October 30, 2008

The Allegory

The story of indie developer 2D Boy's puzzle game World of Goo is apparently a metaphor for designer Kyle Gabler's experience working at EA. It explores the theme of stifled creativity in the face of technical progression and uninspired factory production lines. World of Goo's text is mostly optional; printed on signs scattered throughout the game world. Given the allegorical bent of the game, players might be inclined to use the sign text as a Rosetta stone, assigning the gameplay and images metaphorical meaning in the context of the story as it appears on the signs. They might make connections between a phrase and a gameplay element where none was actually intended, because they're conditioned to look for that stuff.

If that's the case I wonder what it would be like if you removed all the text from World of Goo and replaced it with the cryptic books from Braid. Maybe new players would sense the narrative-gameplay incongruity, or maybe they wouldn't, and consider it an allegorical puzzle needing to be solved. Players might even be completely convinced in their theory of what this arbitrary Frankenstein's monster is really about.

[This contains spoilers for the actual and hypothetical stories of Braid and World of Goo.]

Tim is off on a search to rescue the Princess. She waits for him up on high ledges or behind spiky walls, never quite close enough to him. Tim desires to reach out and hold her again, but the distance between them sometimes seems impossible.

From his grief at their separation, Tim has taken the shape of goo; like the disseminated mercury T-1000 or the Black Oil in the X-Files. He chases the Princess across time. By her touch he will be fulfilled, completed.

Tim made a mistake. She slipped from his touch, became more distant.

What if our world worked differently? Could we turn back the clock on a mistake? Yes, we could, always, but only five times in a row and then we'd have to make some more moves while it recharged.

He felt on his trip that every place stirred up a time and a location from his past. He and the Princess had once walked together in lush gardens and dazzling red carpets. She had no fear then of his closeness.

Tim worked his ruler and his compass. He scrutinized the twisting of metal orbs hanging from a thread. Always to reach the Princess. He built his towers on sturdy foundations so they could break into the heavens. One day his work beget a castle, a triumph of his dedication and ambition. But there was no Princess in the castle.

Tim wants to find the Princess, to know her at last. For Tim this would be momentous, sparking an intense light that embraces the world, wherein we can exist in peace. The light would be intense and warm at the beginning, but then flicker down to nothing.

When at last he touched the face of the Princess, she took ill and exploded into several pieces. Tim's perceptions ran contrariwise; while he had thought the Princess lost, she had in actuality been hiding from him.

She had reason to fear him. Tim was a pestilence, a disease. Smallpox, they called him. Tim was, in his life, constantly mutating, evolving into deadly new strains of the virus. Variola major, variola minor; each spreading his infectious caress.

Tim needed to be immune to the Princess's caring touch. He would transform her, and everyone. They had schemed to eradicate him, to shrug him away with a stab in the arm. The World Health Organization had tried the ring vaccination, and the ring made its presence known. It shined out to others like a beacon of warning. It made people slow to approach. Suspicion. Distrust.

In 1978, he learned to trace a path through their defenses. He became airborne, traveling through air currents and into service ducts.

Tim walked in the cool air toward the university. The Corporation had isolated him in a research laboratory in Birmingham, England. From his prison he climbed higher and higher, through the tubes to the Anatomy department above, to the room with the telephone. At last he had his freedom, at last he had the Princess.

The world looked upon the Corporation with horror; decried their mistake. The professor said: "Now we are all sons of bitches."

The mistake was irreversible. All they could do was put an end to Tim, the viral outbreak. Fantastic advances in scientific technology were sufficient quickly contain him. Someone said: "It worked!" They high-fived each other. It was a great day.

Year by year, memories of Tim became muddled, replaced wholesale. Had the experience of the mistake made us wiser? We prepared ourselves for the threat of a new pathogen: another germ, another planet.

To stockpile an appropriate amount of vaccine would need many tests. But attaching these blowfish to the telescope and the island and lifting it all into the sky seemed (pretty much) like an acceptable start.

Who has see the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads
The wind is passing by.
-- Christina Rossetti



Michael Peterson said...

I think you are officially my favorite game critic.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes, to get the girl, you have to liquidate her?

Anonymous said...

Great story as always