The other weekend, I downloaded and played through Braid. It was pretty interesting, with the fractured narrative being delivered to you like the puzzle pieces you collected through each stage. The time-rewinding mechanic was really awesome, too: it allowed the game to be challenging, but not in that “restart at checkpoint,” way; and the variations created some very interesting puzzle-solving techniques. The penultimate stage (World 1-1), was clearly the most basic and clever use of this forgiving device.

However, I, among many others, have a gripe with the designers.

In a game that focuses on a desire to undo mistakes realised too late (sounds like hamartia to me!), the player’s incapacity to do this WHEN THEY PUT A PUZZLE TOGETHER CORRECTLY is extremely frustrating. What am I talking about? Well, there are these “hidden extras” found in the levels in the form of invisible stars. Collecting the stars changes the ending of the game. Most of the stars can be collected at any time during the game. But one of them is created by incorrectly solving one of the jigsaw puzzles. Please note that once you put the puzzles together, you can’t take the pieces apart. Whoops. I just denied myself a different ending because I did something right.

Now, I don’t care what wanky excuse the designers come up with, such as, “Oh well if things were done right in the first place, then nothing would have gone wrong.” Ah, but see, they created for the player a moment of hamartia: I put together the puzzle in a way which I believed was right, and yet I’ve done it wrong, and now I have to do it all again? Well, screw collecting the stars. Someone else will do it and I’ll watch that on YouTube.

So, does the player/audience enjoy being the one who has hamartia? Of course not. This is why they could, should, never be the Tragic Hero.

Tick Tick Smileyface for me. Thanks for proving me right 😉

Who is the Protagonist?

I was thinking about the idea of the player wanting to cause events to happen, to be active rather than passive.

What came up in my mind is Othello.  It is well known that this, one of Shakespeare’s plays, is Othello’s tragedy, but Iago’s play.

If there were to be a game of Othello, would you be intended to play Othello, the insecure “Moorish” man (it is never explicitly stated where he is from) who becomes the General of an army and marries a beautiful caucasian woman, only to be tricked into murdering her in a jealous rage?  Or, would you be intended to play Iago, the cunning, sneaky ensign, who lures Othello into this horrific mess?

Othello, the Tragic Hero, has his fatal flaw, and the audience tends to walk out thinking, “If only Othello weren’t so insecure, he wouldn’t have trusted Iago and then Desdemona would still be alive.”  Iago, meanwhile, has a ball being doing everything he can to seek vengance on Othello for promoting another over him.

So this prompts the question: Who is the protagonist… and who does the player need to play?  Could this stretch so far as the “real” story focus on another, provising a backdrop, while the player has their own journey; like many of those PoMo novels about some significant figure’s dog’s walker’s hairdresser, offering both their own narrative, as well as hinting at the epic story occuring  behind them?