I’ve been mostly quiet about Braid as I’ve been contemplating how best to write about the game. Several long conversations have sprung up lately in my feed reader and elsewhere. A spark uniting some of my own thoughts on the conversation were sparked when Corvus entered the conversation. Corvus mentioned:
[Braid’s] approach to narrative and Blow’s interpretation of “game mechanic as narrative.”
It’s obvious that it is here where Blow seems to have done himself the most disservice. His talks and slideshows and discussions seem to have left those most open to his message the most disappointed in his game. It’s hard to see that the polish in the game’s presentation, which attracts more of the mainstream and “core players”  to the game, ultimately belies the experimental nature of the game as (seemingly) only one small test (of potentially many) of Blow’s thesis, rather than a culmination of his theories (a complete dissertation, if you will).
From that end a lot of the discussion has been “about why I’m disappointed in Braid” or “why I don’t like Braid” and there has been, in my view, paltry little discussion on the more “scientific” questions: Is Braid a (scientific) failure to support the hypothesis? Does Braid contain any evidence of game play as narrative?
I’m not a huge fan of the game play or the overall narrative, as much as I loved the aesthetic and wanted to love the game. However, I can see interesting support for Blow’s hypothesis and genuine examples that can serve future discussions of how to wed gameplay and narrative, even if they aren’t, perhaps, the shining examples that people expected following Blow’s public advocacy, they still exist as more examples than previously existed.
There are easily two great examples I can think of that are wonderfully narrative storytelling gameplay-based elements that shine beyond much else of what Braid attempts to do. In fact, it’s very easy to argue that these key pieces shine almost in spite of the rest of the narrative and beg the question of what the game might have brought to the table given a clearer overall narrative.
The first example is an easy one to come by and requires little puzzle solving (just the opening of a few obvious doors and the besting of a mini-boss) to get to… after traversing World 4 the mechanic of tying forward movement to the temporal movement of objects in the world leads to an interesting encounter with that World’s “dinosaur”. Here the gameplay forces a particular narrative, and provides a small evocation for narrative interpretation of the chapter it ends, and yet I do think that it would shine only further given a deeper narrative in which to live. I’d almost suggest that Bioshock uses it it’s own gameplay to a more effective means to perform a similar narrative twist, solely because of better contextualization.
The second example, which I shall not spoil, is obviously the centerpiece, being locked behind almost the entirety of the game’s puzzles; World 1’s terminus is certainly a throw down challenge to future attempts of gameplay as narrative. Ignoring the fact that the name and the hub world place World 1 as the ouroborian start of the game, it seems likely that World 1 was quite possibly the first level designed and the central theme from which the rest of the game’s conceits derive. I can’t help but think that World 1 would have garnered much more interesting debate had it, or something like it, been released entirely self-contained as mini-game ala Jason Rohrer’s interesting games, rather than seemingly watered down by some of the more irritating aspects of the rest of the narrative and gameplay…
On the other hand, perhaps that may ultimately be the true success of the game: wrapping a Rohrer-style mini-game in a largely accessible and commercially viable shell… It might give designers and writers another tool for their toolbox when trying to explain to producers more controversial conceptions of deeper tied narrative and gameplay: the “well, Braid made money and attracted key demographics” defense.
|||Aside: anyone else weirded out by the recent elision of hard in hardcore when discussing game demographics? It sends several interesting messages, which seems to be why it has caught on, but maybe we should debate if those are indeed the right messages to send… Maybe fodder for a separate post.|