Little Inferno Makes a Comment on Games, and Maybe Internet Culture

There’s a fun term called “clicktivism” that floats around in political discourse as it relates to the Internet.

At its simplest, clicktivism refers to the idea that clicking something that suggests activism on the Internet is the same as actual activism. Remember the Kony 2012 craziness at the beginning of the year? It was a short movie with a big Facebook campaign to spread word about it, with the self-described purpose of finding and bringing to justice Joseph Kony, a Ugandan militia leader and accused war criminal. It was also a big example of clicktivism, a phenomenon explained as people thinking they’re contributing to a cause merely by sharing information about it.

The idea is that when you clicked “Like” on a Kony 2012 post, you thought you were contributing in some way, such as “raising awareness,” without actually doing anything. Online petitions result in a lot of the same feeling — you clicked it, shared it, put your name on it, so you must be some kind of activist, right?

Clicktivism is a very interesting concept in the modern world, given how connected we all are. You can share a petition or push a political opinion without really having to do any work. Is it actually effective to share those petitions or like those Kony 2012 posts? No, many people will argue. Real change comes from real activism.

Then there’s Little Inferno, an indie title from studio The Tomorrow Company and created by people who were previously responsible for World of Goo and Henry Hatsworth. That’s something of a puzzle game pedigree, but Little Inferno isn’t a puzzle game — it seems to be more of a comment on gaming and cyberculture in general.

In Little Inferno, players start with a new “Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace,” which they use to burn stuff. That’s the whole game. You burn things, those things kick out coins, and then you use those coins to buy new things. You get with a catalog of items to burn, and once you’ve bought them all, you get access to a new catalog. There’s very little in the way of actual gameplay, even as each of the items you can burn reacts in different, often funny or horrible ways to being set aflame. They don’t actually ever do anything. There’s some element of puzzle-solving, in that burning different specific items together unlocks various “combos,” but that’s about it.

If Little Inferno sounds stupid or boring, it’s not. Well, it is somewhat boring, but that’s sort of the point. All the characters in the game’s city sit around in front of their fireplaces, buying things and burning them. In fact, they seem to exist to do little else: the fire provides warmth against an endless snowfall outside their windows, and the world continues to grow colder and colder. It’s been winter as long as anyone can remember, and so most people have taken to sitting around, burning their stuff and…waiting.

The things The Tomorrow Company has done with Little Inferno are actually quite interesting. There’s a plot delivered through messages that come via mail from the player’s neighbor, but you literally can do nothing but read, order and burn — and that includes the mail you get and even the manual for the Little Inferno fireplace in the first place. You’re incapable of even turning around; the fireplace holds you enthralled, and you have little choice but to continue to click away and watch things become little more than a smattering of ash.

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1 Comment on Little Inferno Makes a Comment on Games, and Maybe Internet Culture


On December 27, 2012 at 10:57 pm

A very important message for our time. I only hope that everyone listens