We all know what white lies are. They are little things we use to cover up awkward situations, like when we've forgotten to do something or why we skipped class to play video games instead. I sure have made white lies in my life - as has everyone else. But what if your whole existence is just a result of continuous string of lies? Little Red Lie is a narrative experience that tries hard to convince us that nothing we think or say is true.
Little Red Lie presents two protagonists whose stories we get to follow in turns. Sarah Stone is a 38-years old office worker who has been unemployed for half a year and is in serious debt. She’s forced to move back to her parents’ house, but her folks don’t know anything about her real situation as she has been lying to them all the time. Her parents are almost broke because all the money is spent on her mother’s cancer treatments and little sister Melissa’s bills. She’s mentally ill, socially inept and lives in her parents’ basement. Melissa doesn’t understand the value of money and keeps buying things online she can’t afford. The other focal character, Arthur Fox, is the complete opposite. He’s an upper class, filthy-rich, womanizing dickhead in his late forties. Arthur doesn’t give a shit about people he exploits for profits, as he promotes self-improvement books of how to get a fortune – which he probably hasn’t even written himself.
The game is presented in a low-quality pixel art, sometimes punctuated with lovely illustrations. Most of the time, though, we just read endless inner-monologues on a black screen. The writing itself is good, but the lengths the game goes in having its characters self-analyzing themselves in their self-pity (Sarah) or in self-belief (Arthur) is ridiculous. Newsflash for the game’s author Will O’Neill: people don’t go this far in explaining to themselves everything they have done, are doing, or are about to do or say. Little Red Lie bluntly assumes that things we think and what we say are two different things. So, whenever we talk, we lie. It translates into the game in multiple dialogue choices showing Sarah’s and Arthur’s thoughts, mostly honest (the lines in red are lies, though). But no matter what we pick, it turns out into a lie. The player has absolutely no choice over it; even if you want to say the truth in any given circumstance, the game doesn’t allow it. Everything is completely scripted.
The world according to Will O’Neill is a sad and lonely place. There’s no belief in family, friends and love. The society, the system, the rules, the jurisdiction and the media are out there just to eat you alive. You don’t believe in the good in anything. You can’t do as much as go to an elevator without thinking you’re getting funny looks. Everyone is fake with false pretenses. Including yourself. Everything must have a hidden meaning. It’s paranoid and distressing. But is it reality? This last week I was having my morning walk, and a cute brunette with strong eyebrows like Lily Collins passed me by and smiled. That’s nice, I thought. A moment later, a very pretty blonde walked past me and also smiled. I stopped right there, checked if my beanie was awkwardly on my head or if my winter coat hanged lopsided. That was silly of me. These young women must just have been in a good mood and wanted to spread it across. Or maybe they thought I was good-looking! I don’t know, but certainly there was nothing suspicious about them smiling. A smile from a stranger can make your day, but in the world Little Red Lie paints, nothing is so simple.
The game offers an absolution, though. If you have enough money, that is. Everyone in middle-class or below are as good as dead, as Sarah’s ending quite literally preaches. It goes into ludicrous lengths when a self-reflective misery turns into an unconvincing and ill-justified thriller. The game doesn't care about its characters. How could we care about them? I don’t know if the author has been betrayed in the past (there’s especially a symptomatic grudge against women here) or has a low self-esteem. Either way, it’s as if he’s vomiting his ill feelings all over the players. The game is the wrong medium for that. We assume that we could at least interact with these terrible people’s lives and have a say in how things turn out. But no, instead we’re forced to read these cynical philosophies, dissecting everyone and everything into sick, misshapen bits.
Little Red Lie is depressing and misguided. However, it curls up so much in its self-pity and vitriolic hate towards everything that you can’t take it seriously anymore. And the game is meant to be taken very, very seriously. It’s just too pretentious for that. You could say Little Red Lie is a lie in itself. Look at the screenshot above. That woman is supposed to be a washed-up, desperate single in her late-thirties with pockmarked skin and thin hair. Excuse me? I see a beautiful woman with voluptuous lips. Not all entertainment is meant to make us feel good, but Little Red Lie pushes the envelope. At the very end, the game even falls into mocking at the player who has suffered the self-indulgent boredom of it all. I’m not sure that’s a good sales pitch for Will O’Neill’s future projects… I played this game through for you, and I hope you won’t ever make the same mistake. I’m sure the author meant for us to go all reflective on ourselves at the end but the game didn’t make me look into the mirror. I’m better than that - and so are you. And I’m not lying.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.