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Braid: It’s Art, but is it a Game?

Braid - indie puzzle platform game by Jon Blow - title screen

Since I cottoned on to the idea that game criticism could learn a thing or two from arts criticism, I’ve inevitably been sucked into the world of games as art. It’s an interesting space: before platforms like Steam and XBLA made it possible for indie developers to create and release something and make a profit there was simply a vast gulf between blockbuster, big-studio AAA titles and artists occasionally dipping their toes into computing. Now that space is gradually becoming filled with games like Journey, Limbo and, of course, Braid.

Having now finally had the chance to play Braid, I’m struck by the fact that it’s almost unquestionably art. There’s so much about it that fits that definition. The visual style is heavily reminiscent of post-impressionist painting, pretty much unique in the video gaming space, and distractingly beautiful as you play through. The snippets of narrative text that flash up as you wander through the gateway to each world are lovingly scripted and surprisingly profound. I have discovered that I end up wanting to re-read them every time I fire up the game and enter a world, and discover new elements of insight on most occasions that I so. The overarching story is clever, filled with metaphors that lend themselves to multiple interpretations, most of which can lead to further meditations on humanity and relationships. I even love the sound, although I understand that was recycled from elsewhere. Whatever definition of art you choose, Braid seems to fit.

However, the more I’ve played it, the more I’ve become unsure as to whether or not it’s actually a game.

Braid very much belongs to the puzzle genre. No problem there, of course, there’s a long and proud history of puzzle games dating back to Q*bert in 1982 and arguably further, most of which were, in my opinion, unspeakably awful. It’s rather more unusual that in Braid the puzzle elements are combined with platform ones but there are still some well-known antecedents such as Lemmings and Wario Land. What’s unique about Braid is its supreme, clinical coldness. The way the story is presented as a series of philosophical observations with no attempt to engage the player emotionally. But most of all the manner in which it presents the player with a series of discrete puzzles that are almost entirely intellectual in nature. Experimenting and working things out are the order of the day here, and in spite of the occasional pixel-perfect jump you’re required to make, physical dexterity, reaction time and manual skill very much take a back seat.

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Braid - indie puzzle platform game by Jon Blow - everything needs more dinosaurs
What it reminds me of most are the apparently endless series of small puzzle applications and flash games that people use to while away their office lunch hours, rather than anything you’d be likely to find on the console of a dedicated hobby gamer. More than that, playing Braid feels almost like solving Sudoku, or some other popular pen and paper puzzle format. The exercise is so focused on the brain that you almost start to wonder why you’re bothering to play this sort of thing on a computer when a crossword or nonogram would offer a similar kind of pleasure in a cheaper and rather more convenient format. I get the same feeling playing some European-style board games, where the strategy is often more about making best use of the rules than actually engaging with your fellow gamers, but at least in a board game you’re playing face to face in a social situation. Braid is like a European board game but with even less warmth.

Of course, Braid has this funky time-rewind thing going on that it uses as the basis for most of its puzzles and there’s no way you could do that with pen and paper. And you have to stand back and admire the cleverness of that mechanic, which is not only unusual but leveraged to make you ask yet more questions about the game itself and the wider world which you inhabit. But really that’s pretty flimsy reasoning because while that particular approach to puzzle construction might only be doable in a video game, the basic prerequisite, which is that you think your way through every stage of the game instead of running, jumping and gunning through large parts of it as is the norm, didn’t require the time-rewind. A good puzzle designer could have built Braid as a standard platformer and still made it interesting, still made it deeply philosophical and still filled it with fiendishly intractable puzzles. No matter that it happens to have a clever gimmick, we’re still back to pen and paper logic puzzles.

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Braid - indie puzzle platform game by Jon Blow - donkey kong homage

So how about that allusion and metaphor rich story that overarches the whole thing then? The ability to participate directly as the central protagonist in a thrilling tale is one of the central lures of video gaming, and has be used to create unique circumstances and surprises in games like Silent Hill 2 and Knight of the Old Republic. Could Braid perhaps earn its video gaming credentials there? Well, no. The narrative is immensely clever, but it’s mainly text-based and offers little you couldn’t get from a novel or a film. Indeed I was reminded a little of Time’s Arrow on more than one occasion whilst playing.

There are antecedents in terms of games that engage the player primarily intellectually rather than physically though. Computer wargames are the poster child here, although the wider world of strategy games offers other candidates, and no-one would suggest those weren’t video games. But again, Braid is different. All the computer strategy games that I can think of either utilised the computer to do something you couldn’t do in a physical format, or had heavy elements of hidden information and randomness that forced the player to make moves based on intuition as well as intellect. Often these were one and the same thing, such as a fog of war effect, or complex calculation for hit and damage. By contrast in Braid everything is open for the player to see, and almost all the puzzles are trials of pure logic and deduction.

And yet, for all the criticisms I’m here levelling at the game, for all that it remains remote and unengaging, I’m very impressed by it, perhaps more as a concept than as a game. It’s eaten many hours of my time none of which, and this is an astonishing rarity for a video game, feel like they’ve been wasted, although some of them don’t feel like they were actually very much fun. And ultimately the argument I’m pushing here, which is that it isn’t really a video game at all, leads to an even more interesting question and conclusion. Namely, that if it isn’t a video game, what is it? And I have no idea what you’d name it, but it is all of the things I’ve compared it to, rolled into one. A pen and paper puzzle, a (short) novel, a philosophical exercise and a piece of visual art. And in that amalgamation, finally, is our vindication and our answer: nothing other than a video game could successfully unite such disparate elements. And in doing so, Braid, like many of the other indie-art games that came after it have finally started the long-overdue process of pushing the envelope of what a game can be. Whatever you think of Braid, and it’s creator Jon Blow, it deserves acclaim for that feat alone.

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Matt Thrower

Matt is a board gamer who plays video games when he can't find anyone similarly obsessive to play against, which is frequently. The inability to get out and play after the birth of his first child lead him to start writing about games as a substitute for playing them. He founded and writes there and at

31 thoughts to “Braid: It’s Art, but is it a Game?”

  1. Thanks for this, got Braid in the latest Humble Bundle, haven’t had a lot of interest in it until this article. Now I can approach it not as a game, which is why I have been avoiding it, and more as an intellectual exercise.

  2. “Since I coined the idea that game criticism could learn a thing or two from arts criticism”

    Matt I’m hoping this is lost in the Queen’s English translation but this sounds like you invented the internet.

      1. No it’s just a poorly chosen phrase on my part. “Cottoned on” would probably have been better. In other words I’m saying I stumbled into the concept, not that I invented it myself.

        (I’ve edited it to avoid confusion)

  3. Braid impresses me so much because the game and the story are the same. It has cohesion. Each act has distinct time mechanics to adjust the platform action. And each of those mechanics is tied to the story. So playing the game is acting out the story. But almost no other game does this. Two examples: BioShock. Take the story away. The game mechanics are an FPS. You’re shooting dudes. That tells you nothing about the story, a fascinating take on objectivism. The story is separate. It’s layered on top of gameplay or shaken up and mixed together with it. But they are two very disparate things. Second example: Portal. I love the story in Portal, but if I replaced the Portal gun with a regular gun or an action-platformer, would the story suffer? Not really. Most of the story (however good it is) does not inform the gameplay, and vice-versa.

    Braid’s gameplay and Braid’s story do inform the other. The game is about negotiating the world with time going forward and backward, often in ways you can’t really control. That’s the story, too. Story sets up mechanics. Mechanics reinforce story. Repeat. What other games do that so integrally? So organically? I can’t think of any that I’ve played. So that’s why I disagree so wholeheartedly with your statement: “A good puzzle designer could have built Braid as a standard platformer and still made it interesting, still made it deeply philosophical and still filled it with fiendishly intractable puzzles.” The time mechanics are the heart of the game, because it’s the heart of the story. This game wouldn’t be anything special as a standard platformer.

    I am a bit baffled as to your central conceit that Braid isn’t a game, though. And while I’ve seen lots of navel gazing in the industry about “Are games art?” I’ve never seen much discussion about, “Is this a game?” As I see it, your argument falls back on two things: it isn’t engaging, and it isn’t “much fun.” Your engagement I can’t speak to. For me, the game had it’s hooks in me immediately. I was captivated by a story that engaged my mind in ways other than puzzle solving or hand-eye coordination. But you may be on to something when you say the game isn’t fun.

    This is a strength of Braid for me. For video games to grow up into a respectable art medium, it’ll need to do other things than be fun. There Will Be Blood isn’t a fun movie, but it’s a damn fine film. Infinite Jest isn’t a fun book (it isn’t even entertaining most of the time), but it’s worthy and has a message that couldn’t be told in any other way. Every other medium has a wide range of emotions and techniques. Games have historically been fun first (and often, fun only). When you’re playing a board game, what else is there to rely on? There’s no story, there’s no character. It has to be fun. But that’s limiting to video games. Video games can be and need to be so much more. Games need to be harrowing or sorrowful or bleak. Braid engages me in ways that aren’t always fun. But it engages my mind (and that ending sure as hell engaged my heart). It finds hooks other than fun.

    I’m not sure you’ve convinced me that it’s not a game. I wrote above that I think the game is art and the art is the game, but on more reductive level, I’m not sure how it couldn’t be considered a game. It has set rules and mechanics. A goal state and obstacles to overcome. How would your arguments be used on Mario? There’s no story to engage you. There aren’t even puzzles. The only difference I can come up with is that Mario is the definition of fun. (But for me, there’s no art there, just a game).

    So, I think we agree that Braid is unique. It’s an outlier on the game-art spectrum in multiple ways. Rather than disqualifying it as a game, I’d say that Braid is absolutely a game, and we need more like it.

    P.S. My favorite writing on the subject is by Film Crit Hulk ( and he says it all way better than I can.

    1. To be honest, it sounds like that we’re “agreeing violently” over many aspects of the design. I agree completely that it has a wonderful tie between story and mechanics. I also agree that it’s a fantastic advertisement for what computer games can be, including being something other than fun. I pretty much said both these things in my conclusion.

      The central idea here is that Braid doesn’t qualify as a video game under any of the commonly accepted definitions of the concept. Nothing to do with fun or engagement. The gameplay is more like a pure, pen and paper logic puzzle than anything you’d normally encounter on a console. It’s in that respect – and that respect only – that I describe the time-rewind thing as a gimmick. It’s a gimmick in the sense that it doesn’t differentiate the play away from being logic-puzzle based and into something that would be more widely recognised as a game.

      But – and this is crucial – it’s part of the point of the article that the fact Braid doesn’t fit any comfortable definition of a game says as much about the narrowness of those definitions as it does about Braid. Again, I touch on this in the conclusions – perhaps I should have spelled it out more clearly.

  4. First things first. I’m sorry that came across so combatively. Your article provided a jumping off point for what I’ve been thinking about these days for “Are games art?” So while there is a lot of ardor in that comment, it’s not really directed at you. Sorry again. And I will edit my comment web I get back from lunch reflect that.

    As I read your article, the three things I saw you address were puzzle more than game, lack of engagement & fun. I tried to respond to the latter two because that’s more where my experiences lie. Addtionally, you said that the puzzles were cold & detached (I read that as lack of engagement & fun). To go with the puzzle issue, what do you think makes Braid’s puzzles so pen & paper versus say Portal?

    1. No worries. Having good, passionate debate is what it’s all about? It’s great to see people stepping up and defending what believe in with passion.

      I haven’t played Portal. It’s worth noting that I don’t generally like puzzle games very much, so the very fact the Braid made me want to play and write about is already a testament to its quality. But I digress – my understanding is that most of the puzzles in Portal involve figuring things out in 3d space. So it’s spatial reasoning rather than the pure logic that underpins most of the puzzles in Braid. You can make spatial reasoning puzzles on pen & paper but they always feel crude and unsatisfactory.

      1. I think something that you failed to touch upon that most likely influenced your opinion that Braid might not be a game is that within the game there is no failure. Aside from how this concept makes it hard for the majority to relate to, besides a desire for unlimited retries, having no in game failure leaves only personal/ mind failure, which the game doesnt measure. This makes it very hard to feel like you could lose, making winning or giving up the only options. Win or give up? Sounds boring to me, but I guess someone might want to play it. I enjoyed playing Braid enough, PLAY being the operative word in every instance of a video game(cough) Analyzing it? Less enjoyment.

        Also, you should rewind, play a few other puzzle games(portal, maybe, why not?) just to get some perspective, then you could write about how Braid is a regular puzzle game with a gimmick that people shouldn’t make such a big deal out of.

  5. So, what *is* a game, exactly?

    Is Tetris a game? It can be reduced down into a pen-and-paper logic puzzle. (Most games can, if you’re willing to be so reductive.) How about Donkey Kong ’94 for the Game Boy, whose level structure and progression is extremely similar to Braid; does its interstitial cutscenes, where Donkey Kong escapes from Mario through a hilarious sequence of events, distinguish it from Braid as a game?

    What does the storyline in Knights of the Old Republic offer that “you couldn’t get from a novel or a film”?

    How is the computer-enforced adjudication of rules in computer war games different than the enforcement of the various relationships between time and movement in Braid?

    I appreciate that you were impressed by Braid, despite finding it “remote and unengaging” but, without a clearer indication of what you feel defines a game, your argument seems confused and, at times, even contradictory.

    1. I don’t know exactly what a game is. That’s why I chose to address this piece by comparing Braid with commonly accepted broad genres, none of which fit it very well.

      Tetris can’t be reduced to pen and paper. You could make a paper based shape sorting puzzle but with the time pressure of the falling block, and consequent need to rapidly rotate and move the piece while finding a place to put it, it’d be pointless. Braid has no time pressure, and little dexterity. The skill is entirely in your head. And please, but the idea you can reduce any video game to paper is patently absurd. Bioshock? Gears of War? ESPN hockey? No.

      Donkey Kng is different from Braid because the former is a game primarily about manual dexterity and reaction times, whereas the latter is, again, entirely about you using your brain to solve logic puzzles.

      In KOTR, the central plot wrist involves your self identification with your game avatar. It also calls into question the supposed motivation for all your acts and decision in the game up to the point. That makes it far more intense and personal than a novelir film could hope to achieve.

      In a war game, a central feature of the play is often that critical information is hidden from the player, forcing you to make educated guesses and play intuitively. In Braid, nothing is hidden and intuition is next it useless, you have to work, sometimes very hard, to get your solution.

  6. Don’t you have to wait like 40 minutes on one level to get a star? That’s not a game. It’s some dude’s ego manifest.

    1. No. That’s an easter egg. Not required at all. They’re supposed to be a secret and hard to collect.

      1. I was under the impression it unlocked the real ending. It’s been stopping me from playing the game.

  7. @nic: I got the Easter egg star by turning on the level and playing something else for 30 minutes. I don’t argue the ego fest, but I do argue that an ego fest and a game can somehow never be related.

    @Matt: I’m calling out the entire premise of this post. Though its points are clearly made, you don’t define what a video game *is*.

    It seems like a set level of hand-eye coordination is some part of your definition of a video game. I have no idea why that matters. Having a requirement for reflexes or “mindless fun” or whatever seems unnecessarily exclusionary.

    I play a lot of the Game of Thrones board game. The fundamental conceit of that game lies in playing your next move face down, while lying through your teeth about what that move is. It creates some moments of tension that are absolutely excruciating.

    “Attempting to overcome a self-inflicted obstacle” is the game theory definition of a playing a game. Braid is a game by those lights.

    As for fun, hmm. How about “appreciating something for something other than its objective benefit?” Processing carbohydrates for cellular oxidation isn’t fun, but jamming Skittles into your face between meals can be. And I don’t need to scream “woo-hoo!” to enjoy a day at the museum.

    This article and Mike Barnes’s “Fun Based Design” seem to be touching on the same problem from different directions. I think fun needs a definition.

  8. Nyyyyyergh. I hate to disagree so thoroughly with your premise, but… What? Is there a digitally-simulated moving guy I have to control as he performs tricky mechanical convolutions? Do I do this using an electronic input device or two? Yes? So just because you use logic more than running around hitting people, it’s not a video game? Am I understanding this argument correctly?

    where the strategy is often more about making best use of the rules than actually engaging with your fellow gamers, but at least in a board game you’re playing face to face in a social situation. Braid is like a European board game but with even less warmth.

    My wife and I had a LOT of fun playing this game together. We’d solve the puzzles together, one person taking over when the other was stuck or offering suggestions while the other drove. I have a really hard time seeing it as devoid of warmth.

    All the computer strategy games that I can think of either utilised the computer to do something you couldn’t do in a physical format, or…

    Llllike… rewinding time? The thing you just got through describing as meaningless?

    you think your way through every stage of the game instead of running, jumping and gunning through large parts of it as is the norm

    Jesus… uh… I mean… Oh come on… That is… Oh for God’s sake dude. If I can’t fire a few hundred space-marine bullets into bad guys then it’s not a video game? If it requires you to think more than run around and jump and shoot, if it gives you all the information you need to proceed forward, then it’s not a video game? I’m not even sure how you got through the game without running and jumping. Is World of Goo not a video game? Is Myst not a video game? Is friggin’ Pac-Man, where the determinism of the ghosts has been exploited by many players, not a video game?

    Jeez, I hate to react this strongly, especially since I just criticized Barnes for being a dork in the same way, but it really seems to me like you’ve invented some bizarre set of twisted, narrow requirements that a “video game” must fulfill with the specific goal of disallowing Braid because it didn’t fit into your mental model of what to expect when you sat down to play a “video game”. You didn’t, in your own words, “have fun”, so it must not be a “video game” because those are fun.

    A lot of us had a lot of fun. I freely admit that sitting down to solve a puzzle like that is more fun to me than shooting Generic, or even Specific, Space Baddie #3,475,239,056. But in either case I do not see how a piece of software in which you control a dude as he jumps from one platform to another to reach the end of the level fails to qualify as a video game no matter how many complaints about solving openly-observable puzzles you level at it.

    Can we have more of Danielle’s weird experimental games please? Please?

  9. I’m surprised that Jonathan Blow isn’t interviewed and quoted somewhere here. He would love this kind of banter about his pretentious high school poetry jam of a videogame. Sure I enjoyed it somewhat for the time gameplay, but for the short experience and the incredibly vague text it wasn’t worth it. It had that feeling of a schoolboy trying to express his heartbreak. And man, that is so boring artistically. It shows that the story of the game is an artistic expression born from nothing, from a life with very little conflict besides puberty, parents and girls. What I’m saying is, if you didn’t live your life all Edvard Munch style, seek the art outside yourself, and look for your unique perspective. Offer the world something, instead of acting like you’re the only one that has big dreams of completely redefining what videogames can be. Just make a solid game, one step at a time.
    Matt, sorry to say, but you’re over-thinking this. Braid is a puzzle platformer by all accounts, and isn’t cause for a discussion on what games are. Besides, if you want to move the discussion of games as art forward, you can’t sit there and be hung up on the definition of a game, because that has been done to death already. Move forward and try to see if it is good art, and develop vocabulary and criteria so the medium can realize its artistic potential more fully. Braid is art, but I think it is immature art. Because its art, I do not divorce it from its creator, and he is fairly pretentious, and the vague text about turning back mistakes showed this to me through his art.
    One final thing. No, games don’t need to all be fun in the shooty and jumpy sense. But they can be fun in other ways, as I like a good narrative and I’m very critical of them. Perhaps saying that they need to be engaging is better. Because the opposite of engaging is boring. And I know there is boring art that exists to be mundane, but I hate that art and it should go away. Braid succeeded and failed in being engaging. Let’s talk about that, because it is not the penultimate artistic videogame classic of all time the question you started with suggests.

    1. I agree that the central emotional message given in Braid – I am a special flower and no-one really understands me – is immature. But it’s expressed in a multi-layered format that cuts across not only different metaphors but different media too, and interlocks portions of those together to mutually reinforce the concept. I fail to see how the manner of delivery is immature, even if the message is.

    2. Hating Blow or Braid should be beside the point. If Braid triggers this sort of conversation, then it does, and that’s that. I don’t think it’s constructive to say that “this art sucks” is a reason to not discuss it.

      That said, you do go on to discuss it. And you make a few points more clearly and concisely than I did in my first post. You contrast “engagement” to “fun” – which I’d compare to my war boardgame example above. When you’re making a tough choice, you don’t *feel* happy. I’d say the definition of fun has to include that sense of engagement.

      As Matt pointed out, I would say that it’s interesting that you seem to dislike Braid *because* you have no need or desire to engage the central premise. “Tim did whatever he did, boo hoo, who cares,” if I were to summarize it somewhat uncharitably.

      Does that mean that Braid needs better trailers? I mean, I know better than to watch Downton Abbey, no matter how good it is, because I’ll watch rich old Brits be rich and old, and not be very concerned with their troubles. That’s *my* failing, and not the show’s. But I saw enough of it up front to steer clear and maintain my friendships with people who love that series.

  10. As I said in my reply to Epyon above, part of the point of the article was as much to highlight the paucity of imagination in current video game genres as it was to express the fact that Braid doesn’t fit them. Ii seems clear at this point that I failed to get that across properly, so I’m sorry for that. I’m not being much use as a writer if I can’t communicate these concepts clearly.

    I stand by my opinion that another important difference is that the game is cold and remote. It does very little to draw the player into its world – instead it rewards those who work to break their way in both through solving puzzles and pondering over its metaphors. That – in my experience – is fairly unique and therefore very unlike most titles, regardless of genre. I am not, however, passing judgement on whether it’s a good thing or not. It works for me, but it’ll depend on the player.

  11. I’m typing this one handed on an iPad and I’m getting cramp and don’t want to type much more, so I refer you to my answers above. In brief: I am, in fact applauding Braid for not being a generic shooter, or indeed a generic game of any kind, and I’m sorry it didn’t come across more clearly. That said, I dd spend a considerable part of the article going over why Braid isn’t really a platformer, or a strategy game, or an RPG either, so your focus on shooters seems a trifle peculiar.

    1. I realize you are, and in retrospect, I’m sorry I wrote the comment, or at least sorry that I worded it that way instead of in a style more conducive to eliciting data that I don’t have; in my head, and after re-reading, your argument still boils down to “it’s not a video game because it’s not precisely like these other things that are video games, but at the very end let’s maybe call it sort of a video game anyway because it’s at least interesting and different” — and I’m willing (hoping) to believe that what appears to be very poor support for the first part of that argument is because something is not getting through, or that I’m just flat-out missing something.

      I didn’t intentionally focus on shooters; my mind jumped a cog on the shared “run-n-gun” approach to gameplay with more standard platformers — I should’ve picked some other example of the kinds of things you “normally” do in video games. Still, though, the point holds. Braid isn’t a platformer, even though there are platforms and you have to run around and jump on them and defeat enemies, because… shooting weird magic creatures with magic flower fireballs has been replaced with thinking about how to get a door open? It’s aloof and unengaging because you have to think pretty hard about how to solve problems before you do all the running jumping climbing trees parts you normally do in video games? Why?

      I’m just dubious to see such a very strictly normative definition of what constitutes a “video game” in the context of a bunch of familiar mechanics and control schemes, and the argument just seems — seems — deeply flawed. It’s not like there aren’t puzzles to solve in Super Mario Bros., like how do I get past this group of Bullet Bills and the Spiny-tossing cloud guy without dying, and I still think you wind up twisting yourself into a non-Euclidean pretzel trying to explain why THOSE are video-games puzzles and THESE are not. Again, is Pac-Man not a video game because you can see and/or derive all the information you need to beat a level? I’d really like to understand why you think these are good, defensible standards of video-game-ness, or why your personal standards for “remote and unengaging” are the right ones… Uh… I guess because I disagree with both of those premises, at least for the moment. (Sorry!)

      Basically, I’m kind of okay with your conclusion but I really cannot see the path you’re using to get there, or the real bases of your arguments. And I apologize that the first attempt at that came off so antagonistic and tangential-like.

      1. No, as I said before, it’s good to see people defending things they love with passion. No need to be sorry about that. There’s too much politeness around.

        I still feel Braid is unusual in two key respects that make it very unlike other video games, regardless of the genre thing. The first, as I said above, is that it makes you do the work to engage with it rather than vice-versa. That’s admirable in many ways but it’s not thrilling or exciting or tense or any of the other things I usually expect a game to be, regardless of genre. Second, I still think that te fundamental mechanic of Braid – solutions of puzzles almost exclusively through the application of logic – is also unusual and, again, makes it feel remote. In most other cerebral video games there are elements of chance and intuition and experimentation that makes them feel less, well, mountainous and more human. These two things do combine to make the game seem strangely clinical in spite of its many laudable qualities,

        The route to get to the conclusion was supposed to explore all that space and tie the arguments together, which, clearly, it has singularly failed to do. I was also deliberately prevoactive to get people thinking, and in that respect it’s been overly successful. Sorry 🙁

        1. There’s too much politeness around.

          No, screw you, there’s not enough!

          The first, as I said above, is that it makes you do the work to engage with it rather than vice-versa.

          I… honestly don’t even know what you mean by this, possibly because I had no emotional experience that correlates. I find grinding through dungeons in RPGs to be quite a lot of work in terms of engaging with the game, even in games that I otherwise enjoy — bizarrely, in a way that doesn’t bother me with tabletop games — but I had no difficulty leaping into Braid with full-throated cries of glee.

          So, okay, I guess I lied and I do have an idea what you mean, but I have no construct for why you found it unengaging, other than its reliance on logic puzzles.

          Second, I still think that te fundamental mechanic of Braid – solutions of puzzles almost exclusively through the application of logic – is also unusual and, again, makes it feel remote. In most other cerebral video games there are elements of chance and intuition and experimentation that makes them feel less, well, mountainous and more human.

          I really think we must have played the game differently. Intuition and experimentation played a huge role in how the game got done here. “Maybe if I do this… Welp, no, that wound up with me stranded in the pit… Okay, wait, I think it’s like this… Blast, I can’t quite get that jump, there must be another way…” and then that blinding “Ah-ha!” light when the solution finally became clear.

          These two things do combine to make the game seem strangely clinical in spite of its many laudable qualities

          Clearly something you felt quite strongly but not a statement that clicks with me. Maybe this is just a difference of what you find tickles your brain when you sit down with a keyboard and a mouse, or a controller if that’s your thing.

          The route to get to the conclusion was supposed to explore all that space and tie the arguments together, which, clearly, it has singularly failed to do.

          So… here’s the thing. Having poked at you and the essay a bit, I do think you’re headed down a really interesting path, and I think that it just needs… fleshing out, basically, more exploration. This feels to me like an idea you’d sit down and talk over with a couple of your smartest friends, and instead you got the Internet, including me, for which… yeah, sorry. But I’d really encourage you to sub the smart friends back in and let us see what you get out of it.

        2. I just took another glance at that reply and good God I sound like a condescending jerk. What I meant was, maybe this one didn’t quite click, but if you want to give it some thought and another go I’d be really interested in seeing what results.

  12. Sorry dude, but it kinda looks like you had a communication fail here. After RTFA, I came into the comments because I took issue to a lot of the same stuff I’m seeing other people say. The amount of misunderstanding here makes it pretty obvious that the article didn’t speak to us what you thought it would.

    I only have one thing to add to the discussion as it is now.

    Video games, like art, and and music, and movies, have become a medium. Like other mediums, it has genres. Just because you have trouble placing a particular piece into an established genre does not mean that it is not communicated through the medium. Thus, as braid is communicated through the medium of video games, it is a game. We see this same fallacy a lot in music , too. “That’s not music, it’s just noise” has been a perennial favorite since the advent of rock and roll.

    1. No, no, don be sorry. You’re on the money – there has been a communications fail here and it, of course, mine 🙂

  13. I totally get the purpose of article-as-conversation starter. And as I said, your critiques of Braid are absolutely valid. I’ll go further and say that your assessment of Braid is also a pretty solid assessment of Blow, if his interviews and press are any indication. In that sense, Braid succeeds brilliantly as an artifact-mirror of its creator. Obsessive, cerebral, purposefully obscure at times, melancholy.

    I’ll admit that that doesn’t sound like much of a game.

  14. I’m a bit late here, but will add in just one observation.
    When I first played the game, I brought it over and tried to show it to my mother. She admired the artwork, but was unable to get past the first level, not because of the puzzles, but just the simple platforming mechanics. (Jumping on the first goomba was a struggle.) It’s easy for those of us who’ve been weaned on games to forget, but there is a substantial barrier to entry here (a shared language of control schemes, hand-eye coordination, interfaces/button design, and so on) that people whose hobby is knitting or literature may not be able to overcome.
    In this sense, it’s indisputably a video game. It probably could have been done as a pure puzzler without the platform elements, but would have lost a lot of the motion-specific elements.

  15. I just have to say that I absolutely loved the ending. I cried the first time I finished it and I remember repeating that final level several times because I thought it was just such a clever revelation.

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