Living with a Lack of Love

How can you live the good life?

Ancient Greek philosopher Socrates believed that knowledge was the key. Study hard in the natural sciences and the knowledge it would bestow upon you would free you from the petty shackles of human problems.

Seneca, the famous Roman stoic, believed this too, but also stressed the importance of active participation in mundane human affairs, be it politics or business. For Seneca, isolated reason alone could not lead a person to live a good life.
Your life in Lack of Love begins when this robot arrives on the alien planet. What is his mission?
Equally Thales of Miletus, one of the Seven Wise Men of Ancient Greece, believed that the good life came from observing moderation in all things. Always checking oneself so that ideological and practical extremes were never reached.

Today, it could be argued, we are further than ever from boasting a society tailored towards allowing humans to live the 'good life'. Isolationist, artificial, money-centred and hostile, our society in the West - but specifically in Britain - specialises in looking after number one, no matter what the cost to others. Like a dystopian mantra, the subtext of our society today is ‘take what you can, give nothing back’. That is no way to live. You just have to look to the lessons of history to see where that leads.

In Lack of Love for the Dreamcast, the good life, the life of shared experience and mutual advancement, comes from symbiosis.
Your organism's first form hatches from a submerged egg.
Taking cues from nature itself, such as in the co-evolution of species of orchids and hummingbirds whereby the plant’s pollen-filled head is shaped to be a perfect receptacle for the bird’s elongated beak, Lack of Love presents you the player with a world in which advancement can only come through, for want of a better phrase, helping each other out.

Taking control of an organism in its smallest, post-chemical catalyzation state on an alien world, you the player are tasked with helping it to evolve through a variety of forms. Each state-change ushers in a new level, which range from a pool of vent-heated chemical compounds, through larvae-sized microworlds, insect filled undergrowths and onto laboratory-style artificial rooms, as well as a jump in size for the organism itself.
An early octopus-like form. Lifespan is indicated in the top left of the screen.
Your progress in evolving is stymied by your own lifespan, which ticks down gradually as you move throughout each level. This can be topped up by eating, however it cannot be held off indefinitely. Progress comes through a handful of micro-missions on each level that - almost always - involve helping out other organisms. Maybe a group of small insects are being bullied by a large beetle which needs to be outmanoeuvred. Maybe a baby giraffe-like creature has got separated from its clan and needs returning to its parents. Whatever the ‘mission’, the result is the same, a gift of a life-advancing orb of energy. Collect enough energy and you can progress through the level, often using your newly evolved form to solve some simple puzzle to gain escape to the next.
The perspective remains the same throughout. You just get bigger compared to other plants and animals.
And each level and organism is just so wonderfully, markedly different from the last. The art design on each is just stunning and, if anything, deserves more graphical grunt than the Dreamcast is capable of delivering. The creator of Lack of Love, Kenichi Nishi, has since expressed his desire to remake Lack of Love, and while the odds are massively stacked against that happening, if it did happen the quality of the art direction would shine through even brighter.

It’s not the unique art design, musical score - produced by famous Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto - or even elegant zero-language barrier gameplay mechanics that would be most welcome though. It’s that message that a better world can be built through cooperation, empathy and symbiosis on every level of society. By the end of Lack of Love a vibrant new world has been created and, as you the player have done, it has been achieved through co-operation. By working together everyone has benefited, not just a select few at everybody else's expense, and a biologically diverse new ecosystem has been created.
The alien paradise the robot and you have been part of creating by the game's end.
The fact that Lack of Love leaves you consciously or subconsciously changed in mindset, and in such a positive way, is one of the biggest compliments a game can receive. Lack of Love is life affirming and, in a gaming age saturated with mindless war-obsessed shooters, a welcome reminder of what complexity, beauty and truth games are capable of delivering.


Tom Charnock said...

Great article Rob - I've never played Lack of Love myself but this write up makes me want to! There are so many genre-less games on the Dreamcast, many of whch we never got in PAL territories. This is one of many that I will be investigating in the future. Great stuff.

Aaron said...

Needless to say this is worth the eBay prices?

Robert Jones said...

This, as you would expect, sold very poorly on release,and that was in Japan. As such, it was never picked up in the US or UK. Whether or not it's worth eBay prices now I'm not sure. £30-40 new then maybe if you want a pretty unique experience. It's seen as an art piece in Japan.

Spaceturnip said...

Very tempted to take the plunge and buy this one. Possibly the last Japanese DC release without a language barrier left to get. Great article.