Braid. The human condition. Citizen Kane. Is it art, or is it Art? Or is it ART? What does it all mean? Will it cure cancer?
Yeah, fuck all that high-brow crap. Today, I wanted to share what Braid's ending meant to me in simple and honest terms. I know this sounds cliche, but playing Braid was a pretty affecting experience for me in many ways. Not only did I find the game design to be refreshingly clean, but the whole experience, especially the ending and the "books", got me to think about how I perceive the world WAIT PLEASE DON'T STOP READING I WILL EXPLAIN!
** SPOILERS BELOW **
In summary: Braid made me think about the pros and cons of viewing the world in a rational, mathematical way. The puzzle mechanics behave consistently, and if you think long and hard enough, you can solve them and it is satisfying. However, through the text and through the ending, it becomes clear that Tim's life story is not so clean and consistent as these puzzles. His relationships and pursuits have not turned out so well. The puzzles of Braid are an escapist fantasy for him from the complications of real life, where clever math doesn't get you much. It certainly doesn't get you the girl.
How does this relate to me personally? When I was a kid, I was pretty damn shy and got picked on a lot for various reasons. This naturally led me to avoid social contact, and I spent a good amount of my free time just entertaining myself at home. When I got a computer and the internet, I became pretty entranced by video games and programming. I enjoyed them (and still do) because they were predictable and consistent, and it was fun to figure them out. If I didn't get something, it was probably my fault and I just needed to learn more - which was fun as well. Or the software was buggy and badly designed.
As I grew older and started coming out of my shell, I often tried to apply this type of thinking to social interactions. I thought that there were rules to social interaction that I could figure out, and I thought people could be put in neat categories ("nerds", "jocks"). As long as I could figure all this out and apply my clever thinking skills, things would be great! However, after many years of floundering about, it became pretty clear to me that people and life are too complex for this approach to get you anywhere. I also completely underestimated the importance of emotions, appearance, subtlety, and (ugh) hygiene - I just figured that people's rationality would overcome these barriers (and it often does, but not in all aspects of life).
So the whole of Braid is like an analogy for this narrative of my life. You first solve puzzles in the game's escapist fantasy dream-world. Things are nice, clean, and "ah ha!" moments are everywhere. You hit a switch, something happens. And that same thing will happen each time you do it, and every other switch in the world behaves similarly. You just need to figure out how to put these elements together to accomplish your goal.
And when you're going through the last level, you're thinking, "OK I just need to rescue her by applying all these skills and concepts I've learned thus far! Then I'll rescue her and get an awesome ending!" But then the thing happens, and you realize that despite how awesomely clever you are, that doesn't matter. Tim's still a creepy fuck that needs to stop looking at women through their bed room windows.
The ability to reason rationally and mathematically is a very valuable skill to have, no doubt about that. It will help you professionally and in many other aspects of life. But human relationships are governed by rules far too complex for such thinking. Each individual is unique and has their own wants and needs, and rationality must take a backseat to emotions.
And that, folks, is what Braid and its ending meant to me. Hope you've enjoyed it and didn't roll your eyes too much.