As browser games go, Loved is a strange one, if only for its longevity. It’s not that browser games are inherently forgettable, but few have quite the cultural lasting power of Loved, which has been played and analyzed again and again throughout the six years it’s been around.
Content warning: Discussion of abuse.
People have called it an exploration of relationships, whether it’s between players and games, between dominants and submissives, or between individuals and authorities. It’s also been called a meditation on subjects from religion to trans identity. Its creator, Alexander Ocias, said only that it deals with dominance and power, but that providing a full overriding answer would defy the point of the game.
Writing for FemHype, Ann Ashford puts forth her own theory: that Loved is about emotional abuse. Having played it twice, both before and after being in a relationship with an abuser, she notes how drastically her reaction has changed.
When I first played it, I followed the game until it told me to do things that seemed illogical. Of course I was going to jump over the barbs and touch the checkpoint statue. Why wouldn’t I? Taking the lower path filled with barbs only to jump into barbs wasn’t right, so I disobeyed. I was rewarded with color and the game insulting me.
I rebelled throughout Loved and felt a smug satisfaction as the game became more colorful. I closed the page and didn’t come back to it. I saw no need.
Fast-forward through six years and one emotionally abusive relationship later, I approached the game again. When Loved first asked me to take the harder path, I did so, dying several times (to my annoyance and slow internet). When the game asked me to jump into the pit of barbs, I paused. Six years ago, I would have laughed. Now, I jumped in.
Ashford goes on to recount the many ways Loved echoes the language and techniques of an abuser, making the player rely on its instructions before forcing them to act more and more against their own interests. For her, Loved is a painfully accurate portrayal of emotional abuse, and she makes a strong argument to support her interpretation. For you, it might be something different, though most interpretations are likely to be uncomfortable ones — that’s just the way the game is made.
No matter what you take from it, Loved‘s emotional reach is largely unchecked by time. It could easily have another six years of analysis left it in — but it’s built in Flash, and Flash’s time is running out. If you want to try Loved for yourself, you might not want to wait.