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This unexpected e-poem appears in chapter 4 of Arnt Jensen and Dino Patti’s indie videogame Limbo, a darkly atmospheric platform puzzle game in which a boy traverses a series of deadly landscapes and ruined cityscapes in search for his sister. This game environment and its physics engine allowed Jensen to write a kind of Concrete poem in which letters perform scheduled operations and act as objects which respond kinetically to interactions. In addition to creating a challenging puzzle within the game, Jensen and Patti make meaningful uses of these characteristics to create multiple words from one, produce irony, typographical humor, and puns.
This game is almost completely devoid of language– there’s no speech, dialogue, or writing throughout the game– which emphasizes the use of this word more than the neon outline that highlights each letter. When the player first encounters this sign in the game, the framing of the word only shows the first three letters “HOT” which serves as a warning of its deadly intermittent neon lighting (see image below).
To touch any of the letters while “hot” (that is, electrified) “kills” the character, who needs to time his movements so he touches the letters while they’re off, leaping and climbing to the (safely) malfunctioning letter O. This letter is not only unplugged, but unmoored, so the child’s weight makes it shift toward the T which, also unstable, leans and frees a rope for the child to cross a pit and switch off the electricity coursing through those neon lights. It is only when the player swings across that HOT is revealed as the complete word HOTEL, a deceptive invitation to safety in this inhospitable ruin. Once the word is no longer electric and the letters go black, they seem to offer the familiar comfort and immovable stability of the printed word. But typographical warning signs are still present through the word’s broken kerning, as the consonant L reveals some of its phonetic qualities, and the arrow pointing downwards (which resembles a swiveled carriage return symbol: ↵) becomes a typographical pun.
Experience these by playing the game or watching the video walkthrough embedded below: