The first thing that immediately stood out to me about Bubble Bobble, compared with every other game we’ve looked at so far, is how very expansive it is not. (Well, no, the first thing that stood out was the music, which will now be stuck in my head until approximately the end of time. But putting that aside, lack of expansiveness.) By which I mean that thus far, every game has existed within an implied world outside the confines of the screen, whether they let you explore it or not. Mario might not be able to go left in Super Mario Bros., but this is, presumably, due to his insatiable determination to rescue the princess, and not because the Mushroom Kingdom is erased from existence as Mario travels through it. But in Bubble Bobble, not only is the action confined to a single screen; the screen wraps. If you fall from the bottom, you will re-emerge at the top. We are not looking through a small window into a larger world. What we are looking at is, in fact, the entire world of Bubble Bobble.
This minuscule world, as we are cheerfully informed by the game’s opening narration, is the “Cave of Monsters”. And by entering the Cave of Monsters, you submit yourself to becoming trapped inside a bubble, appropriately enough. Now, for me, this particular imagery throws out one very clear association. A couple of years ago, I started a job that has essentially come to consume my life. While the working hours are usually not unreasonable, it is not a job where I go home at the end of an eight hour shift and return to my life, because my home is my workplace. This is also true for the vast majority of my colleagues; the people I live with are the people I work with. As you might imagine, this creates something of an insular community, in which it is very easy to lose touch entirely with the outside world. And it is very common parlance here to refer to this effect of isolation as being “in The Bubble”.
Now, from what I’ve said so far, you would be forgiven for thinking that I am less than happy with my current employment, but this could not be further from the truth. I actually genuinely love my job. It is, in fact, the best thing that ever happened to me. The work can be stressful, but it’s also hugely rewarding, and the close-quarters living environment might be somewhat cramped, but it creates a community that is very tight-knit and supportive. So you must understand that the idea of being trapped in a bubble does not strike fear into my heart. I embrace The Bubble. The Bubble gives me life.
On that note, let’s go back to actually talking about video games like I’m supposed to. While there is much to be said for expansive games with an epic scope (some of it on this very blog, in a week’s time), one should equally never overlook the appeal of the small scale. The tightly enclosed space of Bubble Bobble’s world creates a real sense of intimacy and introspection. The titular denizens of the Cave of Monsters are, perhaps, not external threats, but inner demons that must be confronted. The tools you are provided to tackle these demons are… somewhat idiosyncratic. Your one line of defense is to spit bubbles that will envelop them, rendering them harmless, at least for a while. Fail to give them further attention, however, and they will escape these bubbles and return, more dangerous than ever before. So what does it all mean? To confront our inner demons, we must first identify and isolate them, but that alone is not enough, and can in fact make them worse.
But look, we’ve already established that the Cave of Monsters is, itself, a bubble. And, on top of that, the player character Bub is a green dinosaur creature. A particularly cute one, yes, but still reasonably described as a ‘monster’. A monster, trapped in a bubble, trapping monsters in bubbles. I’m Forever Blowing Recursive Loops of Bubbles Blowing Recursive Loops of Bubbles. And we’ve also established “being trapped in a bubble” as a positive outcome. And, indeed, Bubble Bobble provides a modicum of textual evidence for this claim; after clearing each level, Bub is transported to the next by means of being encased inside a bubble.
So here is a measure of true progress; first you must identify your limitations, but then, rather than trying to hide them away and forget about them, you must confront them head on. You must accept that they are fundamentally the same as you, a monster in a bubble. Embrace them as a part of who you are. Take your inner demons, and find a way to turn them into inner strengths. And once you’ve finally made it through them all? Welcome to Level 2. Now do it all again.