Attention! This post is full of spoilers for the game Little Inferno. I strongly recommend that you play the game before reading this, or you won’t enjoy the game nearly as much. It’s short — a few hours, easy to complete in a couple of sittings — and it’s worth the investment. This post will be here for you to peruse when you return. Promise.
You sit down in front of your latest purchase: a fireplace, of all things. You didn’t think your next investment would be something so… mundane. Then again, this isn’t any ordinary fireplace. It’s the Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace.
The package didn’t come with many starter items to burn, so it wasn’t long before you had to toss in old clothes, long-forgotten toys — even worn kitchen tools that you were pretty sure you wouldn’t need again. That didn’t last long, though. Your fire had turned into embers, and it was starting to get cold.
Cold, and colder still. It’s always cold. Why is it so cold? The weather man never talks about anything except the growing clouds, the endless snows, and the smokestacks showing the efforts of everyone trying to stay warm. That can’t last forever.
There’s nothing that can be done. It’s the weather, after all. Who can do anything about that? Better to just sit here and keep warm.
A letter arrives for you, from the makers of Little Inferno. How did they know your address? It doesn’t matter: it contains a catalog! A catalog of things specially designed for burning in your Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace. Perfect! Who wants to venture out in the cold when you can have warmth and comfort delivered straight to your door?
What time is it? How long have you been burning your possessions? Wasn’t there something you wanted to do? This catalog has some peculiar merchandise. Artifacts from faraway lands. Pieces of mysterious rock. Forgotten dreams. Forgotten memories.
Forgotten dreams. What was this disk marked ‘beta’? Wasn’t there a time when you wrote computer programs and called them ‘beta’? You vowed to learn more so that you could see them blossom beyond an experimental bucket of bits.
Faraway lands. You remember wanting to travel. Everyone says the world is a small place, but it always seemed so vast — vast by time, vast by scale, vast by culture. There never seemed to come an opportunity to tackle those hurdles and discover more than your own back yard.
Now here you are, watching souvenirs from other lands smolder and turn to ash, just like your hopes of ever discovering where they came from. It’s difficult to turn away from the warmth. The world is so cold.
There’s something not quite right about the Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace. It was entertainment, sure. It was like any other piece of entertainment, but much simpler. It didn’t hide its repetitiveness behind the trappings of plot. You knew that you had to keep burning things. And burning things yielded rewards for purchasing more things to burn. And burning things made you feel warm.
These things. Pills and cigarettes. Booze and drugs. They have no meaning. No meaning as they are, no meaning as they explode in flame and soot. You contemplate one of the bottles: Best Friend Supplement Pills. A cheap knockoff meant to replace the real thing. This, all of this, is a cheap knockoff for the real thing. Order, deliver, burn. Order, deliver, burn. That can’t last forever.
In hindsight, it makes sense that the only thing that could break the cycle was the only thing that was real: your neighbor. She knew the truth, and she forced your escape. It was scary, breaking that safety net. The fire was everywhere, and then it was nowhere. You’re cold again. Cold and alone.
You wander aimlessly down your street. It’s familiar and foreign at the same time. The mailman is carrying an armful of boxes, each one stamped with the bright logo of Tomorrow Corporation, the sun rising behind an unidentifiable city’s skyline. Or is it setting?
Apparently he’s your mailman. You didn’t know, you had never seen him. Mail just arrives. You order, it arrives, you burn it. There was no time to see how it got there. There is nothing to burn now, though. All you have is time.
Further down the road you come across a gated entrance, with a familiar sign overhead: Tomorrow Corporation. Maybe they could explain themselves? It seemed unlikely, but you couldn’t turn away from the large, imposing structure. The gates started to open, one by one. What would you find inside? Would the outcome be as delightful as the possibilities? Would they even let you in?
Surprisingly, they did. Even more surprisingly, they let you see the head of the company. She takes joy in the warmth that her Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace brought you — then quickly apologizes for the explosion that destroyed it and your house. But her joy doesn’t waiver. She sees the cold that has gripped the town. She knows the warmth of her fireplace is simple, reassuring — and unfulfilling. As she turns to leave, you want to ask where she’s going, what she’s going to do. But those are her dreams, her desires. You have your own, and they don’t lie with her, they don’t lie in Tomorrow Corporation, and they don’t lie in this town.
This day, you found the truth. We don’t need a Little Inferno to keep us warm. Each and every one of us is a Little Inferno, and we can keep ourselves warm. Our love, our memories, our passion — these don’t need cheap replacements or substitutes.
There are many who are content to stay where they are, burning through whatever is given to them. There’s more to be had, though. There’s more out there, and you can go as far as you like. To lands undiscovered. To knowledge unattained. To delights unachieved. But you can’t ever go back.
You won’t want to.