The Intertwining Narrative and Mechanics of Braid

By Carly Vaughn

Braid is a frustrating game. In my opinion, this is mostly because the simple game mechanics belie the fact that introducing the element of time into a game creates a whole different set of complexities. While these complexities do tie in well to the narrative, it makes playing the game, for me, quite a challenge.

The game’s relationship to time seems, at first, to make the game very easy. Instead of having to start a level over when you die, you simply rewind time and correct your mistakes. As the narrative for World 2 says, “This happened because Tim made a mistake.” This simple statement mirrors time’s rather simple function in these early levels.

However, this time manipulation quickly changes from the game equivalent of Wite-Out, to an incredibly challenging dimension of the game experience. I found myself mystified, though my partner was not, by the levels in which time only moved forwards or backwards when Tim did, or the levels involving Tim’s shadow. Tim’s shadow was particularly confusing, as I could never seem to get him to do what I wanted, even when my partner patiently explained what I was meant to do. This complication in game mechanics, is reflected in the new, deeper context of the game’s narrative: “A trail of feelings, of awe and inspiration, should lead him to that castle in the future: her arms enclosing him, her scent fills him with excitement, creates a moment so strong he can remember it in the past.” The future and the past and the present are intertwined in this game, not only in playing it, but in Tim’s reflections.

I think the game’s creator made a very conscious decision to have this progression of the time manipulation; i.e. from a help to a hindrance. Tim’s narrative is about time, of course, and about regret. It seems easy to wish you could simply go back in time and correct mistakes, but the game seems to be arguing that time and regret and mistakes are more complicated than that. While this game is incredibly difficult, I want to finish it and discover what happened to the Princess, and what will happen to Tim.

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