Cool story, thanks for sharing. I kind of wish you could’ve used first person for it given your struggles with being yourself, but I think I get why you otherised yourself here.
The more I hear about J-Blow, the more I’m disliking the dude. I found Braid to be opaque and insufferable, a particularly toxic combination of obtuse and condescending, and I think your story helps me put a head on why. I’d like to give Problem Attic a try (I found this link?), if only to tease out where it’s the same and where it’s different.
I think it’s always a challenge to communicate truth with others, and the challenge for any human being is to present themselves to others in a way that others will understand. I imagine the trans side of that equation makes that so much more complex.
Excellent, heartfelt, gut-wrenching article. Thanks for sharing this with us.
I give Braid more credit than some - if it really is about someone coming to terms with the bad stuff they’ve done, and it really is a personal story from Jon Blow, then I give him plenty of credit for making this “his big statement.” I think the happy-go-lucky protagonist and the gorgeous art and music are perfect for such a statement: if you’re a rich cis-straight-white dude, you’re afforded the luxury of skipping non-chalantly through certain forests. Like you, though, I wish it was slightly more obvious in earlier levels (and that the writing felt more real-and-human and less first-year English major.) And I wish he’d been more obvious about the meaning - from a sheer storytelling perspective, mostly, but also because - if you’re going to say something as important as the thing I think you’re saying, then say it, because people need to hear it!
On his Gamergate quote… it was a crummy comparison. No one doxxed Joss Whedon, nor did “angry feminists” even chase him off Twitter. I sort of get what he meant, maybe, given that GG started because of a dubious essay about some guy’s ex-girlfriend, and a hypothetical, non-existent review of the ex-girlfriend’s game, and the Age Of Ultron controversy started because of a dubious reading of a scene in that movie, where dialogue that was (probably) meant as “I’d be a bad partner because I’m a trained assassin who killed her own parents, and incidentally I can’t have kids, but that’s not the worst of it” was misread as “I’d be a bad partner because I can’t have kids, which is all women are good for, but don’t worry, I still make a fine cup of coffee and don’t worry my pretty little head about nothin’.” OK, I get it, it’s two groups of people over-reacting about a thing that probably didn’t happen. It’s just that one of those groups sent a lot of angry Tweets to a guy, and the other group actually caused a few people to have to flee their homes. Bad comparison.
No one’s perfect, though. Cis straight white men will screw up over non-cis straight white men things, but find me an example of a single human being who’s never said/done anything unfortunate.
I give you a lot of credit, though, for not only writing a game that served as your response and reaction to another piece of art, but for putting so much of yourself into it, and into this essay as well. I liked how you arrived at a place, near the end, where the ways people misinterpreted or misunderstood your game seemed to give you a certain empathy towards Jon - an empathy you’d felt before, but lost. Those of us who Put Ourselves Out There need to be receptive to criticism, but those critics need to understand that Trying, And Falling Short, is 100 times better than Not Trying At All - and that tearing apart the folks who don’t get it exactly right only serves to discourage others from trying at all.
Braid is less about chasing a woman and more about an idea, specifically the atomic bomb. If you catch her, she literally explodes, killing everything.
I’m generally predisposed to like Blow, and typically find the people who call him pretentious to be just kind of tiresome and anti-intellectual. Of the three devs presented in Indie Game the Movie (aka 3 White Dudes Makin’ Games), he came across the best, and his work is the work (of those three) I’ve enjoyed the most.
I don’t do Twitter, though, so I hadn’t seen that tweet linked in the story. That’s genuinely pretty stupid, awful, and out of touch.
I’ve started up Problem Attic a couple of times, but (by design) had trouble getting into it. Reading this is making me want to give it another go. What a great piece.
I liked the gameplay, but it did take an odd tone in the plot. I don’t find it at all pretentious, but while I can’t quote sections (it’s been forever since I played it) it came off subtly like your usual one-sided male ranter about some 2 dimensional “woman” he dated, I felt it made it harder to feel that emotional connection to the character. Hopefully the tone poem is less bitter in the next game I play of his, but sounds as if he’s still holding onto something with these rants that attempt to give equivalence to GGers and all feminists.
Of the three devs presented in Indie Game the Movie (aka 3 White Dudes Makin’ Games), he came across the best, and his work is the work (of those three) I’ve enjoyed the most.
Ah, I’d put Edmund McMillen over that, but I’m biased by Binding of Isaac
Blow did come across as a fine individual in the doc, I wonder if Phil Fish is still gibbering on and stamping his feet today?
The Tim character throughout Braid did give off a similar one-sided
“sensitive dude” narrating his woman troubles vibe to me, too. Which is
what made the “final boss” encounter, when you realize how self-deluding he
was the whole time so impactful. The tone felt intentional to me - earnest
enough that you might get snookered in, especially if you’re a similarly
inclined sensitive nerdy male-type, but grating enough that you wouldn’t be
totally surprised to see the rug pulled out from under Tim in the endgame.
Phil Fish has been relatively quiet since he threw a giant tantrum and
decided to quit video games forever after some obscure internet critics
mentioned in a video that they found both him and Blow pretentious. The
fact that Fish’s response was “I’m cancelling Fez 2 and quitting games
forever! You don’t deserve my genius!” and Blow’s was…well, Blow didn’t
respond or acknowledge the trivial incident in any way, is another feather
in Blow’s cap, honestly…
Yes, it’s easier to see as a disparate story than it is an uncomfortably confessional tale. I confess that I don’t recall the end, I should fire back up the 360 and run through that again.
I got through a good chunk of Problem Attic last night. The game is actually incredible, but I don’t think I would have noticed it was incredible if I hadn’t been determined to bang my head against it. It’s a neat idea to make a game that is hard to deal with, but that means if you do it right many people will walk away from it annoyed or confused.
Also, if anyone has made it through the game, I wouldn’t mind a hint on how to get through the 0/F 0/M section. I’ve navigated basically the entire map and had both counts very high but I can’t figure out what the “win” condition is.
I also think it’s a bit of a trick. For those of us who grew up with “I Feel Asleep” there’s an instinct to be a little lenient with video game writing. If it seems a little childish I notice, but I think I remember the theme more than the words. I don’t want to credit Blow with being a genius or anything - I’d never actually heard of him before reading this article - but I really thought that the writing was great (only played it once, though, so may not have noticed things). I am, however, also a sucker for a last minute reveal.
This article is really painful to read, partly because of the pain that the author obviously has suffered but also because of the self-absorption, all the way down to implying that Braid is about rape and getting away with it by using a question mark.
Every step of the way the creator compares Problem Attic to Braid and to Braid’s creator, trying desperately to put both games on the same level and achieve recognition, mostly by dumping on Braid. But Braid changed gaming, it wasn’t just a win for the indie developer, it was a win for games that made you think about the world a little bit different, think about yourself a little bit differently.
Even friends of hers couldn’t make heads or tails of her game, and she didn’t really feel like trying to explain something that wasn’t meant to be explained verbally anyway.
Braid should be afforded the same right to explain as much or as little its creator wants, and it does explain in pretty clear terms.
Braid’s ending text does attempt to reveal the grotesqueness behind Tim’s actions, at least to some extent - but much of it is missed if one misses the hidden text
The point of Braid wasn’t to be a lecture from start to finish, it was a journey. There is nothing particularly powerful about Tim preaching about his mistakes from the beginning of the game. That’s not real life - who goes through life believing they are on the side of evil?
The game, which is 6 years old next week, instead brings you in with a smile, a jingle, a familiar feel and a killer mechanic that grows with every level in a way that is rarely seen executed this well outside of first party Nintendo games and then turns your world upside down in the end, “Oh no, I am the monster, I AM THE MONSTER!”
I think I’d like to take this opportunity to dig into why Braid bugged me so much a little deeper - because I think Problem Attic has not-entirely-dissimilar issues that played into how our author here felt after she put forth her game, despite those issues being more relevant to Problem Attic’s narrative.
The big thing is this: I ain’t got time for your deliberately opaque self-indulgence. Problem Attic pulls this off without annoying me, because I get the sense that that the opaqueness is part of the meaning - the expression of how difficult it is to talk about who we are. I like it for that, though I get why a lot of other people would just be sort of bemused and a little put-off by it. It’s deliberately hard-to-parse, but that difficulty serves a purpose. I still am not going to sit down and finish the thing, but I appreciate that there’s meaning in the challenge.
But Braid has little of that. It is a game about realizing that you are not the hero you thought you were, but you only kind of realize that at the end and even then it doesn’t put the rest of the game into any better context. Not to mention that getting to the end involves jumping through Blow’s hoops in a very specific way. The game as presented seemed to presume that its message was too precious to just deliver in a way that doesn’t require four layers of metaphor hiding behind double-secret endings and super-mystery one-solution puzzles and high-school level fiction. It invites the player to read the mind of its developer to divine its truth and I find myself not giving a crap. I can play Spec Ops: The Line and get the same basic narrative conceit delivered in a clearer (if more heavy-handed) way.
I can see how someone might’ve had a similar reaction to Problem Attic. The reason one gets praised and the other gets mostly ignored probably has more to do with video game being a club of white guys who like to pretend they are heroes a la the protagonist, and Blow’s pre-existing relationships in the industry. Also its highly polished and eye-pleasing art style is bound to attract some interest. It’s sexy and what a lot of folks would like to hear. Problem Attic is stridently neither of these things.
It’s not really my place to tell game devs what they should make, but I will say that as a player, you have to make me give a crap about the mystery you are tantalizingly hinting at in order to stop my interest from turning to annoyance. I didn’t give a crap about Tim in Braid - I didn’t identify with him, understand him, or get what he was doing. Problem Attic is something I might only care about because of this article and the context around it, so I can imagine that those that don’t have that wouldn’t care as much.
ANYWAY, that’s a bit of a rant, and I actually think Blow’s contribution in general is better than Braid in specific (we’ve gotta have wanna-be-Jaemes-Joyces to have a James Joyce), but I hope it has at least dispelled the anti-intellectualism perception.
While I totally agree re: self-indulgent suffering in the narrative
Let’s not forget the excellent puzzlegame mechanics as well.
This is the thing with Braid. I didn’t play it because I loved the narrative, I only liked the narrative retrospectively at the very end. I played it because I liked the time travel puzzles. If you don’t like the time travel puzzles then nothing is going to keep you at it.
I disagree with @Daedalus’ assessment that Braid has problematic in using one-solution puzzles. Most puzzles in games only have one solution - to me the question is whether you arrive at that solution by thinking the puzzle through or by guessing what the maker wanted you to do. In point and click adventures and survival horror games I find it’s usually the latter - oh, I have to pick up the ball from the store room (amidst fifty other illustrated items I can’t pick up) and drop it in the drain on the roof it gets jammed and the water fills up. Sure, of course that’s the only way to get the key.
But in games like Braid you are given a mechanic and have to think out how to use it to solve a problem. The Rubik’s Cube is there in front of you, you need to solve it, no mind reading involved.
What I actually find really interesting about Problem Attic is how it managed to straddle those two things. Some of the puzzles in it are the kinds of things I would think I would find awful but instead I find them interesting. For example, needing to ride the cross things to get somewhere when they are presented to you as bad things to touch. That’s something the game sort of tells you not to do (by making the screen shake and an uncomfortable noise sound) but the mechanical ability to do it is there in front of you. Actually probably my favourite is a screen where you have to do something that I would say seems like total mind-reading BS except that if you come up with an different clever idea it results in an extremely subtle hint that you have to do the BS thing (You have to just jump up through the a space that looks like a solid wall to get to the end, but there is another non-solid wall right next to something that I tried to jump to first, thinking it might hold some solution).
I don’t know, it was years ago and I find I hardly even remember the narrative of Braid except for the ending. The rest is an indistinct blur. I’d play it again, but frankly thinking the way I had to think to solve those puzzles warped my brain and gave me intensely strange dreams, so I’m probably not going to. I guess that’s what Let’s Plays are for.
Not one of my favorite reads from Liz, who is an author and creative mind I tend to dig a lot, but profoundly heartfelt and confessional (as many other works by her) anyway. Given the opacity of her work in other disciplines, it always strikes me how clearly she communicates through writing, one of her best tools in my humble opinion, and something I (a spaniard with moderate english skills) do appreciate. Because literature isn’t universal, you know.
Let’s say it now and before anything else: for me, Braid is a 6 and Problem Attic an 8. And that’s saying something, because a 6 is a good thing in my book. It’s a personal enjoyment scale and nothing more, of course.
I won’t enter in the Blow-Ryerson debate, because I love them both and because what interests me is neither the persona nor the personality, but the ideas and the works. In that respect, I just wanted to share two quick thoughts:
I don’t see games (art, maybe?) as Liz, in the sense that my criteria is based in a different basis and I think my affinities are far from hers, which makes my love for her game a bit unusual. I don’t agree at all with her view of games (more or less, and as I’ve always interpreted) as landscapes. Having said that, I think her game is all about environment, which makes her sensibilities flourish on the front page, because “painting” landscapes is her strongest ability. Because of this, Problem Attic is alienating and oppressive and obtuse. It’s also beautiful, in a way (her way).
I’m not sure, but I recall Liz calling Yume Nikki the best game of all time. Assuming that was true and considering I’ve played it recently: LIZ, YOU’RE WRONG. Your game is better, with the power of transmitting above suggesting, which is something I personally value a lot in art. Yep, the two games are different and all, I know that, but they both have in common expression through environment, and Problem Attic does a better job of using the tools video games offer to make it shine. Off topic, so what?
Liz, I love you =)
I think for me, this might be a bigger deal than it is for a lot of puzzle fans.
I came to Braid right after I played World of Goo. The creativity and delight and experimentation and “it’s fun to try and fail!” elements that made the latter so enjoyable even in its most consternating moments were largely absent from the former.
The counter-intuitive thought processes didn’t feel rewarding or clever to me, they felt like posturing. “Oh, you’re not clever enough to do the thing that we give you the signals not to do? How silly you are for trusting our design elements.” Combined with the opaque narrative, I felt the whole thing was kind of an exercise in unnecessary obtuseness and subtle condescension.
A comparison that comes to mind is Limbo. That game’s got some similar mind-ready moments, and like Braid, it’s rather justified by being kind of what the game is “about” (In Braid’s case, you need to question your assumptions; in Limbo’s, unfairness is part of the point). It’s similarly off-putting to me.
It might be a play agenda thing, though - I’m not looking for what those games are offering when I play a game. I recently finished Bastion which also plays with elements of “you’re not the hero you think you are” at times, and felt it a much more rewarding, meaningful experience - the simple design element of leaving bodies around triggers clear regret for your actions in ways that non-solid walls don’t.
At any rate, I think it’s fascinating to dig into the different effects here, and how they happen, but I’m into game design stuff.
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