Crapshoot: Bouncing Babies, the game of reckless infant slaughter

Bouncing Babies

From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about bringing random obscure games back into the light. 

Can games be art? Oddly, no matter how many hundreds upon thousands of times the question is asked, nobody ever seems to have an answer. You’d think it would be simple. Yes, they might say. Or no. Maybe something in the middle, served up in the most faux-intellectual, self-aggrandising, tiresomely sesquipedilian way possible. Who can say? Nobody. Or can they? Yes. For, lost in the depths of time, there is one game and one game alone that dared to let action speak louder than words. Even really loud ones like BANG! This classic’s name? Please. It is already burned into your soul.

Bouncing Babies is more than a game. Bouncing Babies is a metaphor for life. You can never complete it. You can only, inevitably, fail. The ramifications for your failure are as cruel as any entertainment can ever offer: The guilt of knowing your incompetence, your woeful care for the innocents in your charge, has led to a building of infants slowly roasting in perdition’s flames or splattering on cold tarmac. Like Pandora’s Box, however, initial damnation also supplies the gift of hope. Borrowing from the Buddhist concept of rebirth, and the Greek tradition of Folly and Redemption, there is always a chance to atone.

Bouncing Babies seeks more than these subtle revelations though. In its simplicity, it speaks to the whole human condition—of birth and innocence, of maturity and the drive to protect, and death, because you are after all bouncing babies into an ambulance and that can’t be healthy. In restricting your movement to three simple places, it shows us all that no matter what, our options are inherently limited by the unspoken rules that guide our fate. We cannot save everyone. We can only hope to do good, yet in doing so, often find ourselves doing harm. Yes, we save one baby, but then what happens? The others, blinded by the uncomprehending bonds of trust, only doom themselves that much faster. Don’t they realise that the game runs like a bitch on speed on modern PCs as it is? Of course not. How could they? They’re just babies. And also, not real. At least there’s no high-score table to really pile-on the pressure.

On a narrative level, Bouncing Babies is a masterclass in simplicity. Why so many babies, we ask? Who started this fire? Was it always burning since the world’s been turning, or did someone just leave the oven on? It poses these questions, yet it is us, the humble player, who must answer them. Do we credit this towering inferno in the world’s biggest orphanage to the cruel whim of fate, or the crueller machinations of the greatest monster of all—the monster known simply as… man? Is the fire brigade’s apparent refusal to enter, choosing instead the maverick path of throwing babies out of a top floor window and bouncing them, a demonstration of the true desperation of the situation, or a searing indictment of health and safety gone literally mad? We can only guess the designer’s intentions, but it could be said that this game, more than any other freeware game about bouncing babies, played a key role in the fall of Maggie Thatcher’s government. Certainly, even today, it is one subject she has never openly spoken of. The obvious conclusion is as delicious as it is inevitable, especially in its manifest impossibility.