April 16, 2013 by trosen3
Braid As a Work of Art
In his 2011 essay “Art,” Ian Bogost debates whether the videogame medium should be categorized as art. He begins the essay by quoting recently deceased journalist and film critic Roger Ebert who declared “the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art” (Bogost). Bogost continues to outline why he opposes this quote, defining elements including procedural rhetoric and introspection that in fact make videogames works of art. These aspects are visible in Jonathan Blow’s 2008 platform game release Braid, where the protagonist, Tim, attempts to rescue a princess from a monster through solving puzzles. Blow employs the medium to explore issues of time and regret, subjects constantly examined across artistic mediums, through the player’s unlimited ability to rewind their actions and reverse time in the gameplay. In this way, Blow’s authorial voice shines through the gameplay as well as elements of the narrative and aesthetics making Braid a work of art that a player is able to relate to.
During the Braid game session, I tweeted “Interesting to see how Braid is so based off trial and error. If you die just try again.” Though it is true that the ability to manipulate time after dying I reference is a device to help the player get through obstacles, this only scrapes at the surface of how the time manipulation feature functions in the game. This game mechanic ultimately makes a larger thematic claim within the narrative of Braid. By allowing the player to break away from the physical restraints of time, Braid creates a commentary on the psychological experience of time within human life and what would happen if humans did have the ability to reverse time. If someone feels regret over their actions and wishes to change them, will they end up happier with their actions the second time? Because we are not accustomed to being able to manipulate time in the way that Blow’s game allows you to, Braid subtly raises questions such as these as a player attempts to figure out how to reach a jigsaw piece.
Though secondary to the time manipulation mechanic, Braid uses aesthetics and the game’s narrative to further the player’s introspection into their own life. During the gameplay session, I tweeted “I like the slower dramatic string music and the way it seamlessly meshes with the paint-like visuals. Like I’m in a museum.” This observation is important because it frankly sounds like something a child would say, which is exactly the feeling Blow set out to create in his platform game (Bissell). This combination of visuals and music that create a happy but slightly somber setting in the game fit the feeling of nostalgia that accompany recollection of joyful times of childhood. The narrative centering on trying to rescue a princess from a monster is also straight from a children’s story or Disney movie. The game uses text passages placed throughout the game reveal the narrative and hints about Tim’s thoughts and motivations that prompt introspection within the player. Each zone of the game that mark the progression of the narrative, also offers an additional trick to the time reversal mechanic, which emphasizes Blow’s authorial voice while helping to keep the gameplay fresh.
Blow’s decision to underscore Braid with the theme of time places the game besides prominent works of art across other mediums that similarly produce questions of human’s perception of time. Surrealist painter Salvador Dali’s most famous painting The Persistence of Memory presents themes of time through clocks melting in the sun. Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, which tops the American Film Institute’s “100 Years… 100 Movies,” primary theme is the passing of time and childhood. If these prominent works that combine visuals and an authorial voice while creating introspection in the viewer are unanimously considered works of art, then Jonathon Blow’s game Braid should also be viewed in the same category.
Bissell, Tom. “Braided.” Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter. New York, NY:
Pantheon, 2010. N. pag. Print.
Bogost, Ian. “Art.” How To Do Things With Videogames. Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota, 2011. N. pag. Print.