Braid: In Search of Meaning

"This is not for you." - House of Leaves, Mark Danielewski

It took me months to get back to Braid.

When the indie platformer arrived on Xbox LIVE Arcade in August of 2008, I knew little about it. But based on people I trust, and the artwork of David Hellman, I bought it the day it came out.

It was clear within moments that the game was trying to do something special. I realized instantly that this was an inspired work: an intentional effort to marry a carefully written, illustrated and scored storyline with some truly innovative platforming and time manipulation mechanics. Even better, the game’s designer, Jonathan Blow, was attempting to use the actual mechanics to inform the story.

It was clever. It was cerebral. It was pompous. I bathed in it. And then I got angry.

(Note: the following contains spoilers for Jonathan Blow’s Braid. Caveat Emptor.)

My experience with the game changed dramatically once I started needing help, or indeed even discussing the game with other gamers. Because the Sturm und Drang about the game was much more about Blow than about Braid.

"Honest criticism and sensitive appreciation is directed not upon the poet but upon the poetry." – T.S. Eliot

In "The Death of the Author," French semiotician Roland Barthes argued that texts can and should stand on their own. Barthes, and his fellow pompous intellectuals that made up the hugely influential New Criticism movement of the mid 20th century, argued that the source of a work — the Author and his or her intent and process — is irrelevant, and that the fallacy of most criticism was its attempt to find the author living inside a given work. (See also: Derrida, The Intentional Fallacy).

The solution, suggests the New Critical theory, is to read in a vacuum. The reader is essentially a sequestered jury, consuming the evidence of the crime with no regard for the identity of the criminal.

This close-reading school of literary criticism has always held tremendous appeal to me, and my appreciation of a game is deepest when it passes this test.

My initial reaction to Braid was extraordinarily positive precisely because it responded so well to my fallacy-of-intent predilection. Being a pompous intellectual myself, I embraced the fact that the story in the game was vague, but still discernable. I didn’t feel like I was trying to figure out what Blow "meant" by the storyline. The written exposition ahead of each world, while overwrought and ponderous, acted as a tone-poem, setting a contemplative stage for the mechanics.

But I was forced to turn my attention from the game itself because of its difficulty.

"I never give in to the temptation to be difficult just for the sake of being difficult. That would be too ridiculous." - Jacques Derrida

When I hit the inevitable wall in Braid, I discovered that, despite being allowed to run roughshod through the game in order to experience and appreciate the narrative, such gameplay would keep me from reaching the story’s end. I was furious. Unlike most video games, Braid requires literal perfection. Every last jump must be made. Every single obstacle overcome.

Lifting my head from the game, I discovered that Blow, as author, practically demands that his voice be heard. The game’s homepage is emblematic of his public persona: In a few sentences, he assures you that Braid is “painterly," that it is “unique," that it contains “no filler," and that it is “mind-expanding."

In interviews surrounding the game’s launch, he said, in various ways, "I know what it all means, and maybe some people will figure it out, but I’m not telling."

And of course, he famously posted a walkthrough where he informs players that they are essentially idiots if they can’t finish the game: “Solve them for yourself and do not use a walkthrough! … All the puzzles in Braid are reasonable."

This was my first encounter with the unwelcome voice of the author. Blow inserted himself into my experience of his work. I had been pre-chastised by the author: I was a moron if I couldn’t do it on my own.

I took Blow at his terms. Not finishing the game became an act of rebellion. He, not his game, had pissed me off, and so I petulantly took my marbles and went home.

Months passed. I lost the anger of the jilted lover. Using 6 testicle-shriveling hints, I finished the game. The "ending" of the game was ingenious, well constructed, and it made me smile.

"Any life is made up of a single moment, the moment in which a man finds out, once and for all, who he is." – Jorge Luis Borges

But the game doesn’t end at the end. Once again, Blow inserted himself into my experience of the game. After the satisfaction of completion, there is an epilogue. The epilogue is vague, poorly written vomit disgorged on freshly polished shoes. It’s a randomly connected series of obscure self-reference and tortured metaphor. A sampling:

His arm weighed upon her shoulders, felt constrictive around her neck. "You're burdening me with your ridiculous need," she said. Or, she said: "You're going the wrong way and you're pulling me with you." In another time, another place, she said: "Stop yanking on my arm; you're hurting me!"

It was as though the earth had opened and the skies split. One felt as though he had been privileged to witness the Birth of the World...Someone near him said: 'It worked. Someone else said: "Now we are all sons of bitches."

He cannot say he has understood all of this. Possibly he's more confused now than ever. But all these moments he's contemplated - something has occurred. The moments feel substantial in his mind, like stones.

Somehow, Blow’s story of Tim and his girl troubles (Stalker? Not Stalker? Mom? Not Mom? Virgin? Whore?) goes into a rabbithole of "What the f*ck?" Not only does Braid leave the player guessing, but it leaves the reader guessing without possibility of parole. In the final words of the game, the narrator taunts the reader, effectively saying, "Yes, this game was important, even though you didn’t understand it."

In most cases, this would simply be a case of over-reaching and failed possibility. It would be enough to say, "Oh well, he went too far, and he came so close. Maybe next time." And to be sure, I still feel that way.

"Thus with cautious steps, among deceived enemies, I circulated, plated with poetry, armored with rhymes, stout with another man's song, stiff with cardboard, bullet-proof at long last." – Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov

But I can’t let it go. My frustration with Braid is multiplied because it would seem to have been designed with me specifically in mind. I am a student of the obscure. I am pathologically drawn to books, movies, games, and passages of scripture that are dense, difficult, and which hide (and thus reveal) meaning behind layers of art and artifice.

Games lend themselves to this layering more than any other medium. The casual player of Oblivion, System Shock 2, Fallout 3 or Bioshock can have an extraordinarily story-light experience if they simply “play" the games. One layer deeper, a close reading of the environments informs deeper levels of story. Deeper still, evidence in the form of written texts and audio tracks provides footnotes, side-plots and appendices to a central story.

It’s a large part of why I love games, and why I think that they matter. But these layered storytelling approaches are complex by intention, and thus require tremendous detail to voice. The communication from a complex, layered game has to be carefully crafted to evoke, not merely describe. The system of symbols used to tell the story — art, music, text, game play — need to be organic, and consistent.

To put it in context, consider how difficult this is to pull off on the printed page. Consider Mark Danielewski’s 2000 book, "House of Leaves."

Mark Danielewski set out to destroy the concept of narrative in books with "House of Leaves," much in the way Braid succeeds in destroying many of the conventions of "Platformer." The underlying plot of "House of Leaves," while compelling, is essentially haunted-house, horror-movie fare, but the events are seen through an assortment of perspectives: a film documentary, an academic dissertation of said documentary, the exegesis of the dissertation by an uneducated tattoo-parlor employee, and countless footnotes, quotes, "discovered" texts, and appendices.

Like Braid, it’s hard. By breaking so startlingly with convention, it requires the reader to rethink how the "book" works. A typical "hard" part:

"Forgive me please for including this. An old man's mind is just as likely to wander as a young man's, but where a young man will forgive the stray, and old man will cut it out. Youth always tries to fill the void, and old man learns to live with it. It took me twenty years to unlearn the fortunes found in a swerve. Perhaps this is no news to you but then I have killed many men and I have both legs and I don't think I ever quite equaled the bald gnome Error who comes from his cave with featherless ankles to feast on the mighty dead."

This section is itself a footnote which has been redacted by a different author, but is repeated elsewhere in the book without the edit, and then with a further footnote from yet a third editor. All these perspectives are designed to give peeks of insight into the minds of a writer and editor who are both clearly going slowly insane. The book is equally complex in its use of external information. He informs his already difficult text with allusion and reference so obscure it's inconceivable that even the most pathetic obsessive-compulsive has found all the bits: The frontispiece to the hardcover contains the hex-code for an AIFF file of a song from POE, Danielewski’s sister, who’s album “Haunted" contains numerous references and story material supporting the book. Anomalies in the typography lead down paths as likely to reveal some terrifying message as they are to reveal the author's last name. It's a monumental work of twisted, pompous, overly-clever genius. (See also: Pale Fire, The Waste Land, Pierre Menard.)

My love (and fear) of "House of Leaves" is what makes me so uncomfortable talking about Braid. Viewed from the outside, the complexity and obscurity of the storytelling should put them in the same ivory tower where I store all the other vestments of self-satisfied intellectualism. In fact, right until the very end, "House of Leaves" was never far from my mind when playing the game.

But the difference between "House of Leaves" and Braid is that the story of "House of Leaves" is told by the characters who live convincingly within the boundaries of the book. While listening to POE's "Haunted" or chasing down marginalia is satisfying, it’s not required to know what the hell is going on. The work speaks for itself. Danielewski’s voice is absent, and the issue of authorial intent seems irrelevant.

Braid, by contrast, is dominated by Blow’s voice. His presence as the narrator of Tim’s story is inescapable, and so, ultimately, the cloud of doubt and complexity he heaps on the player is a personal assault, from Blow to the player. Braid is not a story that requires or benefits from vague technique, no matter how ambiguous Tim’s motivations and actions may be. And yet, by the end of my Braid experience, I felt like Blow had specifically constructed something that would generate emails and forum posts begging him to please tell us "what it all means."

This is the heartbreak. It takes what could have been a convincing "games-as-art" showpiece and instead turns it into a pompous, self-absorbed and too-clever-by-half attempt to create conversation about the artist and his process, rather than the work itself. Jonathan Blow sits demon-like on my shoulder, shouting, “This means something!" and I can’t help but keep asking, "Who cares?" instead of “What?"

I want games to reach. I want the best of them to do more than merely titillate and entertain. Braid does both, and for that, I guess I must consider it both an important and relevant entry into the canon. But I can’t help but be disheartened.

Comments

wonboodoo wrote:

My main complaint with Braid is, other than that last level (or World 1), the gameplay and story connection is tenuous at best. They have little to do with one another.

I vehemently disagree. The flavor text at the beginning of each world explains that the gameplay gimmick of that world is a metaphor for some sort of social interaction. The time-slowing ring, for instance, is a metaphor for how a wedding ring makes people hesitate - makes them behave differently towards you.

HaciendaSquish wrote:
wonboodoo wrote:

My main complaint with Braid is, other than that last level (or World 1), the gameplay and story connection is tenuous at best. They have little to do with one another.

I vehemently disagree. The flavor text at the beginning of each world explains that the gameplay gimmick of that world is a metaphor for some sort of social interaction. The time-slowing ring, for instance, is a metaphor for how a wedding ring makes people hesitate - makes them behave differently towards you.

Absolutely.

doubtingthomas396 wrote:

She also posed an interesting question that I'd like to pass on, because I couldn't answer it: Why is Braid an "art game" but Little Big Planet isn't? The only thing I could think of is that the Art-with-a-capital-A crowd pronounced it art because it was inscrutable, whereas LBP was just beautiful and fun and therefore unworthy of the "art" appelation. I'm probably wrong-- there's probably a real reason why Braid is considered art but LBP isn't, but I don't know what it is. Anyone have any thoughts?

I'm rather ambivalent about this aspect of Braid right now, but one thing it does is make it rather plain (through art, music, and text, if not other ways as well), that there's something deeper than the standard level of meaning that many associate with video games.

There certainly are folks out there who interpret game mechanics as every bit as meaningful as literary devices in poetry. They give similar attention to Braid's time mechanics as they do to, for instance, the way "failure" works in the new Prince of Persia (let me know if you want links), but they're the exception. Braid was rather heavy-handed in signaling that there was deeper meaning, but that may have helped a more mainstream audience understand that games can have deeper meanings.

Spaz wrote:

Unless I'm fantastically incorrect, LBP serves no other purpose other than to entertain and provide a great social experience.

But isn't that basically what art is? I think that fits HaciendaSquish's definition quite well.

The Old Masters were basically just creating a commercial product. It's just that their commercial products were so fantastically expensive that only wealthy people could enjoy them. That's what rich people did back before television-- they hired artists to make interesting things for them to look at.

Michelangelo painted the Sistine chapel (and its sequel, the Sev'nteen chapel. Badump bump!) because he was paid to. He was driven to do a good job by his own inner workings, but it without the dough the sistine chapel would simply be a building in Italy with a very high stucco ceiling. The term "starving artist" is a recent invention. Back in those days, an artist only starved if he wasn't any good.

Nowadays, pretty much anyone can afford art, if we define art as something beautiful or interesting that engages the senses-- which is about as broad a definition of it as I can come up with.

HaciendaSquish wrote:

I don't have a PS3 ([dramatically:] yet...), so I haven't played it yet, but I'm pretty sure that LBP is an astoundingly artful game. I think the difference is that LBP has more commercial or mechanical elements alongside its artfulness, whereas Braid is nothing but art.

Not having played Braid, I'm not sure I get your meaning here. Braid isn't a game? It isn't commercial? Does something have to be obscure or niche to be art?

Please don't take my questions to mean I'm mocking-- I realize that I use an irreverant style of prose-- I'm interested.

[quote=HaciendaSquish]Someone once said that nothing can be art unless it serves no purpose other than being art, so a gorgeous car, for instance, might be artfully made, but it's a product, or a tool, not art. If someone sculpted the same car out of a rock, that'd be art.

It's sort of like that, I think...Unless LittleBigPlanet just lacks any symbolism, metaphor, or deeper meaning, in which case that would be the difference.

Movies, music and video games are all functionally useless items. They only engage the senses. They don't convey you from point a to point be (like a car) and they don't really do anything other than to be what they are. Going by this, all entertainment media is art.

Now, not all of them are particularly good art. Bad music is still music, bad video games are still video games, bad people are still people. If we're going to enable quality standards on what can be called art, then that kind of flies in the face of the subjectivism that has been the topic of much of this conversation.

I'm not sure I agree, however, that art has to have symbolism, metaphor, deep meaning, or anything else of that nature in order to qualify as art. And anyway, even if it does Wordsmythe pointed out that anybody who thinks too much can inflict any meaning they want on anything they want.

In Little Big Planet's example, I could say that the ability to alter not only your character's appearance, but also your character's mood and the environment that character resides in represents the futile effprts by man to exert control over the world he lives in. Or I could say that the fact that you must play through the all the levels multiple times in order to unlock things to put in the game environment is a critique of the consumerist culture we live in in which we toil and toil and toil for a few stickers.

Or I could say it was all about sex, with no further explanation, and fully expect someone to pull on his chin and say "Of course! It's so obvious!"

Of course, as Spaz pointed out, this makes me sound like a jackass.

But the point is I don't see why art has to have depth to it. And if it does, how deep? At what point does something have enough layers to be an onion?

Again, I suspect I've asked an unanswerable question. You can't quantify art. I guess you just know it when you see it. The bottom line is that there's a contradiction: If art is fully subjective and not limited to any single interpretation, then anything with a creative component to it can be art. The only other options are to set concrete conditions and limitations on something that must remain ephemeral to exist at all.

Or we could just take the easy way out and define art as "anything created by someone calling himself an artist." That way there's no contradiction about saying Braid is "art" but Little Big Planet is "just a game."

wordsmythe wrote:

There certainly are folks out there who interpret game mechanics as every bit as meaningful as literary devices in poetry. They give similar attention to Braid's time mechanics as they do to, for instance, the way "failure" works in the new Prince of Persia (let me know if you want links), but they're the exception. Braid was rather heavy-handed in signaling that there was deeper meaning, but that may have helped a more mainstream audience understand that games can have deeper meanings.

I'm a combo platter in this respect-- I side with the people who treat all games as if they were art, but I don't really care at all if games are ever officially designated as art, or if they are deep. I don't need my hobbies to be validated by other people. I don't need to be intellectually challenged by my hobbies-- heck, I don't even play games on Hard. I just want my entertainment to be entertaining. If that makes me a bourgeois plebe, or lowbrow, then so be it, but I like what I like.

Having said that, though, If you get Braid, and you like reading, writing and talking about what it means, then I'm glad for you. Everyone should get to do what they like with their spare time, and I mean that sincerely. But I don't really get it and I doubt I ever will. Too stubborn or close minded, I guess.

doubtingthomas396 wrote:

But I don't really get it and I doubt I ever will. Too stubborn or close minded, I guess. :)

That's Thomas the Apostle for ya... [smilicon]

I'm not sure I agree, however, that art has to have symbolism, metaphor, deep meaning, or anything else of that nature in order to qualify as art. And anyway, even if it does Wordsmythe pointed out that anybody who thinks too much can inflict any meaning they want on anything they want.

From my point of view, everything has meaning. The question is whether we're willing to investigate that meaning or not. Then again, I'm a little eccentric.

Mister Magnus wrote:
doubtingthomas396 wrote:

But I don't really get it and I doubt I ever will. Too stubborn or close minded, I guess. :)

That's Thomas the Apostle for ya... [smilicon]

Heh. It's funny-- I absolutely didn't have that Thomas in mind when I chose my username except insofar as it was a commly known reference that involved the name Thomas. (Which is not my name-- it's the name of my avatar) But when Choose your Tag came up, all of the best suggestions were references to the Apostle, so I ran with it.

Weird how I ended up falling into the role anyway.

wordsmythe wrote:

From my point of view, everything has meaning. The question is whether we're willing to investigate that meaning or not. Then again, I'm a little eccentric.

Well I'm not! (stamps foot.)

Eccentric, that is. I'm just nuts. One day I hope to be promoted to condiments.

Seriously, though, in spite of all I've written I tend to be very introspective. This has the unfortunate side effect of causing me to wrestle with what I think about the meanings of certain things. When the meanings are obscured and require further reflection, my brain turns into an echo chamber and I can't sleep.

For example, one of the reasons I try never to talk politics in polite company (and why I stay far, far away from P&C on this site) is that I tend to tear myself up inside when I get into philosophical arguments. I'll disagree with someone, but I won't be successful in changing their minds and I'll literally lose sleep as I go over my own position over and over again trying to figure out if I was right, and why. This only gets magnified when there isn't a "right" answer, because it's like a div/0 error to my brain when there isn't a correct answer. I wind up in an infinite loop until I'm so exhausted I manage to fall asleep and my brain reboots.

doubtingthomas396 wrote:

why Braid is considered art but LBP isn't, but I don't know what it is. Anyone have any thoughts?

I think the line in the sand between art and Art is where something is beautiful and fun rather than meaningful. There is no doubt in my mind that all games are art because of the craftmanship that goes into making them. However, I see Art as something meaningful.

Take for example A Streetcar Named Desire or Citizen Kane. In addition to having good production (actors, sets, etc.) they are landmarks for their time. The former is a testament to life in the era and the latter pushed boundaries in the art of filmmaking (visuals & symbolism mostly) but also challenged the ''american dream'', something unheard of at that time.

Braid, in that sense (for me at least), succeeds at pushing the boundaries of storytelling in games. It tries to be more than just ''fun'' and makes the player think. I think one of the best interpretations is through the gameplay: you bust your ass trying to overcome obstacles, yet as you do so you may not realize the real consequences of your actions. This interpretation is good for your love life, your work, mankind (famous a-bomb references).

That's what differentiates it from the rest, that's why people are discussing it. You can't really discuss the meaning of fun. It's fun or it isn't. What your experience with Braid meant to you, that you can.

bnpederson wrote:

Um, I liked the puzzles and powers. And the last level was neat. I felt it was worth my fifteen bucks.

Y'all think a lot.

100% with you.

The last level was beyond immense, and I really enjoyed (along with my best friend) the epilogue. Oh, it was pretentious, but as a sort of "bonus" mini-puzzle and story, I liked it. The prose wasn't too tortured, though it was sometimes a little forced.

Here I had read two pages of comments and was all psyched to reveal my interpretation of the game's meaning, and how the author's behavior actually revealed that meaning, and then he has to show up and tell us to interpret the game and not his behavior. Phooey!

Here, I want to dump my two cents on this pile of comments anyway.

I thought Braid was beautiful, challenging, and fun. I didn't know Jonathan Blow from John Doe when I played it, and I didn't know any of the hype or critical reception or subplots, and I found the ending spectacular and the epilogue equally so. The moment of realization when I saw that Tim was facing the 'wrong way' while I rewound the ending is one of my favorite gaming moments. I liked that the ending jarred me and the epilogue gave me extra things to think about, and eventually I settled on the premise that the game is (at least on some level) about the flawed pursuit of perfection.

Idealizing a woman makes her a Madonna figure that can never be reached, and the relationship is doomed to self-destruct (princess). Pursuing a goal singlemindedly leaves you blind to the consequences of success as you run from the consequences of failure (bomb). Focusing on the destination means you do not see the journey ('walkthrough' and castle of stones). Deciding on one perfect interpretation closes off all other interpretations (wiki and epilogue texts). And getting the "100%" secret ending is tedious, difficult, unforgiving, and ultimately less satisfying.

See? It all makes sense! You're welcome.

Oh, someone mentioned early in the comments (paraphrasing, can't go back and find it, I've come too far) "No one talks about meaning in other games, like Shadow of the Colossus". Wait, what? I certainly hope somebody other than me talks about meaning in Shadow of the Colossus. I would think there's got to be a reason the first colossus ignores you until you fire the first shot.

That's all, don't want to derail. Interesting article, and I agree with the overarching points, just not with the opinion on Braid specifically. I loved it, and I want more things like it.

doubtingthomas396 wrote:

My wife informed me that they're not right, they just get the most ink because they know how to self promote. There is a whole world of artists who just make things because they love to make things, and art critics who keep their discussions to things like skill and aesthetics. These are the art-with-a-lower-case-a people, and they're the ones that I can understand.

I think your wife has made one of the best points in this discussion, and I'd like to flesh this out a little by saying that if anyone deciphered a definitive, indisputable and universally accepted meaning behind Braid that would be tragic. This whole discussion goes some way to illustrate how people generally search for universally accepted view, but art is incompatible with definitive statements. The interpretation of a piece is something deeply personal, a dialogue between the artist and the individual. This is vital. You should not be told what to think by the kind of 'Art-with-a-capital-A' people that doubtingthomas describes.

However, discussion of the piece is interesting, so long as everyone accepts that there is no definitive answer, and that everyone's interpretation is equally valid.

One possible interpretation of Braid could be that it's illustrating the futility of a staunchly logical mind in appreciating art or love. The protagonist doggedly solves logical problems only to find that after each world he understand less as new pieces of the puzzle are uncovered. Understanding always escapes him, and towards the end he turns his rage upon the problem, seeing it as a plot against him.

As for Blow: an artist communicates through his work, and Blow's stuck between letting his art speak for itself and the ins-and-outs of the games industry; he has to promote it to people through interviews, magazines and web content, and this would be hell. I don't think he's pompous, it's more likely he's inarticulate.

Insectecutor wrote:

However, discussion of the piece is interesting, so long as everyone accepts that there is no definitive answer, and that everyone's interpretation is equally valid.

Caveat: All interpretations are valid so long as they are supported by evidence from the work. For a lot of us, that may go without saying. But if an interpretation of the work can't account for aspects of the work itself, I'm not willing to call that interpretation valid.

Great article, Rabbit. I would have paid for a magazine with this article in it. Well done.

wordsmythe wrote:

Caveat: All interpretations are valid so long as they are supported by evidence from the work. For a lot of us, that may go without saying. But if an interpretation of the work can't account for aspects of the work itself, I'm not willing to call that interpretation valid.

Agreed.

Personally, I enjoyed Braid while playing it. I don't know more than the next guy about literary criticism, so I assumed there was deep meaning behind everything, and was happy with that. Then I heard an interview with Blow and it seems to me that his game would be better served sans his commentary about it. His entire angle seems to be "I'm an artist, and if you don't get this, you're a peasant." He never used those exact words, and he danced around it, but his attitude left no room for interpretation. I still like the game. I still think it's an amazing work (long as you ignore most of the text), but he's certainly not helping. It's like when you find out that your favorite band is a group of assholes. It doesn't affect the quality of the music, but knowing it makes it impossible not to think about while you're listening.

SPOILER ALERT

a-pro-pros: The only cool interpretation I have on the game is when you finally get all the stars and go out to the constellation and see the princess... in chains. It's the final outcome of your obsession. Tim took it too far.

benu302000 wrote:

SPOILER ALERT[color=white]

a-pro-pros: The only cool interpretation I have on the game is when you finally get all the stars and go out to the constellation and see the princess... in chains. It's the final outcome of your obsession. Tim took it too far.[/color]

Yep, that seemed to be a pretty clear allusion to me as well, though I wonder if the story of that constellation's namesake could be further applied.

benu302000 wrote:

I heard an interview with Blow and it seems to me that his game would be better served sans his commentary about it. His entire angle seems to be "I'm an artist, and if you don't get this, you're a peasant." He never used those exact words, and he danced around it, but his attitude left no room for interpretation.

I would much rather have this than suffer through an artist trying to justify their own work. Blow's delivery was poor but his stoic refusal to explain his work has greatly extended its lifespan as an interesting talking point.

I remember Mark Leckey, winner of the 2008 Turner Prize, desperately trying to convey the meaning of his work in a recent radio interview. He came across as if he was making it up on the spot, even guessing at what an audience might read into it, which immediately turned me against him. I went to see his work on a whim yesterday and it was both technically ingenious and artistically interesting which came as a huge surprise. By trying to articulate his intentions he did his own work a great disservice.

doubtingthomas396, on LittleBigPlanet, wrote:

I could say it was all about sex

Oh, it will be, once I get my hands on it.

It will be.

gbuchold wrote:

Oh, someone mentioned early in the comments (paraphrasing, can't go back and find it, I've come too far) "No one talks about meaning in other games, like Shadow of the Colossus". Wait, what? I certainly hope somebody other than me talks about meaning in Shadow of the Colossus. I would think there's got to be a reason the first colossus ignores you until you fire the first shot.

I bought a PS2 for no other reason than to play Shadow of the Colossus, which I somehow missed the first time around, and that's exactly why. I was having a discussion about art in various mediums recently and I said that the best art is visible in pieces which could not be done in another medium. I also realized that games are the only media that can make the audience feel regret, which both Braid and, I understand, Shadow of the Colossus do wonderfully. As does any licensed game one might make the mistake of purchasing, but that doesn't really count.

Anyway, Shadow of the Colossus doesn't work, for some reason, so I certainly regret getting it from GameStop. Stupid employee discount, convincing me to make the same mistake over and over again.

Haha... I bought a PS3 for no other reason than to play Shadow of the Colossus. My PS2 broke shortly after ICO and well before Shadow, so I knew that I'd have to rush and get a backwards comp. system.

Great game, though. (Still love ICO more in my heart...)

Krnt2007 wrote:

I'm *particularly* interested
if our article's author has read and formed
any rigorous and comprehensive reading of said saga -
one that can stand by the light of day
in comparison against
the admittedly ambiguous text of
its bloated sandworm corpus.

Welcome Krnt,

Interesting thoughts (if phenomenally difficult to read with your formatting). I don't think most critics would disagree that Author's do in fact write their works. It's not that an author doesn't INTEND something when he writes, it's that the discovery of that meaning shouldn't be the point of reading. Reading a book shouldn't (have to) be a detective excercise. If in fact a work is pleasing, provocative, engaging and happens to imbue the consumer of the work with certain meaning that lines up with the artists intent, all the better. One could argue that makes the work better, but not necessarily.

As for Dune. Love the books. But they're pretty uneven, and I've never felt the need to dig deep into a close reading of them. To be honest, I sort of stopped caring after God Emperor.

***FALLACY OF INTENT -
yes the strong interpretation of
the influence of an auteur on their texte is untrue.
But there is a clear and generally important shaping influence
by an author on their texte.

Considering just written textes...
being a writer in a small way myself...

A sentence is a basic macro unit of linguistic communication.
And structurally speaking a sentence can be said to be made up of:

i) a selection of words
ii) a selection of order.

To change the intended communication or interpretation
of a sentence ---
one meaning of the word "meaning" ---
a writer can change her or his choices
at i) or ii).

I do so consciously all the time,
with I think (varying) success.

There are numerous factors
that shape a reader's reception and/or interpretation of
a sequence of written words - certainly.

A word can be misread in a poor light,
when a mind is particularly active on an obssessive subject
(gosh look at the length of this post!),
and strong personal experience
can occasionally cause a reader
to derive a statistically rare reading,
one both significantly divergent from what the writer intended -
and even how most readers interpret his or her texte.

Yes,
in some cases readings can wildly differ -
and some writers exploit this deliberately.

But the very fact that we can have successful communication
*between native same-language users*
*most of the time*
is because
the *functionally most important meanings* of
*most words in our shared language community*
are *mostly so similar*
we can:

1) conceive an intended "meaning",
in the sense of interpretation for a communication,

->

2) express that intended meaning/impact in a communication.

->

3) watch with a dizzying sense of power
as our communication is interpreted
more or less as we wished!

For me,
that's part of the pleasure
of sharing, e.g., an effectively-shaped poem.

***LYNCHING LYNCH:
Lynch was mentioned.

I have strange feelings re: his strange works.
That may be healthy

I loved much of the Dune series of novels (and associated appendices).

I also sorta loved Lynch's film inspired by the original Dune novel -
but in some crucial ways it was different,
in ways that were sometimes lame
or failed to communicate the important philophical ideas
that percolate throughout the series.

I wonder if by making it *literally* and *spontaneously* rain at the end,
in a context that suggests this occurs by Paul's assumption of the Throne
as a literal Messiah,
Lynch was asserting a VERY divergent vision of "Dune"
to the author of the original novel -
one that mis- or reinterpreted Frank Herbert's statements
about the real nature of the Bene Gesserit and "their" "Kwisatz Haderach"...

Now first note,
I believe K.H. = a term for the Messiah in Hebrew.

Second realise,
the B.G. have a missionary/propaganda branch,
called the Missionaria Protectiva,
which e.g. plants *aritficial and hence presumably false* myths
re: a supposed Messiah-to-Come, hailed as the "K.H.",
to cynically prepare and manipulate
the jihadi-to-be Fremen and other populations
in preparation for Sisterhood infiltration and control,
in accordance with their own socio-political agenda
(e.g. enabling the Sisterhood to survive and thrive
to selectively breed human beings,
particularly through the eventual breeding and use of
a pet K.H. ---
NOT a literal spiritual Messiah,
but a male equivalent to a Sister
with special abilities
like the ability to see future events "prophetically" ---
in order to enable the continued survival of homo sapiens ---
as *they* in their limited understanding and vision
best see fit!)

***TALKING ABOUT THINGS DUNE...
ELUSIVE TEXTES...
AND THOSE WHO LOVE TO FERRET OUT MEANING...
Hands up [sorry, ex-teacher] -
who can honestly and seriously claim they think they understand all of the Dune series
from say "Dune" to "God Emperor of Dune"?

Fascinating textes, fascinating auteur -
but dang while I've read up on both,
much of the saga is tantalisingly ambiguous, polyvalent - or simply elusive
(and perhaps this is part of its savour - to some extent!)

This is not to even start on the bizarre ending to
the lamentably-written Chapter House Dune
which has legendarily stumped fans for years
before the Son of Herbert
took up the flame
and finished the saga from his father's notes.

I'm *particularly* interested
if our article's author has read and formed
any rigorous and comprehensive reading of said saga -
one that can stand by the light of day
in comparison against
the admittedly ambiguous text of
its bloated sandworm corpus.

rabbit wrote:

Welcome Krnt,

Interesting thoughts (if phenomenally difficult to read with your formatting). I don't think most critics would disagree that Author's do in fact write their works. It's not that an author doesn't INTEND something when he writes, it's that the discovery of that meaning shouldn't be the point of reading. Reading a book shouldn't (have to) be a detective excercise. If in fact a work is pleasing, provocative, engaging and happens to imbue the consumer of the work with certain meaning that lines up with the artists intent, all the better. One could argue that makes the work better, but not necessarily.

As for Dune. Love the books. But they're pretty uneven, and I've never felt the need to dig deep into a close reading of them. To be honest, I sort of stopped caring after God Emperor.

(1)
Yep - hopefully this formatting is easier to read...

(2)
I do appreciate the distinction you made in your reply.

I am consciously shaped in reaction against English Lit. teachers in high school here in Oz during a fad of extremely relativistic and political po-mo literary theory. I am glad to say the academic pendulum seems to have centred somewhere around common sense since then.

One reason I felt happy to respond to your article, besides its tantalising quotes, interest and intellectual chewability, was that your "literary theory" seemed to be challenging but perhaps not so extreme. And I can appreciate being challenged by alternative aspects of the truth I hadn't seen. I felt you might like Barthe because he offered a more fruitful pursuit than sometimes delusive and frustrating "Guess what's in the teacher / author's head" answer games, and I felt you might like elusive textes because reading them can be an enjoyably creational or interactional act - which IS different to dogmatically insisting the author's choices in forming a text does not tend to affect most reader's readings of said text, punkt.

I am enjoying a renewed appreciation of better CRPG's and I think the new way I play them echoes the jouissance you may feel in engaging with more a/elusive - perhaps interactive? - textes.

My new way of playng CRPG's is to treat them as drama, real-world interaction, or roleplaying : I literally speak as my Player Character, trying to stick to the Classical principle of suiting my time and place, and converse qua my PC with other characters and creatures as if they are real (yes, I was the wannabe-writer-type who mostly ended up in the GM seat for PnP games!!!) This tends to involve some inner and outer game "commentary", both humourous and non, which I guess ends up evolving my own sense of the "texte" of *my* experience of the game, not only shaped by my own choices in word, action, and character development, but also by my peculiar psychology and aesthetic as expressed in my creative "voice" acting out the game.

( No, I don't think the other characters are REALLY real; nor do I think they speak back!...Oblivion's claims notwithstanding, NPC AI really hasn't made all that many strides since the days of, say, Baldur's Gate and Planescape. So NPC's don't hear - or understand - a word beyond their text scripting ... Coming from a linguistic background, I appreciate live "open" speech-recognition is more difficult to achieve than some realise - and may not be on the scene for a while. )

(3)
I agree, in my view the Dune series plunges in quality after God Emperor. I have read apparently contrary claims, but one report stated F. Herbert didn't want to write the latter novels, but was pressured by his publishers, for the usual monetary reasons.

Dune itself - and obviously, Dune "Messiah" - have a kind of mytho-cultic intensity and power...one thinks of LOTR; I believe Arthur C. Clarke wrote that Dune was the only novel universe with anything like the detail of Tolkien's...and actually, one person looking at the original Dune novel in its early days asked Herbert if he was trying to start a cult.

GE itself reads "thin" in some ways, and descends into bald, and poorly written, cliche in parts. E.g. the initial death chase of the rebel Siona's thieves by the "mutant" "D-wolves" (*blech*). However something of the mystique of the film carried me over to finish and love this work - it was actually the first Dune novel I read - and I had an accidental eureka moment much later in life where I suddenly realised the multiple layers or or veils of "tragic" irony worth teasing out in the narrative (which DOES seem simple on the surface: after all, not much "happens" - you could sum the physical actions of the drama on the back of a matchbox!)

Yet more or less in GE you have a series of embedded narratives, po-mo fashion (I think there's even an embedded play; there also may be issues of reliability of the GE's records, some of which he deliberately allowed to be stolen by Siona, and so on), cunningly composed with foresight so as to set the scene and actors with foreshadowing from the word go to woe for a classic Greek or Shakespearean tragedy. (Act I, Scene I : "where the ?protagonist? Siona swears vengeance on the Monster-Tyrant, and steals, by Leto's strange sufferance, the Secret Weapon for his destruction - the records made by his own mind of his own vulnerability - exposing his thoughts and human self".)

Leto's life has become tragedy incarnate from the moment he foresaw, and chose?, to embed the sandtrout into his flesh as part of his millenial sacrifice of and for humanity. His prescience is a new incarnation of the old tools of classic tragedy, divine or witchly prophecy (our perhaps weaker substitute in a modern age is generally feeling or the premonitions of psychology.)

Leto's prescience heightens the exquisite triumph/tragedy of his end beyond the normal bounds conventionally achieveable in "real world"-type narratives - here we are invited to contemplate :-

...a God who in a sense foresees, forespeaks and WORKS to bring about his own "end" - both subject and object of prophecy, divine and human, seer and seen...

....a hero, achieving through suffering and death his Golden goal, his love of Humanity...
...a *tragic* hero, in another sense losing his desire (i.e. his mortal love), destroyed by his own flaws (i.e. his hidden vulnerability to mortal love) - as foretold and foredoomed by his own nature...

...a monster, predator and monstrous tyrant, who both deserves and yet does not deserve his end, oppressor of Humanity;
...yet one who is at the selfsame time the greatest sufferer FOR Humanity, one intelligent and sensitive, who must take on willingly millenia of cruelty, losing his physical humanity, to breed only those who can bring his end, and hence the ultimate SURVIVAL of their descendants, finally freeing homo sapiens of shackling repression and sterile prophecy - prophecy which otherwise would have doomed our species to extinction in predicting another Butlerian Jihad that would end with triumph for the Machines, in a Universe with no-one bred to be invisible to prophecy, and so free of its power to conform reality to a single path that might end in sterile death for all it brings together in its vision.

This paean for creative freedom vs. intrusive domination by a would-be Messiah, Prophet, God or Tyrant, in the end trading away the risky but stimulating growth necessary for Life for the conservative security and "peace" of The Single Seen Path may chime with your resentment of authorial dominance in Braid etc. etc. etc.

Krnt2007 wrote:

textes

Seriously?

Insectecutor wrote:
Krnt2007 wrote:

textes

Seriously?

The general point of academia - in the humanities, at least - is to hedge oneself in as unassailable a position as possible by writing things that are impossible to read for most people.

It's what's known as the inward spiral of Western self-referentiality (Rey Chow).

I forced myself to read it and he's pretty much saying his creative interpretation of Dune makes him more powerful than God.

I forgot to add that off-kilter narcissism is also a big part of academia.

Clemenstation wrote:
Insectecutor wrote:
Krnt2007 wrote:

textes

Seriously?

The general point of academia - in the humanities, at least - is to hedge oneself in as unassailable a position as possible by writing things that are impossible to read for most people.

It's what's known as the inward spiral of Western self-referentiality (Rey Chow).

Plus, it's Fraunche!

wordsmythe wrote:
Clemenstation wrote:
Insectecutor wrote:
Krnt2007 wrote:

textes

Seriously?

The general point of academia - in the humanities, at least - is to hedge oneself in as unassailable a position as possible by writing things that are impossible to read for most people.

It's what's known as the inward spiral of Western self-referentiality (Rey Chow).

Plus, it's Fraunche!

I'm French-Canadian and sometimes I do typos of that sort. Can't help it, the hands do it.

You ask me for a reason Braid is purposefully incomprehensible and gives the impression that the artist is screaming "I AM IMPORTANT"? Blow is a huge fan of David Lynch. He uses shots from Mulholland Drive in every lecture he does. nuff said.

fucrate wrote:

You ask me for a reason Braid is purposefully incomprehensible and gives the impression that the artist is screaming "I AM IMPORTANT"? Blow is a huge fan of David Lynch. He uses shots from Mulholland Drive in every lecture he does. nuff said.

I really don't appreciate the condescending attitude that people have towards game designers who try to push storytelling in games forward. I don't know where it stems from but this kind of attitude is all too common