I think for my final paper I’m going to write about the game Braid (http://braid-game.com/) so I figured I would use some blog posts to start poking at ideas!

I really liked the Lowgren chapter (“Articulating the Use Qualities of Digital Designs”); it felt like a great first stab at articulating a framework by which we can think about digital designs as aesthetic interactions.  For Braid, the most useful cluster seems to be “meaning-making.”  Braid is a game that solidly affirms itself as an “art game” – the designer very clearly meant it to be a game with meaning and trying to deduce that meaning is an integral part of the experience.  I’ll start with the use quality ambiguity because, hey, it’s first on the list!

What parts of Braid are ambiguous?  (Note – I think for my final paper I’m just going to talk about the concept of time in Braid but for these blog posts I’ll cast a wider net).  First, the story in Braid is ambiguous.  There are books throughout the game that gives players access to text such as:

“Tim is off on a search to rescue the Princess. She has been snatched by a horrible and evil monster. This happened because Tim made a mistake.”

“She never understood the impulses that drove him, never quite felt the intensity that, over time, chiseled lines into his face. She was never quite close enough to him – but he held her as though she were, whispered into her ear words that only a soul mate should receive.”

These bits of text hint that Tim is searching for a princess, but not in the typical Mario-esque sense.  These texts indicate to us that Tim lives in a world like our own, has a family, and might even have a wife.

This text is juxtaposed with the game levels themselves.  I would describe Braid as a “puzzle platformer”.  There is no real indication of the Princess storyline in these levels.  The purpose of each level is to manipulate the in-game objects (and time, more on that later) to get puzzle pieces.  When combined, these puzzle pieces give us images that are somehow related to the story but it’s not entirely clear how.

Lastly, the epilogue has text that adds all sort of ambiguity into the story:

“The candy store. Everything he wanted was on the opposite side of that pane of glass. The store was decorated in bright colors, and the cents wafting out drove him crazy. He tried to rush for the door, or just get closer to the glass, but he couldn’t. She held him back with great strength. Why would she hold him back? How might he break free of her grasp? He considered violence.”

References to an atomic bomb and a candy store force the player to question the entire story up until then, the meaning of the princess and the context of the story (does this exist in our world? a fictional game world like Mario?)

So the story is clearly ambiguous.  There are two other things that I can think of that might be ambiguous.  The first is this game’s relationship to Mario.  There are references littered throughout – from the construction of the levels, to the dinosaur at the end of a few levels that tell the player that the Princess is in another castle, to the flags that show up at the end of some levels.  Is this an homage to Mario?  A perversion of the typical “game story”?  On second thought, maybe this isn’t ambiguous, maybe it just needs more analysis.  Though Lowgren does say ambiguity is a “resource that encourages close personal engagement with digital designs” which this certainly does.

Lastly, time in this game is ambiguous.  First of all, it works completely differently from both the real world and from any other game world (including what I could consider “standard game time” where players can die and restart).  When you die in Braid, your character falls off the screen and the game pauses.  You need to rewind time to before your death to continue playing.  This time rewinding mechanism is an integral part of the game (not just in preventing you from dying but in helping solve puzzles) and the idea of time is played with in a different way in all 6 of the different worlds.  For example, in one world moving left moves time backwards and moving right moves time forwards.  In another world you have a ring that you can place on the ground, which slows down the time of anything around it in relation to the rest of the world.  All this manipulation blurs the concept of time and leaves the reader with a much more ambiguous concept of it than our typical day-to-day continuity.

These three different types of ambiguity all force a closer reading from the player of the meaning of the game because it’s not just handed over on a silver platter but forces the reader to put the pieces together for herself.