cinematic platformer’s ‘focus is on fluid lifelike movements and realistic portrayal of characters’ and ‘on realism’ where ‘the characters are relatively vulnerable compared to … other platform game sub-genres’ (Minkkinen, T. 2006).
Minkkinen cites the commonly held originator of this sub-genre as Prince of Persia (1989) with its pioneering use of realistic animations through rotoscoping (sprite animations of the player avatar drawn over real photography). Minkkinen also includes Limbo as latter day example. Both games including a penchant for realistic and grisly death animations as well as a broader design approach of trial and error through and a high-fidelity sense of realism and atmosphere within the platformer genre. Limbo shall be shown to echo its sub-genres design choices in ways through the game’s emphasis of its cinematic nature.
Prince of Persia (1989)
As Limbo begins the player is presented with a sparse and minimalist environment. Here there is a clear presentation of the core aesthetic of the game. With no background music and only minimal sound effects there is a strong sense of isolation. As in cinema, there is no graphical user interface (GUI) informing us of the amount of lives, collectables, etc the player has in their possession. Limbo’s presentation creates a digitalised form of silhouette animation with variations of black and white as the only colours present. Whilst this was a striking and uncommon visual design for a digital game in 2010 it was not so in the medium of film.
A Magician’s Cards (2016)
The history of silhouette animation in film spans a sub-genre of stop-motion in the present era to the halcyon days of cinematic animation of the 1920s, notably with the work of the animator Lotte Reiniger for her black and white cut-out creations. With her films came a strong focus on expressionistic style and emphasis on flexibility of movement with some of her characters being made up of fifty different pieces (Schönfeld, C. 2006). Likewise on the development of Limbo a full-time animator spent three years working on the animations of the protagonist avatar.
Here is both a direct influence with a sub-genre of cinematic animation applied to Limbo and the most commonly cited aspect of the cinematic platformer (the realism of animation of the player) is prioritised in the work of design. When discussing the cinematic platformer specifically, Therrien argues ‘The obvious, most sought-after aspect of cinematographic representation is indeed the illusion of motion.’ (Therrien, C. 2004)
To what purpose was Limbo’s aesthetic novel for games? 2010 was an era of the nascent movements of both ‘art games’ and ‘independent (indie) games’ and Limbo itself can be considered a hybrid of these genres. Limbo’s development studio Playdead was setup in 2006 by a small group of individuals with the express purpose of the creation of the game. Limbo’s first step in development was through the creation of a visual tech demo (or ‘horizontal slice’) in the form of a trailer.
The conscious use of black and white for a game in 2010 was reported as a striking concept. Unlike in cinema, games at this point had almost never adopted the convention of choosing black and white for stylistic purposes and had rarely had to use monochromatic colour schemes due to technical limitations. This early emphasis on creating a unique art style positioned the game to seek a audience attracted to both its novelty and its value as an endeavour of artistic value and a cinematic visual identity. This fits a commercial process that Arsenault and Perron aptly highlight, whereby ‘the link between video game and cinema has … been made by the industry … as both branding and legitimation practices’ (Arsenault, D. & Perron, B. 2015). 
After a brief cutscene of the protagonist awakening and rising there is a pause and, unannounced to the player, interactivity is now possible. This seamless transition from cutscene to play experience places the game’s experience in what developer Ken Levine would define as an ‘integrated space’ away from the ‘parallel space’ of pre-generated cut-scenes and general space of play (Kelvjer, R. 2014). Limbo itself renders all cutscenes within the engine with no discernible, break, or edit in the process. This creates a sense to which all of the game’s proceedings look like an ongoing cut-scene to a spectator. Almost all of the game is interactive save for moments when the player avatar is physically unable to move.
The game’s in media res opening belies the minimalist approach to its narrative to come. At no point in the game are any words of dialogue uttered or typed. This feeds further into the sense of the game as an early silent silhouette animation. But moreover this is exemplified by the emotional content of the game, the lack of other friendly living intelligent characters to meet creates an emotional distance between the player’s avatar and his environment.
The narrative comes in fact entirely from the progression of exploration of the environment itself. The game pursues an overall abstract narrative much as we see in European or avant-garde films whereby there is no clear plot per say. The inciting question of the game has less to do with the suggested bespoke narrative of ‘finding the player’s Sister’ (accessible only outside of the game such as on the Xbox 360/Steam product description page) and more focalised on what the environment and narrative have next in store for the avatar – what lies beyond the side of the screen next? In this sense the game follows a linear filmic narrative albeit through its use of the unfolding environment.
But how does Limbo interact and play? Taking the generalised design of a platformer with the in-game avatar facing in a traditional left-to-right direction it also controls in a recognisable way. The player is able to move the boy around left to right and jump. Whilst these follow conventional inputs/verbs of a traditional platformer the player avatar’s physicality and sense of weight do not. The jumps of the avatar are not joyful or graceful but slow, soft and mild. There are no other functions for the player to engage with at this stage. As the player progresses forward they encounter the first pit their first potentiality for player avatar death. This provides an early example for those familiar with the language of the platformer to perform and those unfamiliar to learn quickly.
On dieing the game fades quickly to black and blinks back to a nearby checkpoint. The effect is quick and subtle, the interruption on flow is almost minimal and there are no fourth-wall breaking ‘gamified’ or ‘GUI’ sound effects to denote this. Yet still the process of player death can be seen as a break within the diegesis and realism of the game’s narrative. There is no established reason in the narrative that the player should resume their journey after death  yet the requirements of the design of the game requires play to continue. The lack of any ‘GAME OVER’ or system of lives reduces any potential damage to immersion or breaking of flow to a minimum. Here it seems a cinematic veneer is pulled over a necessary ludic convention, to not distract from the filmic sense of flow.
As the player progresses from the first pit through a series of physics challenges of climbing a box, swinging on a rope and onto a wooden bridge we see the platformer genre become more clearly established in an entirely diegetic and realist space. Platforms do not simply ‘exist’ in the abstract way they may in classic platform games such as Super Mario Bros (1986) but appear constructed and part of a lived in environment. This realist approaches furthers the cinematic nature of the experience in that the game world looks more like a real environment.
And what is notable about the early stages of the game is how little break in flow or cut to the action there is, assuming the player has a basic level of computational skill with the genre. This section almost seems to be designed partially as an opening interactive cutscene. The most notable moment in which ‘play as performative cinematic’ occurs is when the player pushes their boat across a foggy lake. Here the game pauses and suspends as the player simply waits for the boat to emerge on the other side. It is here the game opens up and begins to introduce threats and puzzles.
The game’s first real puzzle involves the player dragging bear traps into an existing rope trap to deactivate it and then later to use a similar process to defeat a major antagonist, the spider. Here it is very possible for the player to become stuck in progressing the narrative further forward and die repeatedly and become frustrated. Yet on patient engagement with the puzzles the player may progress and enjoy the ‘continuation’ of the narrative in much the same way as the unfolding of a linear film.
Tong & Tan argue (drawing on Stephen Heath) ‘Film narrative is comprised of a series of editing cuts, sequencing gaps and special ambiguities.’ (Tong, W. & Tan, M. 2001). It was also notably the lack of any editing in film that caused film critic Roger Ebert to state games could not be considered an art form.
Here there is a clear complication in the application of simply reading Limbo as simplistically cinematic. There is no conscious sense of edits, gaps in the narrative, or breaking up of flow into differing camera angles within Limbo. To facilitate play the game runs in a singular camer angle (saving some occasional pans in and out) without any conscious attempt at a break in flow. To address this then it is apt rather to see Limbo as a hybridic creature, a cinematic game genre that follows a unique language of trial and error and a blurring of the classical game tropes of the platformer with cinematic languages.
Klevjer defines the language of cutscenes operating in a form ‘cinematic fiction’ and something that has developed over three decades which ‘expands the scope and depth of artistic expression in games.’ Perhaps protesting too overtly Klevjer defines cinematic narration inherently unplayable, yet his concepts apply rather aptly to a game that at almost all times is both interactive yet inherently cinematic (Klevjer, 2014).
There is a unique experience to be found in playing a game that feels and plays cinematically in the contradiction and tension between play and watching as identified by Neitzel: ‘Thus if one identifies the act of playing with the act of narrating, the result is simultaneous narration, a form of narration seldom found in literature’ (Neitzel, B. 2014). It is thus not the same to play a cinematic game, nor is it the same to watch a playful film, each category needs to be taxonomised at greater level in its own field.
Elsewhere Klevjer writes that cutscenes and cinematic languages in games are ‘oscillation’ with play and whilst there are sparing uses of cutscenes in Limbo they do exist, primarily in the form of death animations. Here the conventions of cutscenes providing a breathing space exists but it is grounded in a diegetic realism of the experience which further serves its spatiality fidelity and cinematic nature (Klevjer, 2004).
Limbo itself is itself a contextual product of a convergence of genres of art game, indie game and the ‘cinematic’ platformer. The limitations in the application of cinema to the genre of the platformer exists primarily in the lack of critical attention it has received.
In Alexander Galloway’s seminal history of the first person shooter the writer pursues a cinematic predecessor to the gamic genre and along the way in passing considers many other alternate genres such as the real time strategy (RTS) and roleplaying game (RPG) and their cinematic equivalent. Yet he negates any concept of the cinematic or filmic nature of the platformer (Galloway, A, 2006).
As Galloway’s integral pursuit of the precedents of the first person camera angle in film similarly the platformer’s mid-shot itself needs greater critical foregrounding and context, such as within cinema e.g. David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977).
It is thus that the platformer’s cinematic nature and cinematic platformer itself is a neglected genre that deserves further research to help understand the multiplicity of approaches and their histories within the field of game design and the implications this has to a liminal studies between games and film. Limbo is a worthy title for study in this process as the filmic nature present in the game never allows it to rest simplistically in either a categorisation that is crudely ludic or narrative. Instead it stands as a game with high levels of hybridity and integration between the functionality of a game and the aesthetics of cinema. The overall experience is a filmic game in a genre that’s potential for narrative experimentation is often underestimated and perhaps with a critical and design comprehension yet to be reached.
 It is also worth stating that this continues a process where upon Theatre provided Film Studies with a prior grounding medium, e.g. the use of mise-en-scène as a key concept in Film Studies is a term lifted from Theatre. Additionally, industry practices such as blocking, acting and early film theory for Eisenstein all heavily drew from the theories and practices of Theatre.
 Primarily by examining the opening section until the first defeat of the spider antagonist with a bear trap. This is the first 6 minutes and 45 seconds as shown in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RWGZBZhr1g
 Additionally, when in motion it is clear that the game utilises several visual effects (VFX) to create a sense that the background is out of focus (of a fictionalised ‘camera’ viewing the action). Additionally there is an effect of a pulsing sensation of light, this is reminiscent of the visual style of early film stock seen in silent films. Limbo would go on to receive several comparison to both film noir and German Expressionism in its art format. Certainly as in early German Expressionist films such as there is a sense of moodiness and hostility to be found yet the environments of Limbo tend to bend more toward a sense of realism than the sharp angular environments as in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920).
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
This is particularly noticeable during much later sections of the game that feature urban cityscapes that appear to be oppressive, lonely and dilapidated. In the urban environments the game becomes drenched in rain fall, a classic film noir trope. Again here a confident riffing on filmic conventions seems palpable and undeniable.
 Other than speculatively that the world of Limbo, taking from the title, may be a place that is liminal between life and death and thus where one cannot die but this is never specifically supported by the text itself and it is a convention it shares with most other narrative games that player death does not meaningfully prohibit progression.
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A Magician’s Cards  [Animation] Lucy Bryant
Eraserhead (1977) [Feature Film] David Lynch
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) [Feature Film] Robert Wiene
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Nintendo. (1986). Super Mario Bros. [Game – Physical]. Nintendo Entertainment System. Japan: Nintendo.