Braid’s Procedural Rhetoric

In Braid, the procedural rhetoric succeeds in being expressive and persuasive in conveying the themes of time and regret due to the fact that the mechanics of the game are heavily invested in manipulation of time. Bogost and Flanagan claim that a simulated environment designed with procedural rhetoric will construct and express meanings and values by enabling players into thinking critically about ethical, political and other complex messages (Bogost 2007) (Flanagan 2009). This can be seen to occur in Braid through three key aspects – the ability to rewind time, the unique mechanics of each World, and the shocking reveal at the end of World 1.

Through the procedure of rewinding time, character death is completely avoided. In this way, the player can never “fail” in the traditional platformer sense. There is no total number of lives, no game over screen, and no burden of failure, allowing the player to recover from every mistake. This sense of time and regret that is expressed is not explicit, instead subtly offering the player a chance to reflect upon the question “what if I could go back” (Bogost 2011: 16). Building upon this established mechanic, each World in Braid has its own unique twist in terms of the manipulation of time. In World 4 for example, moving right causes time to flow forward, moving left causes time to flow in reverse, and standing still will pause time altogether. In World 5, rewinding time leads to the creation of a shadow copy of Tim which players can interact with – jumping on Shadow Tim to reach a higher platform. These unique mechanics in each World are all concerned with the notion of regret and time, showing how these procedures in the game are designed to encourage players to reflect on the nature of time itself, “the past” and be wiser after the experience (Wills 2011)

This builds into an emotional climax created through a time reverse in World 1, the final level of the game. The level depicts the Princess attempting to escape from the knight, working in sync with Tim to pull levers and surpass obstacles. After Tim successfully climbs the last ladder to reach her house, the game triggers the level to replay itself, but this time in reverse. It shows the Princess running from Tim and evading his attempts to get to her, escaping in the arms of the knight instead. World 1 unveils that the role of Tim and the player is inverted from saviour to the actual “monster” that the Princess is running from.

From this, we can observe how the different procedures of manipulating time are interlinked in their exploration of the themes of time and regret. What makes World 1 so emotionally wrenching for the player – to the point where they feel regret themselves – is the amount of time and investment in learning and perfecting the different procedures of time manipulation throughout the game (Sliva 2012). Braid thus takes on the guise of the seemingly familiar genre of the platformer – in which the objective of the player is to rescue a princess from a monster – and turns it “into an allegorical exploration of the themes of time and regret” (Bogost 2011: 12), delivering the cathartic and horrifying truth that was at the centre of the rhetoric.

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