Having played Braid and thought about it for a week or so, I can honestly say that while its gameplay and mechanics as metaphor are extremely strong, the actual meaning of the story makes almost no sense to me as an authorial choice. Although disappointed, I do not think this choice necessarily ruins interpretation or application to other subjects that are easier to relate to. As a whole, though, “No sir, I don’t like it”.
Story through mechanics
I discussed a lot about the mechanics of Braid in the previous post, but I tried to avoid most of the interpretation of them relating to the plot. Well, when I say ‘plot’ I mean what few words are displayed at the beginning of each world. I am not necessarily criticizing those ‘elliptical’ passages I mentioned as they do leave lots of room for interpretation and mystery as the story develops. The rest of the meaning is experienced while playing the game.
The basic story laid out in the block text tells of Tim, the player’s character, and his search for the Princess whom he lost and is now trying to recapture. It describes his long working hours, times of abandonment, and yearning for her since she has left him. When combined with the mechanics of reversing time and changing previous decisions, the game takes on the form of an extremely strong metaphor that constantly reshaped and adjusted every time I received more information.
We have all made decisions we regret and many people have the experience of the proverbial “one that got away”. Luckily, I have not had to go through that particular trial, but it is easy to substitute that idea with many other Princesses. Careers, notable experiences, or even lost youth are all compelling and relatable ‘Princesses’ to seek and attempt to possess again. The final scene of Braid that was captured in a video of the last post shows the poignant partnership of Tim and the princess that suddenly becomes sinister when run in reverse. While Tim is attempting to find the princess again, we see that she is trying to block his return when he left in the first place. A very meaningful scene when relating it to analyzing those situations in which we are trying to find something we lost, but are blocked from return for various reasons.
Unfortunately, after such an impactful set piece, the game took a complete left turn and moved to associate it with something I did not expect and, to be frank, turned me off at the end.
Note that I will be talking about the only real plot spoiler that exists in the game. If you plan on playing Braid, it may be worth it to take three or four hours to play through before finding out what it is. If you are ready, read on.
What is Braid about?
Braid is about the regret of a scientist who helped developed nuclear technology to be used in bombs.
Although it may still be a little cryptic at the end, the inclusion of the quote “Now we are all sons of bitches” literally made me stop and say “What?” Why choose such a grandiose theme to apply the metaphor of Braid to? I can’t relate to unlocking a secret that led to the cold war or terror about all future wars. I thought the story was about lost love or innocence. I was slightly betrayed by how serious the game seemed to take itself at this point.
Although this may not sit well with you, dear reader, I cannot help it as an audience member to what is ostensibly a piece of art. It is not relatable in any way for most players, even those that may have grown up in the Cold War era. Maybe I am not the intended audience, but I must say that the choice of subject put me off enough to pretty much dismiss it completely.
Despite this, the metaphor of regret and the desire to re-write history is very strong and can be applied to many more appropriate and relatable subjects that I listed above. I would much rather had Mr. Blow leave his subject nebulous or make it easier to get on-board with. But, it is what it is and it shall remain forever.
Please let me know what you think of Braid and if you disagree with me. I think it is interesting that it can inspire this sort of reaction in me and divisiveness among gamers. I certainly understand why it is such a unique game and why Jonathan Blow a controversial designer.
Joint me next time when I will discuss a little about S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat. It is just as bleak, but a little less heady than Braid. I’m looking forward to it!