Notes on Glimby: Large, But Squishy

Glimby is a green, gelatinous being who can grow and shrink in size at will like a kaiju, swears like a sailor, and might be immortal. Glimby is also the name of her very own game, brought to us by veteran game designer stephen thecatamites and playable in your browser in minutes.

On a mint-green background resides the door to Glimby’s lair—a cramped bedroom in which you are encouraged by the titular character to “ruin my shit.” Glimby is point-and-click style, with almost every visible object in the tiny game window triggering dialogue from the chartreuse mass. Simply knock or rudely enter Glimby’s abode by clicking on the “door”— a messily-painted title card reading “knock” and “go”—and it will drop down, revealing the three jaundiced walls of Glimby’s room. Above her head a ceiling light dangles precariously, but it’s hard to imagine she fears it since even her more diminutive form takes up most of the space.

Her size is a visual indication that her personality fills up a room, but the perspective is also haphazardly drawn so that she appears to be considerably larger than her bed. This may also imply that she, as a being that can alter her size, has no real care for the relative sizes of things—but this is also a vivid example of Glimby’s general aesthetic. The hand-drawn elements are painted in a luminous but messy, carefree watercolor style, and painted objects are often superimposed on clip art, giving the whole game a punk zine photo pastiche feel. Even the text—and there is a lot of it—plays fast and loose with conventional notions of grammar.

A jaunty and cosmopolitan accordion waltz by George Fenton and John Leach plays on a loop while you freely rifle through Glimby’s things. You may admire the pictures on her wall cataloguing her many contributions to culture—her time as keyboardist in Big Black, or as Sarah Bernhardt’s friend and confidant, or as a contender on the competitive monster circuit. A grainy picture of what appears to be a UFO is actually, as Glimby claims, a picture of her from when she went skiing. All of these claims are of course very legitimate and verifiable, and at no point did Glimby simply draw herself into pictures of famous historical figures.

By clicking on a family portrait above Glimby’s bed you may learn more about her important legacy, or you can click on the bed for her to interpret your action as a proposition. This too is perhaps a little too revealing about who Glimby is as an individual. You may peruse her manuscript. You may steal her beach ball. You may break her only chair. Click on a plate of stale bread to discover Glimby’s philosophical observations from the perspective of being very small. Click on Glimby’s tiny window to learn about how, to unwind, she grows very large and walks out to sea, and from this you may learn her musings about life when one is very, very big.

The most important criticism of Glimby is that it suffers from a bug that affects playability. Sometimes if the player leaves one interactive element open without reading all the text and then opening another, this may cause elements to become frozen on the page. While this may be resolved by clicking on the relevant item in the room to restart the animation, this isn’t always the case, which is frustrating because it can be hard to determine if you’ve explored every possible nook and cranny in Glimby, if this issue is by design, or if there’s an ending you are now incapable of reaching. As I write this I’m not sure if I’ve truly “completed” the game even after having played it multiple times. Still, I’ve been blessed to receive so many of Glimby’s piercing insights and intriguing tales that I’m confident in my general reading of the game.

Glimby is alive, continuously animated even when the player isn’t interacting with her. Other things may react when touched—a ball rolls and a chair breaks, et cetera—but a few simple frames keep Glimby perpetually shifting her weight, wide-eyed with an upturned rictus, and with her hands held professionally behind her back. Clicking on all the interactive elements inside the primary room will trigger new elements to appear on the green space outside the room. Some of these elements—pictures, text, animations—respond to the single mechanic and others don’t, and all of them can be removed or replaced if the player wishes.

While the Glimby who is standing in the middle of her room is unable to change her size at the player’s command, this special ability is again reinforced by how the game expands outward onto the webpage by slowly filling up the negative space with images and text. Glimby herself then appears in other places: in the middle of the ocean, or munching old food on a plate, or in images of noteworthy events. Glimby introduces a certain idea for how space should be perceived and what the limits of its universe are—everything exists more or less inside this tiny box surrounded by a void—and then empties out the box.

thecatamites has captured with Glimby a lot of what made digital pet games like Tamagotchi compelling at the height of their popularity. A big hook for those games was obviously the conceit of taking care of something in miniature, like Sea Monkeys or a Chia Pet but without the actual responsibility of keeping a real organic substance alive. But I recall becoming personally attached to my Tamagotchi, assigning to it a name and personal traits, and mourning it every time I neglected it to death. Glimby requires no food or care—she seems to be beyond most material needs. But she does come off as performatively gregarious in a way that implies loneliness, a need for someone to talk to. Part of her ability to contract and expand, and the way the game is designed to mirror those fluctuations in space, is useful symbolism for the process of getting to know a person by seeing them from multiple different perspectives. This isn’t something that can be done strictly linearly or chronologically, but also in aggregate. Multiple contradictory things may be true about someone at once, and what they project on the surface may be a distortion of deeper-held idiosyncrasies. Then there’s the matter of subjectivity—my interpretation of Glimby as a character may differ from yours because of what I end up projecting onto the game.

Once you are done with your stay, you may click on the exit button off to the right of Glimby’s room. The title card will rise, sealing Glimby back inside her box. Clicking on the box again will cause a “sticker” to appear just beneath the title, as though Glimby slid it under the door. It’s a trinket to commemorate your stay, and to reinforce the feeling of Glimby as a show, an attraction, a performance. That said, it’s the kind of performance one puts on when desperate for intimacy, but unsure of how to relate to others outside of self-conscious boasting. Most games fail miserably at character development, but with Glimby the entire interaction is centered around the mystery of who this overgrown green Jello child is, what she feels and what she thinks. To put a finer point on it, Glimby treats character-building the way other games treat world-building by using the unique strengths of the medium: the world is a giant metaphor for the character. Nothing else in the world of Glimby needs to be animated or hyper-realistic, because we get enough of that from Glimby herself. Realism is well and good, but honesty is better.