Methods and Mediums

M&M – “Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons”

A charming puzzle game about two brothers on a journey to cure their dying father.

It feels like, as a creator, I’ve only been conscious for… maybe two or so years

Until then, I had possessed no idea just how powerful a medium of storytelling could be. Of course, I knew that movies were interesting and books were fun to read, but I never managed to pinpoint how or why some were enjoyable but not others. I could tell some stories were brilliant, but it was inexplicable.

Why do book to movie adaptations always suck? Why are game to movie adaptations somehow even worse??? And then, opposite, why is fanfiction of a TV show sometimes better than the show?????

These questions, I know now, have answers, and I only found those answers after playing a certain highly-rated game in 2014, after I bought it on Steam Sale on a whim. So, just to be clear, I’m going to talk about the absolute biggest spoiler of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (developed by Starbreeze Studios) under the cut. Seriously, the spoiler is going to be right there, I’m not mincing my words here.

Only proceed if you have played the game or know with absolute certainty that you have absolutely no intention of playing the game. 

So yeah, how ’bout that ending, huh? Naia biting the dust like that, leaving Naiee on his own, yikes. In case that wasn’t spoilery enough for you guys, Naia’s the one in blue in the picture up there. The tall one. Yeah, the elder brother. That one.

Now, you may be wondering, “Wow, was it really necessary to spoil that ending – how does that relate to this blog topic at all? People die in fiction all the time, big whoop.” See, that’s where my post comes into play. With this game, I introduce to you my concept of Methods and Mediums.

For the uninitiated, let me give you some background about this game first. It’s a relatively simple game, a puzzle game where you play two brothers who set off to the Tree of Life in order to find a cure for their dying father. Their dad is all they have – their mother drowned in front of the younger boy, Naiee, before our story begins.

The selling point of this game is, however, that you control both boys at the same time at all times. In fact, to solve most of the puzzles, you need to be manipulating both brothers at once. Some people choose to split the boys between themselves and a friend, but I played it alone, and I think it was arguably the better experience.

So with my left hand controlling the older brother and my right hand, the younger, I traveled the world, did the puzzles… sometimes the younger brother struggled to do certain things – too short to pull levers, too weak to do heavy lifting, and most significantly, implied to be traumatized by his mother’s death, Naiee was afraid of water. Whenever there was a body of water, I had to press younger brother’s ‘action’ key to to have him cling to his older brother’s back as I used the older brother to swim.

Like so.

The controls in this game were simple enough. You control the older brother with the left directional keys (or analog stick) and the younger brother with the right set, and both characters had their own ‘action’ key – now, those ones, those action keys were special.

They were used to have the brothers work together to move a heavy cart or to have them take climbing up a cliff. When there was nothing to interact with, I could have the characters call each other’s names and wave from afar. It was cute and heartwarming to see Naia and Naiee interact. It wasn’t all fun and games – they had their rough moments – but they loved each other, trusted each other, and needed each other. I was a part of that relationship, and I was nurturing that relationship.

And then Naia up and dies at the Tree of Life.

Irony. Pain. I somehow didn’t cry right then. Immersed as I was, I had weathered fictional deaths before. But then I realized, as I played the younger brother, moved on in attempts to at least save the father’s life, I came to the chilling revelation that my left hand had nothing to do.

Just remembering right now sent a shiver down my spine, and heck, I’m starting to reinstall the game right now just to experience that moment again. You have to understand, this game spends its entirety forcing you to use both hands at all times. Sometimes it’s a little bit of a mind game, especially when you’re using a keyboard instead of a controller. And then it renders one of your hands useless. Geez, just cut it off why don’t you, writers.

I physically felt the loss. By killing off Naia, the developers of the game had removed an actual physical aspect of the game from me, and that moment is when I realized… oh.

This. This was a story that only a video game could tell. Or, I suppose that’s not quite true. A story like this could have been a movie. It could have been a book. It could have been a comic or a picture book, it could have been anything. But none of those other mediums could have told the story in this way, this well, with this effect. It was a method of storytelling that could only have been used in the medium chosen, and it is now my belief that this is the mark of a good story.

With Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, no other medium could have had me feel the loss so vividly, had my left arm feel numb. Worst and most wonderful of all, that wasn’t the end of it. Upon returning to his hometown with father’s medicine in tow, Naiee finds that the rain had caused a flood and he needs to swim to make it back home… but he can’t do it.

I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I floundered for a good few minutes, running around trying to see what I’d missed. Every time I held down the younger brother’s action button, he would weep, mourning his brother. Then, there was that dawning moment where I knew what I was meant to do, but was also unsure – “No, they couldn’t have… they didn’t think of that,” I thought. But they did.

To move onward, to have Naiee conquer his fear, I had to press the older brother’s action button. And once I pressed it, using my left hand for the first time since his death, Naiee and I could both hear his voice, encouraging him, and that’s when my tears began to fall.

An endearing story masterfully told with a method only its chosen medium could.

Sure, it’s not a game for everyone, and there are few who would name it the best game of all time or even its year. However, to me it was an eye-opener. It helped me take a step away from the role of a passive fan and start thinking like a creator.

My aspiration is to become a multifaceted storyteller, someone who can choose the absolute best medium for every story I have to tell. Novelist. Comic writer. Scriptwriter. Playwright. Video Game Designer. I want to be them all.

And, uh, that’s all I have time for this week, folks. Geez, am I setting a +1k word standard for these blog posts? Future-me is going to hate me.

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