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Braid, Games As Art, and Interpretation

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the sometimes-a-rocket-is-just-a-rocket dept.

Games 37

Zonk points out an opinion piece at Gamers With Jobs about Braid, an independent platformer that received high praise when it was released a few months ago. It's often held up as an example of "games as art," and in this article, Julian Murdoch comments on the act of interpreting such art. He takes Braid's creator, Johnathan Blow, to task for the effect his comments have on the game and its players: "My frustration with Braid is multiplied because it would seem to have been designed with me specifically in mind. I am a student of the obscure. I am pathologically drawn to books, movies, games, and passages of scripture that are dense, difficult, and which hide (and thus reveal) meaning behind layers of art and artifice. Games lend themselves to this layering more than any other medium. The casual player of Oblivion, System Shock 2, Fallout 3 or Bioshock can have an extraordinarily story-light experience if they simply 'play' the games. One layer deeper, a close reading of the environments informs deeper levels of story. Deeper still, evidence in the form of written texts and audio tracks provides footnotes, side-plots and appendices to a central story. ... by the end of my Braid experience, I felt like Blow had specifically constructed something that would generate emails and forum posts begging him to please tell us 'what it all means.'" There is some interesting discussion in the comments, including a response from Blow himself.

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37 comments

If you play system shock 2. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26463515)

You are not a casual player anymore.

Art? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26463533)

Why can't games just be games? I pretty much lost respect for "art" when an unmade bed was up for the Turner.

Re:Art? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26463723)

Please, if you're going to pick a moment like that, let it be when Marcel Duchamp signed a urinal.

Death of the author (1)

alnya (513364) | more than 5 years ago | (#26463803)

I think Barthes's Death of the author pretty much destroys the idea of cannon at all - so the question "is it art?" is irrelevant. It both is, and is not art, at the same time. It's how you choose to interprit it that's important.

The author of the article here uses Barthes, but then ignores him, becuase Blow's voice is too omnipresent. He wants to deconstruct the game to find his meaning, but is distracted by trying to find the difference between the character's voice and Blow's voice - both in the game and online.

There is no One True Meaning - you can only pull each thread of narrative as you find them attractive and see where it leads, using your own experiences to make connections with other works of art, or other moments in your existence.

The moment anything is created, the author loses control over it - they cannot choose how anyone will interprit anything, as they are different from you.

Re:Death of the author (1)

wild_berry (448019) | more than 5 years ago | (#26464209)

I don't understand TFA's problem with Braid or Blow. The little that I know about Braid tells me that it plays with the million-fold path through a computer game -- that this time you might save the princess -- and makes good use of that, extending the platform-game dynamics. So it seems reaonable to expect that the back-story will also have a multi-faceted diamond-refraction portion to it and allow the player her or his own interpretation of the experience as a whole. Ultimately, how the game is played is a reflection of the player within the framework provided by the mechanics of the game, and so also should be the interpretation of that experience. (My interpretation of) Blow's own comments in response to TFA seem to support this.

In the everlasting twilight of copyright, the author has one ongoing contribution to the work, which will affect its interpretation: the availability. And how an author or publisher manipulates that control will reflect on the author and way the work is interpreted.

Artsy (4, Interesting)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 5 years ago | (#26463955)

I haven't played, but everything I've heard about Braid, including Blow's post linked here, leads me to believe it's one of those 'create a bunch of mostly-random things that don't mean anything and force people to try to make it mean something' art pieces.

I really hate those because they sacrifice a potentially good story for some pseudo-intellectual crap. If people want to make up stories from random stuff, they don't need your help.

He consistently says 'It doesn't mean any 1 thing, it's whatever you want it to mean', etc. That's such bullshit that I don't even know where to start with it. That's a cop-out, pure and simple.

Re:Artsy (2, Informative)

acon1modm (1009947) | more than 5 years ago | (#26464271)

The game was definitely 'artsy' in the writing and music. It was also artsy insofar as the gameplay was a very unique puzzle game, and it was VERY fun.

You could run right through the poetic text blurbs between levels and not read them at all, and still enjoy the game.

Re:Artsy (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 5 years ago | (#26467257)

That's pretty much what I did, I read them but almost immediately forgot what they said because it had no real relevance to the game.

Actually, Arty is ignorable... (0, Redundant)

nweaver (113078) | more than 5 years ago | (#26464543)

The "arty" is irrelevant. The backgrounds and music are spot on, but ignore the texts and you still have a mindblowingly-cool puzzle-platformer. And I mean MINDBLOWINGLY cool.

Re:Artsy (2, Interesting)

hansamurai (907719) | more than 5 years ago | (#26465205)

Well, Braid is a platformer, a very good one. We rarely expect platformers to have stories, let alone good ones. I can honestly say that the game's story works on multiple levels, from the girl to the bomb, but if you try to read into things really hard, things will not make sense.

Though I just skimmed Blow's post and he seems to throw out the girl story, so who knows anymore. I have a hard time actually buying into what most claim to be the deepest meaning of the game. Don't want to spoil things.

Re:Artsy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26485343)

"I haven't played Braid, but I'll talk shit about it here, using made-up assertions that happen to be completely false."

+5!

I haven't met Aladrin (926209), but everything I've heard about him (her?) leads me to believe everything he (she?) says is useless, ranting palaver, and that he (she?) has farty pants.

Is Braid Important? (2, Insightful)

EllF (205050) | more than 5 years ago | (#26464397)

The underlying question here is, I think, whether Braid was Important. Games are rarely seen that way - most of them are debated on the basis of whether or not they are "fun", but not on whether or not they somehow embody something larger and more fundamental than just being entertainment.

One possible approach (quoting from The Hip Gamer [blogspot.com] ) is to distinguish between the game's implementation (the "system") and it's ambition (the "game world"). I find that game systems are usually best evaluated formally, where one can look to a review to comment on things such as depth, elegance, and replayability; game worlds are more subjective, where one reads reviews for more information on a world's theme, concepts, and morality when considering them.

What Braid does well is the latter; the world is clearly well thought out and considered, and the non-gameplay pieces (the story books between levels, the artwork, the music, etc.) all advance that world's realization. The game system is solid if not astounding: it's a platformer with a time-control element, with some clever puzzles. Does that make Braid "Important"? Perhaps -- there are a dearth of so-called casual games that meet those criteria. However, in the larger scope of gaming, I don't know that I'd put Braid on the same level as, say, the original Half Life, or Space Invaders, or Planescape: Torment. Gaming itself is unlikely to be altered by Braid's existence, even if playing through it is enjoyable.

A lesson in Objectivism (2, Insightful)

Drakkenmensch (1255800) | more than 5 years ago | (#26464443)

If you've played Bioshock just for the guns and plasmids without paying attention to the deeper layers of story, shame on you. After taking the time to read some very interesting dissertations and essays on the origins of Rapture, Andrew Ryan and his twisted relation with Fontaine, I was amazed to discover a deep critical view of Ayn Rand's objectivist theories. How did 2K games propose to criticise her ideas? By pushing them to their utmost, some would say inevitable, conclusion. While many of her ideas sound good on paper, one must never forget that human beings are exactly that - human. Humans are flawed by design, driven deep down by pragmatic needs that all the ideals in the world can't satisfy. Andrew Ryan's utopia is defeated by one of the greatest forces of the dark side of man, GREED, and thus does one man's dream goes down the drain as he himself drinks down the poisoned river he once denounced. A fascinating analysis, perhaps biased by personal worldviews of the writers... but isn't that precisely the ultimate failure of objectivism?

"In theory, Marge, communism works. IN THEORY." - Homer Simpson

Re:A lesson in Objectivism (1)

Junks Jerzey (54586) | more than 5 years ago | (#26465515)

And all of those "layers" were completely out of place in Bioshock. The setting was good, the game mechanics were polished, but it all pretty much comes down to shooting anything that moves, clicking on corpses and crates and desks, playing some circa-1989 hacking minigame [wikipedia.org] , and extremely frustrating battles with high-end enemies. "Layers" of story here makes about as much sense as adding deep, critical views of Ayn Rand's objectivist theories to professional wrestling.

Re:A lesson in Objectivism (1)

Drakkenmensch (1255800) | more than 5 years ago | (#26465713)

"Layers" of story here makes about as much sense as adding deep, critical views of Ayn Rand's objectivist theories to professional wrestling.

I don't know about that, I'm pretty sure that Randy Savage has some pretty interesting views about the rationals of self-interest.

Re:A lesson in Objectivism (1)

William Baric (256345) | more than 5 years ago | (#26466239)

I always viewed stories in game more like a reward than part of the gameplay. It's really like having some cake after doing your chores. So I agree it is out of place, it doesn't "make sense", but it doesn't have to.

Also, as a side note, "extremely frustrating battles with high-end enemies"? What do you mean with that?

Re:A lesson in Objectivism (2, Insightful)

SeePage87 (923251) | more than 5 years ago | (#26465805)

No, I'm pretty sure greed is the ultimate success of objectivism, or rather, what I call "moral" greed. So long as you constrain yourself as often as possible to Pareto improvements, acts that benefit you without harming others, greed is a tremendously powerful and productive force. You're right that humans are greedy, it's fact. Objectivism recognizes this and only seeks to guide that greed, just as laws against theft and fraud are designed to do.

Re:A lesson in Objectivism (1)

Drakkenmensch (1255800) | more than 5 years ago | (#26468745)

If human beings were able to recognize the success of others and earn without harming others (which is exactly what rational self-interest defines) then objectivism would work just fine. The problem starts when EMOTION checks in at the box office and requests the entirity of the first five rows without calling in ahead to make reservations, then starts screaming that it is entitled to the entire auditorium if it damn pleases. This is the major failing of objectivism, and why it has so much problem working in the real world. No room for emotions and irrational behavior, which is bound to happen sooner than later! It's also where Andrew Ryan fails - he sees Fontaine as another industrialist working for a similar goal, but instead of acknowledging his work, he calls foul and decides to act like a schoolyard bully who must have things his way or he ruins it for everyone - and then does exactly that.

Re:A lesson in Objectivism (1)

SeePage87 (923251) | more than 5 years ago | (#26469517)

To be fair, if you're allowed to drop the emotion and irrationality card, you just aren't going to find a philosophy that holds merit. You're best bet is a system that leverages the devils we know and can reasonably mitigate it's weak spots.

Communism doesn't work because it's trying to leverage non-universal human characteristics. Capitalism, while certainly not perfect, has the good sense at least to leverage greed into something productive. It's the mitigation of it's weak spots at which it doesn't do very well (at least in the US's current implementation); greed, instead of just encouraging productivity, also encourages absurd amounts of special interest group lobbying and rent-seeking behavior. I'd say this marks the main difference between objectivism's version of capitalism and reality; e.g. in Atlas Shrugged, those who seek success through regulation instead of by their own merits are the antagonists. I'm inclined to agree, since I believe farm subsidies, ethanol mandates, sugar import quotas and their ilk are tantamount to theft.

A system that leverages greed into a productive force is a good start. If we could create one that did the same for laziness, covetousness and the rest of the deadly se7en we'd be all set.

Re:A lesson in Objectivism (1)

MBraynard (653724) | more than 5 years ago | (#26477151)

No, actually, it's 'happiness' and it teaches that true happiness comes from productive achievement - be it starting a successful business, winning the heart of a beautiful and intelligent woman, or raising competent and prosperous children.

Re: Greed - O recognizes that the truly greedy avoid theft, fraud, and corruption because it is a greed enlightened that pursues more than an immediate thrill or material gain, but a sustainable 'greed' for actual virtues.

Re:A lesson in Objectivism (1)

SeePage87 (923251) | more than 5 years ago | (#26477619)

The flaw in your argument you seemed to have missed is that there are no beautiful intelligent women. SeePage87 1, MBraynard 0.

Re:A lesson in Objectivism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26466109)

If you considered the story and background in Bioshock to be "deep" then you are a fucking moron. It's all common sense crap that everyone already understands and has understood for a very long time.

Now stop trying to posture yourself above others. The only thing you are accomplishing is making yourself look like a fool.

Objectivism is crap (0, Flamebait)

ixer (1423597) | more than 5 years ago | (#26464953)

Ayn Rand was an idiot idealogue who never worked an honest job in her life.

The Master of the Five Rings now there is some real intellectual stimulation.

Stanislaw Lem closed the book on this. (1)

argent (18001) | more than 5 years ago | (#26465527)

Read Stanislaw Lem's review of Gigamesh in "A Perfect Vacuum" and you will understand more about the whole genre of "hard works" than any amount of ordinary criticism will ever teach you.

Mod parent up! (1)

Xtense (1075847) | more than 5 years ago | (#26466387)

"Gigamesh" is the perfect example of how to ruin a perfectly good book with too in-depth reviews, though in my opinion the whole damn book is really good. There's a copy [google.pl] up on books.google, translated by Michael Kandel - as far as a native speaker of Polish (with an upcoming BA in english. Wish me luck!) can tell you, a pretty faithful translation. There's also a small article up on Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] .

Good but overrated (1)

WankersRevenge (452399) | more than 5 years ago | (#26466797)

It's funny ... I was listening to an interview with Billy Collins (famous poet) and the topic wandered into the use of obscurity as a device. His take on it was that a lot of bad poets used obscurity because the meaning of their work was really just banal. I felt Braid was the same way. It was interesting trying to put the pieces together of the story until the very end whereby Blow vomited all over everything. It seems like he was bending backwards to dazzle the player instead of imparting something of interest. Mind you, I'm not against using obscurity ... I love reading stories whereby each layer is peeled off like the skin of an onion with something deeper and meaningful underneath. Blow was all smoke and mirrors. Mind you, I enjoyed the trip, but it was like eating the perfect pizza ... it may look great and taste wonderful, but when I was done eating it, I was none the different as if it never happened. In other words, a typical video game. Mind you, the music was wonderful and the artwork was great, but Blow only gets credit for his good taste with his selection of artists.

Re:Good but overrated (1)

BarneyL (578636) | more than 5 years ago | (#26468413)

In science you want to say something that nobody knew before, in words which everyone can understand. In poetry you are bound to say...something that everybody knows already in words that nobody can understand.- Paul Dirac

Re:Good but overrated (1)

bartle (447377) | more than 5 years ago | (#26473195)

In general I agree with you. As a puzzle game it is outstanding but the story just leaves players dazed and confused. I've read some Blow interviews and various interpretations and the game, while very well thought out, simply does not intend to lead the player to a specific outcome. Blow used every literary device in the book but in the end couldn't make a single recognizable point.

It makes me sad that the final level has one of the most brilliant videogame twists I've ever seen but ultimately it leads nowhere. If only the game had solidly been about a man reconciling a lost relationship with no mention of the Manhattan Project.

i'm a mo for emo (1)

kisrael (134664) | more than 5 years ago | (#26466819)

I really liked the little "flavortexts", as Emo as they were... they were really well done.

Won't play it; can't support the author (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26468737)

In the response linked in the summary, the author says,

I philosophically support the campaign of Pol Pot

which is incorrigible. I've heard good things about the game, but Pol Pot? Seriously?

Something is wrong. (1)

nloop (665733) | more than 5 years ago | (#26475323)

A story about a game that isn't on The Pirate Bay. I'm disappointed in someone, just not sure who yet.

Re:Something is wrong. (1)

WillDraven (760005) | more than 5 years ago | (#26475647)

Wait until it gets released for PC, which according to the game's site will happen sometime this quarter. I'm sure after that it will be approximately 6 hours before a cracked copy starts making the rounds on the torrent sites.

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