“Seriously, professor, if you would just try other games, I promise you’ll find something that you could see as art.”


I can’t remember how many times I uttered these words to my essay-writing teacher during my sophomore year of college. I tend to connect lessons and ideas learned in the academic setting to video games I have played. It’s how my brain works. If I can extract an idea from a video game, something deeper down than the gameplay and graphics, I can usually find some way it could be dissected in an academic setting.


But time and time again, my teacher would implore me to stop bringing the subject up, as no video game could possibly approach the artistic quality of novels or essays we had read.


So I, being the stubborn Irish boy from New York, decided to prove her wrong, once and for all. Maybe I was just angry. But deep down, I just wanted another excuse to write about games. So that’s what I did.


One day in class, we were dissecting and mimicking a group of essays that can be defined as “braid” essays. The essential point of a braid essay is to weave three or more points of view or storylines into one seamless narrative. In other words, take several completely separate ideas and merge them. Through the confluence of individual thoughts, a complete story manifests.


Naturally I, being the nerd I am, immediately thought of Jonathan Blow’s Braid as soon as I read the word braid. Little did I know that I had just stumbled on what I believe to be the namesake of the game. The video game Braid is itself, a braid story.


Professor Nichols tasked us with writing our own braid essay, so I completed that with ease, drawing ideas from one of my favorite games I’ve ever experienced. Then, she hit us with yet another assignment: find an example of a braid story in modern media.




She had no idea what she had just gotten herself into. The list of media included film, novels, essays, television, and even blogs. Video games were nowhere to be seen. This was my golden ticket for a tour of the revenge factory.


Below is the exact essay I wrote, aside from the images, which I added here. Different gamers will have different views of Braid’s meaning, but that is one of the reasons that it’s such an incredible creation to begin with. Please forgive the length of this post, but I didn't want to edit the essay further than I already had.


The video game Braid released for the Xbox Live Arcade in 2008, to a largely unsuspecting audience. At first glance, the title seemed to showcase intuitive gameplay based around the mechanics of time. Concepts such as forgiveness, regret, and mystery, and how they are changed by time, are portrayed incredibly as the protagonist Tim embarks on his search.


Enough about the gameplay, and forget about the gorgeous art that adorns the backdrop of each individual realm Tim traverses. Ignore the spine-tingling music that reaches its apexes at all the right moments. As a story, Braid lives up to its name.


Through the use of three different points of view, the game’s creator, Jonathan Blow, has crafted a tale that can’t be boiled down to one universal meaning. While there are several prominent elements that many the world over have recognized, the game’s interwoven messages take on new meaning with every viewing agent.


Between worlds filled with mind-bending puzzles revolving around the concept of time, there lie dozens of books containing a non-linear story that, at first, makes little sense in the context of the game. The essential idea is that Tim has embarked on a quest to find “the princess.” Mistakes were made, and now he is off to right his wrongs, and rescue her from the horrible monster that has snatched her.


The one thing that Tim remembers of her departure is her braid, lashing across his face as she leaves him, eager to escape after the myriad mistakes he made. Tim wishes he could just say “I’m sorry,” and it would all be forgiven. She would forget, and they would move on as if nothing has happened. But that isn’t how relationships work between two who truly care about each other. Beneath the façade of comfort lie uneasiness and distrust.


As the story progresses, it is clear that Tim is incredibly protective of the mysterious princess, before she departed at least. However, the truth of the matter unfolds before the player’s eyes: it was Tim’s over-protectiveness that drove away the princess in the first place. A man’s eagerness to secure what he thinks to be the perfect relationship becomes the single thing that destroys it. A true Catch-22.


An even grimmer fact emerges, as gamers realize that the girl with whom Tim had originally been bound to, was not, in fact, the princess. Or at least, she wasn’t providing the relationship that Tim wanted to have. He needed something perfect; blind to the fact that such a dynamic doesn’t exist. His tight hold on the idea of “the princess” is his single most detrimental characteristic. It drove away his real princess, and now he was striving to earn her forgiveness.


Before the player comes to the fourth world, which contains the mysteries of time and place, they are given a peak into Tim’s thoughts as he strolls through his old neighborhood. He realizes that his feelings are what truly lead him to his princess, and that by following them he will find the castle that has become her cage. Although he was still with his true love, his feelings towards the perfect relationship meant he was as good as gone.


And yet, the simple text belies a second meaning: a man’s quest for knowledge. Studying and researching, he strives to discover his “princess.” Only this time, the princess is not as far out of reach as that of a man yearning for a perfect relationship. No, this princess lies waiting in the atoms of life itself. The destruction of entire nations, the end of all wars, and the power of a thousand suns: the atomic bomb.


This man’s obsession with creating the bomb can be compared to the former’s need for security. Although it is not completely out of the question, the end result has the potential to be catastrophic. The bomb erupts, just as the other man’s lover does. There is no turning back. The world knows the bomb is possible, and the woman will never forget the first man’s mistake.


"On that moment hung eternity. Time stood still. Space contracted to a pinpoint. 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…”


This quote, taken from Bombs in the Backyard: Atomic Testing and American Politics, depicts the first atomic implosion in the desert of New Mexico. Coincidentally, it can also symbolize the breaking point of a relationship between a man and a woman. After so long, so many days spent together, how can anything compare to it? And all of this fallout, literal and metaphoric, is a result of man’s selfish desires.


And the third story: a child, eager to reach the candy on the other side of a storefront window. Really? After two complicated, adult-oriented, universal problems have been depicted in the first two strands of the braid?


This is what makes Braid genius. The fact that Jonathan Blow has compared the needs of an adult man and the creation of a weapon of mass destruction to the desire of a small child is what ties this braid story together. The prize lies just on the other side of a pane of glass, so close yet so far.


The child’s mother is bearing the brunt of his immature tendencies. He pulls on her braided hair and yanks on her arm. He hurts her, yet she continues to walk past the same store window every day. Why does she do this? She does this because she thinks that he is too young to know better. When you’re older, you can have the candy, the “ethical calculus’ and the “magnetic monopole.” She thinks that it is in a child’s nature to want. Much like it’s in a man’s nature to desire a relationship that suits him. And lastly, it is in man’s nature to push the bounds of his knowledge further and further, regardless of the potential consequences.


All three strands share something in common: the disastrous conclusions are all the result of the agent’s desires. The candy, knowledge, and perfection bring about destruction, and nothing more.


The evidence? As the gameplay draws to an end, Tim chases after the princess, trailing beneath her after she has escaped the clutches of a dangerous knight. She aids Tim. She lowers bridges for him to cross pits of burning lava; she drops ladders so he can climb over obstacles. Finally, at long last, he reaches her. And once again, the concept of time is utilized, and the gameplay reverses.


Now, the truth escapes. Tim is chasing the princess again, yet she is not helping him closer to her. She raises the ladders aiding him; she raises bridges that helped him on the way here. And she finds comfort in the arms of that knight, who now appears valiant instead of malignant.


Three strands, three separate characters, and one unique story. One braid that unifies individual ideas. A true Braid story, in every sense of the word.




Flash forward one year, and I received an email from my former essay-writing instructor. I hadn’t seen or talked to her since I participated in her class, so the message was a bit of a surprise to me. Basically, she was asking how my college career was faring, how I liked the school nowadays, and how my editor position with the paper was treating me.


And there, at the bottom of the page, was an attachment. It was titled “Braid assignment.” Next to it, she had written, “check this out.”


Opening it, I remembered the assignment, and the content of my essay all came rushing back to me. Why the rubric, though?


And there, under “acceptable media for assignment content,” were the words: video games.