Little Nightmares: Three Years On, Mysteries Are Still Being Unraveled

Little Nightmares was an instant hit upon its release back in 2017. While in some ways it seemed to follow in the footsteps of Playdead’s Limbo (2010) and Inside (2016), it also quickly proved to be like no game we’d ever played before.

We’re thrown into the world of Little Nightmares without much explanation, save for what was posted on the official website – we know who Six is, or, at least, her name, and we knew that we’d be coming face-to-face with a number of quite literal nightmares, like the Janitor and, eventually, The Lady. And while these behemoths of the game are undoubtedly terrifying, the game has the kind of atmosphere that, on its own, is enough to chill you.

As Six, we awaken in a darkened room, in what appears to be the bowels of a ship, known as The Maw. From the first note, the music of the game is truly an experience – it sets the tone for every chapter and keeps us on our toes, reminding us that we can never really relax. Each room is shrouded in shadows, and the sheer mystery of where we are and exactly what we’re trying to do only deepens the further we go. It seems we’re trying to escape, but why? From what? Who is the Hanging Man? Who is anyone? And, of course, why are we so desperately hungry? Three years on, these questions still seem to have no discernible answers.

As we progress the game does seem to throw us hints, but the answers are still hardly set in stone. For example, we see the Janitor wrapping up children and transporting their bodies to the Chefs in the kitchen. It’s presumed that he’s raising them to be cooked, and fed to the Guests of the Maw. While this seems plausible, we never see him kill a child, and we never see the Chefs cutting up or cooking a child’s body. The seed is planted, but what grows from it appears to be up to us, the players. Some even think that the Janitor is friendly, inexplicably trying to save Six from whatever she’s running towards.

I doubt it.

But that’s part of the fun (or horror, depending on how you see it) of Little Nightmares. We’re given all the elements of a story – the characters, the setting, the atmosphere – and we’re allowed to run with it. The possibilities are truly endless. It’s even been posited by many fans of the game that Six isn’t benevolent at all, despite how sweet she may seem. After all, she does attack and eat one of the helpless little Nomes, and even absorbs The Lady’s power by eating her. Could it not be true, then, that Six is the titular little nightmare?

She very well could be, at least in my mind. The Lady may seem sinister, but perhaps she only seems that way thanks to the framing of the game. Framing is everything, after all – she looms over us throughout the story, a giant compared to Six, and we know she has incredible, devastating power. But what, exactly, is the nature of her power? How did she come to wield it? And what’s with all the bloody masks?

So many questions, and so few answers. And while it’s certainly frustrating having no answers, I almost don’t want them. It’s a paradox, I know, and an annoying one at that.

I like being left to wonder exactly what Little Nightmares is really trying to tell us, if anything. Some theorise that it’s a direct reflection of our own society, one where the elite gorge on luxuries while others go hungry and suffer beneath a terrible system. Some theories question whether The Maw is home to a gluttonous God, one that feeds on the unsuspecting Guests. It’s thought by some that The Lady is keeping the world safe by endlessly satisfying the entity – if so, that would make Six the one who ultimately wreaks its wrath upon the world, and thus, she really would be a little nightmare.

These theories all have equal merit it seems, and that’s how I’d like it to stay. There’s something brilliant about having no answers because it keeps the questions circling your brain, and in that sense, a story never really ends. That’s why mysteries like Jack the Ripper and the Roanoke Colony persist, because they’ve never been solved. These events regale millions of people centuries after they’ve happened. They retain a strange kind of legendary status because, quite simply, they’ll never die.

No doubt, with the imminent release of Little Nightmares II some more hints may be offered up, and some mysteries within the Little Nightmares universe may be solved. But until then, here’s to not knowing.

Little Nightmares is available on Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC for various prices. Little Nightmares II will be available this year for the same platforms.

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