Similar to Portal, Braid is a puzzle game. Puzzles are important to the mind as they offer the opportunity to grow …
There are a number of definitions for “puzzle”, but one I would like to focus on here is: “a particularly baffling problem that is said to have a correct solution.”
Braid came out to critical acclaim less than a year ago. The visual artistic sense is just downright lovely, the story itself feels like a dream, even if I’m still trying to fully understand it, and the music is soothing and inspiring. But, beyond its artistic sensibilities are its unique dimensions as a puzzle.
An effective puzzle will present a task that seems, at first, to have no solution. It may first appear to be deceptively simple, or perhaps immediately confounding. But, eventually, a wall is hit where one realizes that the solution is not immediately apparent.
It is in this moment that a frustration builds. This tension is the paradox created in the mind where it holds simultaneously two contrasting thoughts:
- this is not possible as I do not see a path, and
- this is possible as the creators have designed it as such.
The contrast between these two concurrently held thoughts is the seed from which an answer is grown. With thought, new possibilities are considered and eventually a solution is realized.
Braid’s gameplay and story line emphasize and lead the player to consider the possibilities for solutions in the dimensions of time. It becomes more than a game mechanic. It is also a metaphor for the story that resonates with many of us:
What if we could change the past? What of the past can be changed? What would it even mean to our selves and our own desires if it were possible?
By offering the story as a game – the person begins to think and grow in the state of Play. Jump here, move there, hit “Shift” (which reverses time in several ways), among other actions. Each action affects the character and environment. The environment affects the character.
In Braid, one can reverse the course of the world, but sometimes only certain parts. In life, there may be certain things we can change, but certainly not everything. Still, there are ways to learn and progress.
Towards the end of the game, when there were only four puzzle pieces left (analogous to levels), I was very tempted to cheat. I searched online for “Braid Walkthrough.” However, I ran into this plea from the designer himself to not cheat. And, he was right.
I went back and continued to play, though in frustration, turned away by the game designer himself. I managed to solve two more on my own in the next hour or so and finished the rest a couple of days later after some time away from the computer.
(Yes, I’m bragging that I finished Braid on my own without cheating. It’s my blog, dangit. Though not proud that I searched for a cheat …)
But, beyond that, I had to think through the dimensions that the game laid out. I had to simultaneously think thoroughly of what could be done while also just playing with the environment. Oh! This happens when I do that. What would happen if I did this, too?
This pattern of exploration translates to the world as does any good game. The mind practices, among other lessons:
- just because something does not seem possible at first glance, this may not be the case,
- you may have to play with the environment to know what can be done, and
- an answer can take some time to crystallize, but still will require concentration and effort during that time.
The player not only learns these lessons, but does so by experience, which is much better in terms of learning than that of simply reading the above paragraphs.