A Shocking Guest Post

Just last night, I had the fun of watching my roommate play all the way through Braid in one sitting. I don’t want to really skew or spin his thoughts any, so I got him to write out a guest post for me. The rest of the post is written by my roommate and fellow star of Annex’d :

The newest game on my computer is Sim City 4, a story-less, open-ended sandbox game that rewards my mastery of its brutally unforgiving system by instilling in me the satisfaction of actually creating a (fake) real fucking city.  My ‘My Games’ folder is similarly and embarrassingly dated:  StarCraft, System Shock 2, Alpha Centauri, Half-Life, Star Control 2; tooting my own horn, an assemblage of some pretty literary titles that are both compelling works and satisfying games. 

Needless to say I’m about as distanced from the gaming avant-garde as you can get without being a Baby Boomer, a far cry from my teenage years where I pined for Age of Empires II and a Voodoo graphics card, and feigned sexual attraction to Laura Croft while reading ‘PC Accelerator’.  I remember the thrill I had playing through Portal two Christmases ago, not only because that damned game was perfect, but because I could now contribute to the discussion around some part of the popular gaming world.  I had played a trendy, innovative, concise and well-executed puzzle game. I loved it, and I could now talk about it. 

On that note, let me talk about Braid. 

Braid came out about 100 years ago on Xbox Live, which I don’t have, and later on PC, which I couldn’t run anyway.  From my completely apathetic outside position, the rhetoric used to deify Braid is that its forgiving gameplay, serene direction and, um, you bend time cool omg, show that the Gaming Messiah has indeed been born in a manger and not in the royal house of Gaming King Herod.  What I mean to say is this:  from what I can tell, Braid is touted as the game that will breathe artistry and innovation into the medium (medium!) of video games, forever banishing the epic fare of studios from the avant-garde in the same way the Impressionists banished the Romanticists from art which is a valid parallel because now video games are art too and also Braid looks painterly.  That’s right, all in one sentence. 

But allow me to doubt that Braid is, in fact, the son of God.  For one thing, my ideas of what puzzle gameplay could be were not shattered by the experience of solving Braid’s very cool (honestly, very cool) little time puzzles.  On the contrary, solving them felt like playing through some Java puzzle platformer on the internet in 2001; it felt like a couple of cool new ideas that lead straight back to most other puzzle games I’ve ever played.  Kudos to the Braid people, you made some sweet little puzzles.  Nothing more. 

Nothing more.  The ‘more’ of Braid is its inane little meta-story that quite transparently tries to subvert Mario and other platform clichés.  Gamers, I’m about to say something important:  withholding exposition and having a convoluted narrative that (gasp!) parallels game mechanics does not hide the fact that Braid is a Grimm’s Fairy Tale re-imagined by M. Night Shyamalan.  The art direction is impressive, but visual quality is absolutely to be expected in a world where computers are so powerful games can have whatever visual style they want.  And come on.  Paper Mario. Mario Party. Mario subverts himself all the damned time. Here’s your medal. 

Braid screams out how smart, trendy and subversive it is being with the fervour of a hipster wearing a vintage tee-shirt.  At best, the story suffers from the same problem as the gameplay in that its couple of cool ideas lead right back to a perfectly familiar experience.  At worst, its smarminess just pissed me off. 

No, the worst thing about Braid was that it did not blow my world to pieces and open my mind, nor did it make me proud that I beat it and found out the ending.  I sit here today, having defeated the Zerg, the Combine, Bowser, the Ur-Quan, yadda yadda yadda, not giving two shits about Tim’s girl troubles, and not caring that I beat a video game.  Gaming world, you are worshiping a false idol.  Braid is beautiful on the surface, and is hollow inside. 

So there you have it. Braid fans, care to respond? If not… just go watch Annex’d 🙂


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