Mobile game of the week: Little Inferno

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Sometimes you just want the world to burn, especially when it's ending. In Little Inferno, a wintry apocalypse has engulfed the Earth, and you're sitting by a fireplace, throwing everything in the flames.

The end of the world, perhaps appropriately, is extremely corporate; the game begins when you purchase a Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace from the Tomorrow Corporation (which also happens to be the name of the game's developer).

From the outset, you're told that the Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace was "designed not to matter," that there is no timer and no points, only burning and burning and burning. A letter from the manufacturer warns, however, "you can't do that forever. There is bound to be an end!"

You're given a catalogue of items to buy as fuel for the fire: stuffed animals, wooden bicycles, television sets. One of the eeriest products you can purchase is "My Pictures," which allows you to pull images from the photo library in your phone (at least, on the mobile versions) and ignite them. Another is simply called "Someone Else's Credit Card"; light it on fire, and ill-gotten wads of cash scatter around the screen as a cash register KA-CHING plays in the background. Items from the catalogue produce coins when you burn them, which in turn allow you to buy more items, and on and on.

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You're told that you're burning things to keep warm, though you're not punished if you let yourself idle in front of an empty fireplace. You don't get cold; you just get bored, because burning things is your primary form of purpose and entertainment. You order products from the catalogue and light them on fire because that is the game—because it is pleasurable to burn things.

Sometimes, the objects scream, or erupt into music, or make petals rain down from above; half the fun is simply seeing what happens when you turn them into kindling. You're also rewarded for burning them in interesting combinations; tossing an alarm clock and a small nuclear device (yup) into the fire at the same time will trigger the "Time Bomb" combo, for example. Score enough combos and you'll get access to yet another catalogue, with even more things for you to sacrifice to the flames.

You also start to receive letters from a next-door neighbor who has a Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace of her own. Early on, she sends you a photograph of herself, though chances are you'll end up burning that too. After all, this isn't a game about treasuring or making things of value. It's about setting them on fire.

Spoilers for the game follow.

Above all, fire consumes, and the deeper you get into Little Inferno, the more you realize that it's speaking directly to the short-sightedness of consumer culture, the idea that we can take and take forever without consequence. The idea of perpetual consumption—and perpetual economic growth—is a seductive one, but is it actually sustainable? "Buy stuff, burn it... and it gives you more money than when you started," writes your next-door pen pal in one of her letters. "That can't last forever."

And indeed, it doesn't. The entire reason that you're homebound and sitting in front of your Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace is that it a new ice age is dawning outside—triggered, most likely, by too many people buying too many things from those slick little catalogues and turning them into ash. And yet the colder it gets, the more everyone has to keep burning, because what else are you gonna do?

Little Inferno was originally released on the Wii U, but is now available on PC, Linux, iOS, and Android.

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