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Old 03-14-2012, 01:10 PM   #1
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Question The Many Meanings of Braid

If there's one thing I hope we can all agree on, it's that Braid's story is complex and intriguing, maybe even fascinating. Okay that's three things. Whatever.

As far as games with complex stories (that I've beaten) go, I'd have to compare Braid's to that of Final Fantasy Tactics. Both are pretty difficult to reach a "comprehensive" understanding of. But where FFT's "surface" story is pretty linear - that is, if you can remember enough of it to start assembling the pieces into a larger picture, you'll come up with pretty much the same thing as anyone else who does the same - Braid's is, well, like a really big braid. If you try to follow the whole thing all the way down, you're in for a bumpy ride. But if you pick one section - or a "lens" through which to look at Braid's story - and stick with it all the way down, you'll have an easier time following the twists and turns.

One such lens I've (only recently) heard used a lot is that Braid is about the Manhattan Project. I can see where people are coming from with this, but you kind of have to "stretch" what's there a little too much for my liking, saying things like "the goomba dudes symbolize the mushroom cloud that results from the detonation of an atomic bomb". There's nothing particularly wrong with that, it's just not my favorite interpretation.

When I first played, and read that his name was Tim, I immediately thought of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. For obvious reasons, I couldn't seriously hold that connection in mind for very long. I soon started seeing him instead as my favorite instances of Merlin - from The Once and Future King, and the TV mini-series starring Sam Neill. The Princess would be Morgana, and Merlin's whole "living backwards" really rings true for me.

I could type your ears off about why else I think Merlin fits, but that's not the point I'm making here, at least not in an OP. What I'm really interested in is...

How did (and do) you interpret Braid's story?

If you can avoid spoilers, great, but don't let that get in the way of you discussing it, either

Last edited by NightChime: 03-14-2012 at 01:14 PM.
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Old 03-14-2012, 11:16 PM   #2
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Can I assume you have experienced the alternate ending including the Epilogue level??

this is a good read concerning one possible interpretation of the story btw:

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Old 04-17-2012, 11:31 PM   #3
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Braid is a literary game. It's not supposed to have only one meaning. The basic themes are desire, time, and subjectivity. It's about what it means to be a person in the postmodern world.

Ever read Watchmen? The character of Doctor Manhattan, especially as he appears in Chapter IV, is basically about the same thing. The character represents the fracturing of reality in the post-War, postmodern world: he's about how the introduction of general relativity and the quantisation of physics, symbolically, as well as the connected (literally, in the form and function of the Manhattan Project) outcomes of World War II, in the form of the increasing moral, personal, and social ambiguity and complexity of the contemporary world, serve to denature personal perspective and subjectivity from their modernist forms.

Braid uses the medium of the computer game and puzzle solving, as well as thematic elements of a very retrograde character (the Princess, the Castle, the Knight, a rescue from a horrible monster), to elaborate upon this denaturing. Tim is a person whose perspective is different from other people's perspectives, his life is lived differently from other people's lives. He seems to move backwards as they move forwards, he sees things differently to them. He represents, in the postmodern sense, the fact that we no longer expect that there's a single fundamental way to view the world that we all should be able to accept.

Braid's puzzles are designed to play with the gamer's perspective and perception - often to appear unsolvable until the player uses the time manipulation mechanic to put themselves or some other game world element into a different position. Adjusting the synchronisation of different events, or ensuring cyclical events are in phase, is an example of this. Synchronising disparate events both after and before the fact (as takes place, in a different sense, in quantum entanglement and in the larger structuralities of the postmodern world) also play into this effect, and Tim's unique perspective allows him to solve these unsolvable problems. We cannot, as Einstein said, use the same sort of thinking to solve contemporary problems that we used to create those problems.

The fact that the Princess is never in the castle, that she may not even exist, that she may not even be a princess, and Tim's fervent efforts to find her though he does not know what or where she is are examples of human desire in the context discussed above. Despite the postmodern fracturing of reality, despite the chimerical shape of contemporary human lives, we still want and desire and search and hope. Tim seeks simplicity and peace in the Princess, he seeks a perfect world, a world of oneness in which there are no mistakes - a storybook world. However, reality does not function this way, and the complex vagaries of the lives of Tim and the Princess draw them apart, seemingly inevitably. Only by contorting and reinventing himself can he keep her, but in so doing he becomes a constrained and simplified version of himself.

All of Tim's various efforts to find the Princess, to realise the world as he wants it to be, involve further denaturing and restructuring. Each new gameplay mechanic is symbolic of Tim's continued and varied efforts to regain what he feels he has lost. In his efforts to simplify the inherently complex, erratic, messy world of human affairs, to solve the puzzles of life, he only further complicates himself as he seeks solace in an imagined release from the chimera of real human existence. His education, his struggles with homelessness, his relationships with his family, his marriage, are all symbolically connected to his desire for the Princess and the Castle. In the end, he becomes the monster he's struggling to rescue his cherished and beloved ideal from - in his contortions and convoluted efforts to seek this unreal ideal, he restructures his relationship with the Princess and the Castle until he is perceived by her to be monstrous. Her flight away from him into the arms of the Knight, another storybook element of Tim's perception of her (of the fundamental simplicity of his ideal) is both the cause and consequence of itself. His desire for solace and simplicity in an inherently and immutably complex reality is the source of his conflict.

In the modernist desire of society (then conceived primarily as constituted by men) to perfect itself, to cast away the evils of the past, to eradicate them in favour of an ideal for living, gave rise to the World Wars of the 20th century. World War I, the quintessential modern war, a War To End War, only served in actuality to give rise to World War II, the first postmodern war, the "Nothing Ever Truly Ends" War. A Bomb to End War served only to bring more war and terror than the world had ever seen, the threat of personal and social annihilation, the security state, the national and personal and social traumas of a Final Solution, the inherent and unavoidable violence of the simplistic attempt to reduce the complexity of the world to the simplicity of ideals. Tim, like the United States, like the Soviet Union, becomes the monster he attempts to defeat. The postmodern world is a fundamentally Nietzschean place, and Tim is the Will to Power.

Last edited by jove666: 04-17-2012 at 11:36 PM.
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Old 05-02-2012, 11:18 AM   #4
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Just started replaying Braid, which makes the experience more focused on the plot and theme than the puzzles (although I'd forgotten the details enough to make those enjoyable).

Seriously, I think Jove's analysis is the best I've seen to date. The frequently quoted GameFAQ article by Jeff Liu is a wonderful bit of Easter Egg hunting, but just because there are numerous references to the Trinity Project doesn't mean that Braid is just about the atomic bomb, any more than Moby is just about whaling.
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Old 05-28-2012, 08:05 PM   #5
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To be honest I thought it was just a load of pretentious waffle...
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Old 06-04-2012, 09:33 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by DanceCommander View Post
To be honest I thought it was just a load of pretentious waffle...
Ditto. Reading this game's script is painful. Perhaps this is petty, but I'd say it hurts the game to some degree. I *adore* the puzzles but that story is terrible. He could have easily found a way to convey the same story in 1/10 of the words he chose, through gameplay. The first level in each world is a good start for what I mean. The last scene in a world with the dinosaur thing is also a good example of where the presentation should have gone. But that wordy drivel before each world... EWW.
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