Personal Puzzles

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Ian here—

When you first start playing Eli Piilonen’s The Company of Myself (2DArray, 2009), it feels as if someone found a way to perfectly weld together a diary entry with a puzzle platformer. This was back in the heady days in the wake of Jonathan Blow’s Braid (Number None, 2008), when the public at large was still reeling over the idea that puzzle mechanics could mean something. And, at first glance, The Company of Myself seems to take this trend and go somewhere quite confessional with it. Its central mechanic of cloning yourself to solve puzzles stood as a perfect expression of feelings of self-reliance. And not just any self-reliance, either, but rather that specifically incorrigible mode of self-reliance that emerges when one is a bit too much of an unreconstructed introvert, refusing even the most basic forms of assistance because you desperately wish to not bother, or to be bothered by, anybody.

The “cloning” mechanic has popped up elsewhere in games—for instance The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom (The Odd Gentleman, 2010)—but The Company of Myself was more ambitious, wedding the mechanic with a personal story of interior life. Or, at least, it seems to do this, until you realize the whole thing is bullshit. The story takes an eleventh-hour delve into the lurid, revealing itself as an over-the-top fiction, rather than a form of sincere self-expression on the part of its creator.

The Company of Myself takes the easy way out, tacking on an over-dramatic denouement that destroys its potential as a diary-game. But … what if it didn’t? Could one actually use puzzles to communicate the intricacies of internal lived experience, in an emotionally sincere way? In this entry, I’ll be looking at two games that try: Liz Ryerson’s intimate and beguiling Problem Attic (2013), and Atrax Media’s more slick and straightforward Sym (2015). Along the way, I’ll also be dipping a bit into Braid, just because it’s hard to talk about contemporary puzzle platformers without doing so.

Problem Attic, Liz Ryerson, and Braid

Well, perhaps I overstated things a bit. Perhaps it’s possible to talk about contemporary puzzle platformers without invoking Braid. But it’s certainly not possible to talk about Problem Attic without at least mentioning Jonathan Blow’s precursor, because the game is partially inspired by it.

This influence is already evident in Problem Attic‘s main title screen. If you squint a little, the uneven mosaic of squares that houses your stick figure avatar resembles the room layout of Braid‘s main level menu.

And then there’s the title. It’s a silly pun, yes. But it’s also, I think, another tip of the hat (or perhaps twist of the knife) to Braid. After all, which inaccessible room in Braid‘s house do you finally gain access to at the game’s climax? That links to the game’s famed “rescue the princess” level? Why, none other than the attic.

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Before you go giving me any credit for thematically connecting Problem Attic and Braid, you should know that years after the game’s original release, Ryerson herself made this connection explicit, in an article that serves double duty as a postmortem look at her creation process for Problem Attic, and a critical appreciation of Braid.[i] There, Ryerson makes it clear that certain questions have been nagging her in the years since first playing Braid, and that the game perhaps plays too fast and loose with the implied acts of violence in the “rescue the princess” level. Just how much of a monster are we supposed to take the game’s protagonist, Tim, to be, anyway?

Is it implying he might have raped her? The narrative never explicitly goes there, but there’s enough reason to read into it, with Tim having been physically forceful to her before in the past, through the game’s stories. Not to mention the imagery of him creeping into the bedroom of the sleeping princess, and the explosion that immediately follows, as if it’s a particularly painful memory he instantly represses.

Ryerson ultimately charges the game with “attempting to rationalize or justify [Tim’s] guilt without really delving much into its source.” The game doesn’t explore redemption, Ryerson posits, so much as it does excusing past behavior. “Look at all the stuff he’s done, and how smart he is! It’s the most common argument made for successful artists and thinkers who have done bad things throughout history.”

Ryerson’s critical piece on Braid takes its place among a history of feminist readings of the game. It’s worth going into this history just a little bit, as it provides us some insight onto Blow and the reception of his work that will become useful later on when digging more into Problem Attic. So forgive me an excursus here.[ii]

Holly M. of the blog Feministe authored one of the first feminist interpretations of the game, in a post that hit just days after the game’s initial release on the Xbox 360. Her interpretation of Tim’s behavior picks up on the most obvious cues presented in the “rescue the princess” sequence: “My take is that [Tim is] a stalker ex-boyfriend who only thinks he can “rescue” a woman he’s obsessed with from the man she dated after him.”

It’s a worthwhile starting point for an analysis. (A meditation on gender relations and an inability to properly reality-test one’s own behavior is definitely where my mind went, as I played that sequence.) Moreover, the author admirably frames her interpretation as partial, provisional, as one of many possible takes. “I can’t say for sure exactly what Jonathan Blow was trying to say with all of this flowery text,” she writes, “and I’m not sure he’d tell me even if I asked him the next time we cross paths. We’re left to make our own interpretations.” Given M.’s generally magnanimous demeanor, it is telling that, in a later interview with Chris Dahlen of The A.V. Club, Blow called out this review in particular. On the one hand, he echoed the general “everyone’s entitled to their own interpretations” sentiment, but while doing this he also simultaneously positioned his own interpretation of the game as intrinsically privileged, and brushed off any and all gender-based readings:

I’ve read a lot of these blogs, hoping to read good game criticism. … And in fact, often it’ll be somebody has an agenda—like, there was a very feminist-oriented critique of Braid [on Feministe.us] and it was an author following her feminist agenda and interpreting the game. Which was fine, but it didn’t have much to do with what I put in the game.

Four years later, in his testy interview with Taylor Clark of The Atlantic, Blow still seems sore on the subject, again displaying hostility towards any reading of Braid that focuses on its representation of gender dynamics. “[P]eople play the final level with the princess and then latch onto the interpretation that it’s like an M. Night Shyamalan surprise ending,” Blow says here, “Like, ‘Oh, shit—Tim was a stalker the whole time!’ But that doesn’t even make sense.”

However disappointed we may be by Blow’s clearly-telegraphed hostility towards feminist analysis, there’s something else at issue, as well. Blow has consistently staked out a privileged position for himself as the sole arbitrator of Braid‘s “true” meaning. The gaming press, not yet as primed to recognize the intentional fallacy as their counterparts in other types of criticism, do not call him out on this—indeed, they outright feed into it. Chris Dahlen, in the introduction to his Blow interview, aptly demonstrates this eagerness to coronate a new game design genius, and inaugurate a cult of personality:

Braid isn’t a subjective work of creativity: it’s a system, meticulously designed to convey a meaning that really isn’t up to broad interpretation. If you think the puzzles are too rigid, or you hate the text—maybe it’s because you don’t understand the point. If you pull an interpretation out of thin air, it’s probably wrong. And if that sounds arrogant—well, cut him some slack; it is a very good game.

There’s a lot to unpack in those three sentences, but it’s worth unpacking, because it’s something you see often in the rhetoric surrounding Blow’s games—both things that he himself says, and that other say about him. First, there’s the basic invocation of proceduralismBraid makes meaning in different ways than other artworks do: it is a system, that behaves in certain predictable ways. Dahlen, though, goes further than someone like Ian Bogost would, by claiming that, because the game is a “system designed to convey a meaning,” than that meaning is sacrosanct, positioned beyond interpretive acts. We then pivot from an impassioned cry for the “objective” meaning of a work of art to a coronation of its creator. Blow can do no wrong. He is a Great Artist, and being a great artist means that his work is above reproach. If you don’t like it, if you have any criticism of it whatsoever, it’s because you don’t get it. (This is a 1:1 Venn diagram. Taste plays no part in this.)

Blow’s attitude toward his work, and critics’ general enabling of it, speaks, I think, to the discourse of “games as art” that was rapidly evolving at the moment Braid came out. At this particular historical juncture, game critics tended to have a reflex towards establishing a canon of great works, and correspondingly canonizing these works’ creators as unassailable geniuses. This gathered into a perfect storm in the case of Braid.

I’ll admit that, in this last few paragraphs, I have drifted quite far from Ryerson’s own feminist critique of Braid. But I think laying this groundwork is necessary, as it speaks to certain attitudes that Problem Attic bounces off of, or in some cases even absorbs. Alright: back to the game at hand.

Never compromise. Never Surrender.

Based on Ryerson’s critique of Braid, one might expect Problem Attic to depart quite drastically from the sort of “infallible intention syndrome” we see at work in Blow’s output and demeanor. After all, she outright describes Blow’s worldview as “Desperate, emotional pleading for a dispassionate, subatomic view of the world, while decrying the messy social realities of the earth as less important or less profound.” (This passage describes Blow just as well as it describes anyone who has ever argued online in favor of “objective game reviews,” or against “bringing politics into games.”)

The odd thing, though, is that Problem Attic doesn’t depart from Braid in this regard. Not entirely, anyway.

Sure, Problem Attic is messier than Braid. “In Jon Blow’s design parlance, her game was a failure,” Ryerson writes (in the third person). “It was not stripped to its barest elements, it was not palatable in every way except its one challenging central mechanic…. It was filled with unpredictable, unanticipated twists and turns, awkward movements, and sudden changes of theme.” We’re a far cry here from Braid, which Blow boasts to Dahlen has “very meticulous scientific kinds of puzzles,” which forsake the messiness of “player creativity and exploration” in favor of “focus” and “clarity.”

Still, though, the two games have similar attitudes toward their respective players: they don’t cut them any slack.

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Both games are difficult to interpret. (Although I do get the sense that Ryerson is much more interested in ambiguity and collaborative meaning-making than she is in playing Blow’s tired game of interpretive three-card monte.)

But Problem Attic is also just hard to make sense of, in a way that goes deeper than interpretive difficulty. Traditional puzzle design tends to be about making players feel as if they just need one more move or just need one more ability to continue on. Problem Attic, by contrast, constantly makes us feel as if we just need some more basic information in order to know what to do. “Hostile opacity” would be a fair description of the game’s aesthetic, from rules to objectives to graphics.

Along with Blow, Ryerson has listed a number of contemporary UK game developers—Steven Lavelle, Terry Cavanagh, and Michael Brough among them—as her primary influences. Personally, I also see Droqen, self-described maker of “games and opaque things,” as one of her fellow-travellers, if not a direct influence. Much like Droqen’s Starseed Pilgrim (2013), which Droquen describes as being both “about discovery and learning,” and “a game you have to experience for yourself,” players of Problem Attic are plunked down in an abstract set of tiles, told nothing about the rules and physics governing this world, and given no explicit objectives. At least, though, in Starseed Pilgrim, you can pretty much always see your character onscreen. The same can’t be said for Problem Attic, with its aggressively user-unfriendly approach to concepts like “background” and “foreground.”

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What is this I don’t even …

Brendon Vance, in his very good analysis of Problem Attic, celebrates how the game bucks the conventional knowledge about not only what good UI is, but more generally about what function UI is supposed to perform in a game:

As an industry we put faith in the idea that there is intrinsic value in the games we develop, although we don’t think very expansively about what that could be; instead we abstract it, using ugly words like “content” as placeholders for value without ever proving that it truly exists. We then set about designing incredible machines that shuttle players towards these placeholders with extremely high efficiency, which as designers is really what we’re good at. We make the interface as usable as we can because players need it in order to learn the rules. We teach the rules very carefully because players need them in order to grok the dynamics. We shape our dynamics strategically because enacting them is what will stimulate players to feel the aesthetics. Somewhere at the core of all this, we suppose, lives the “content” players are attempting to access.

Vance, here, echoes the counterintuitive sentiments voiced by Jesper Juul way back in his 2009 conference paper “Easy to Use and Incredibly Difficult: On the Mythical Border Between Interface and Gameplay.” Juul was a big influence on me as I thought through the potential of fumblecore games, so needless to say I’m predisposed to finding Vance’s framing of Problem Attic insightful and persuasive.

And yet, as compelling as I find Vance’s points, I also think there is value in moderation. The deliberate rejection of UI norms is all well and good, as is the deliberate cultivation of confusion as a crucial part of a game’s affective palette. I don’t, though, get the sense that Problem Attic is engineered to encourage moments of epiphany, as Vance insists. If you really want to push people towards moments of epiphany, it is better to leave a few more witness marks in your game, thinks that can gradually push them to the desired moment of “clicking.”[iii] If you allow players to stumble around blindly for long periods of time, they are just as likely to happen upon a solution by accident as they are to have a “scales falling from their eyes” moment. And Problem Attic is quite happy to allow its players to stumble around blindly, to a remarkable extent.

Although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Problem Attic could have used some additional playtesting, I do think it’s important when working in any art form to pay attention to what your audience is picking up on, what they aren’t, and adjust things accordingly. This is admittedly a tricky issue, and I understand any artist’s hesitancy toward “fixing” their art based on feedback. Ryerson’s hostility to this practice, though, strikes me as hyperbolic, as revealed in the following exchange in an interview with Robert Yang, in which she laments people (including Yang!) not “getting” her work:

RY: If people aren’t getting it, is that a sign to maybe… compromise, a little?

LR: [appalled] No! That just seems so wrong.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter if I agree with Ryerson or not on the issue of compromising with players. (After all, what do I know: I never really could get into Starseed Pilgrim, either, and lots of people love that.) The main takeaway here is that both Braid and Problem Attic house some vague antagonism (or just “tough love”) toward their players. This antagonism takes divergent forms. Blow has coronated himself as the supreme commander of Braid‘s meaning, labeling competing interpreters pretenders to the throne. Ryerson doesn’t shoot deny the validity of interpretations so much as she renders coming to any interpretation (or, indeed, simply finishing the game) incredibly difficult, with her compromise-averse design philosophy.

Meaning Making in Problem Attic

Alright: now. Time for analysis. What is Problem Attic about?

Part of me fears to tread here. Again, Ryerson mentions that even personal friends didn’t “get” the game. In an interview for Don’t Die, Ryerson recounts her exasperation that people close to her didn’t adequately “try and figure out what was going on and piece [the game’s meaning] together,” given that it was “somebody you actually know” who made the game. If Ryerson doesn’t think personal friends who knew what was going on in her life at the time of making the game figured its meaning out, who am I to try?

If we’re going to venture there, though, I’ll start by saying that I like a lot of the interpretive touches in Vance’s analysis. I think he’s right to posit that the “plus” enemies are coded as masculine and the “square” enemies are coded as feminine, and I think the way he frames the occasional usefulness of these enemies in gendered terms is spot-on.

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I also find his interpretation of the “Red Room” level as the site of a personal trauma for the character you’re controlling to be intriguing. It explains why your character glitches through the walls rather than enter it when you attempt to return to it in Act II, and it also resonates with Ryerson’s criticism of Braid dancing around a possible trauma, rather than truly confronting its fallout.

Synthesizing Vance’s reading with some of my own further thoughts, I propose this: I think that the game is, in part, about trans identity. I think that Vance gets the role of the plusses and the squares right, and I further posit that the reason they act as both enemies and tools at various parts of the game is that the game attempts to communicate a hyperawareness of gendered codes of behavior—the sort of hyperawareness that might result from analyzing one’s behavior as one transitions in the public eye. I think that Vance is right, and that there is likely a central trauma that our character is working through—a trauma that, like the trauma in Braid that no one seems to acknowledge, happened “in the attic,” so to speak. I’m not sure what the purpose is of the verbal abuse the game frequently throws up on the screen is. It might be the player-character lashing out at an abuser, or it might be an attempt to make us, as players, feel the abuse that has been directed at our player-character. I reserve the right to revisit these details in the future.

Anyway: those are some broad themes. Now, let’s finally get to a puzzle, to see how they manifest themselves. For my first example, I’m turning to the “Act II” version of the brown room puzzle.

This level has a gimmick: upon hitting a button, you can teleport a set distance to the right of the screen. In a more traditional platformer, this might be used to get you past an obstacle, but since Problem Attic is relentlessly experimental in how it uses its tileset, here there is another possibility: it might completely re-jigger the parts of the environment that serve as the medium of your locomotion, versus the parts of the environment that serve as obstacles. That is, it has the possibility of completely resetting the values of “space” and “wall.”

I think this gimmick is, simply put, utterly brilliant. It’s just as show-stopping as the twisty gimmicks that have popped up in some of the most notable indie 2D platformers in the past decade, including and yet it moves (Broken Rules, 2009) and VVVVVV (Terry Cavanagh, 2010). At the same time, though, the method of its inclusion is so utterly distinct to Ryerson’s overall approach. It stubbornly lacks a proper introduction. To prompt this new ability, you press a button that previously had a different function, and here changed suddenly, without warning. It arrives alongside a collecting goal, which is entirely new to Problem Attic, and is again entirely unexplained. So many new elements are thrown at the player so quickly, accompanied by so little pedagogical effort put forward to help them acclimate themselves to their new abilities and goals.

There’s a sort of harmonic interference that emerges here between the exciting new mechanics on display, and the absolute indifference with which they’re thrown at the player. On one side, I think the ability to “phase into” walls and radically re-cast the relationship between positive and negative space expresses a theme of transition and boundary crossing between different sets of norms or relations to the world—something that resonates nicely with my overall reading of the game as, generally speaking, a narrative of trans experience. On the other side of things, I think the game’s hostile indifference to the player here attaches a specific attitude toward this ability. In another game, this “phasing” ability might seem cool and empowering, a new tool in an ever-increasing arsenal of moves. In Problem Attic, though, any and all “empowerment” is always matched by proportional confusion. Yes, we can use this “phasing” ability to complete this level. Yes, it looks like we’ll probably have to. But it’s not supposed to be “fun.” It’s supposed to be disorienting. Code-switching to navigate multiple environments is stressful. Even if your hyperawareness of certain social norms—say, gender norms—allows you to do it effectively, that doesn’t mean a sense of “empowerment” necessarily overshadows the uneasiness and uncertainty you might feel doing it.

The game’s opacity has a similar effect in the puzzle that makes up Act II’s yellow room.

Even with the luxurious possibilities of embedded video at our fingertips, it is difficult to express just how broken this level feels when you first encounter it. Suddenly, without warning, you are no longer directly controlling the stick figure onscreen, as you have been the entire game up until now. Instead, you are controlling sets of plus-signs, some of which travel along a vertical axis, and some of which travel along a horizontal one. Using these plus signs, you can play a sort of virtual foosball, indirectly pushing your onscreen character around to the exit.

Again: an intriguing idea for a level, delivered with alarming indifference. If introduced in a more traditional manner, this mechanic might strike the player as exceedingly clever, and this level might be somewhat fun. By throwing it at us unexpectedly, though, the game engenders, in a woozy and terrifying moment, a surprisingly profound feeling of dissociation and self-alienation.

There’s a particular strain of phenomenological description I love that one finds in early critical literature on games: Authors, arriving in the 1980s to videogames as adults, attempt to describe what it’s like to not recognize yourself represented onscreen. Patricia Marks Greenfield offers this lamentation, recounting her first experience of playing of Pac-Man: “when I started, I found I could not even distinguish Pac-Man, whom I was supposed to control, from the other blobs on the screen!”[iv] David Sudnow, likewise, reports “not knowing who ‘I’ was among the various moving objects on screen, not even sure ‘I’ was there.”[v] This described experience may mostly be lost to the ages—who among us, playing games today, doesn’t know how to spot our avatar onscreen?—but Problem Attic does its best to resurrect it. Sometimes, this takes the form of hiding our onscreen character behind some occluding tiles. In this yellow room level, though, it adds a new trick to its vocabulary of disorientation, by ripping away direct control of the figure we’ve been used to controlling onscreen until now. The effect is psychologically jarring, and, I think, an attempt to express some of the dissociative effects of trauma that were glanced at, but left incompletely acknowledged, in Braid.

Sympathy Machine

The Company of Myself expresses a personal feeling through elegant, perfectly-matched puzzle mechanics, but its personal voice disappointingly gives way to lurid fiction. Problem Attic remains intensely personal and intimate throughout, but its mechanical metaphors are warped by hallucinatory obfuscation. Sym, a puzzle platformer about social anxiety released by Italian firm Atrax Media in 2015, charts a middle way.

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When I taught rhetorics of empathy in gaming in my “Frames, Claims and Videogames” course, I established a quick-and-dirty division between what we might call “personal games” versus what we might call “advocacy games.” Broadly speaking, the former tend to be diaristic explorations of the emotional lived experience of their creator. Here, we find work such as Anna Anthropy’s Dys4ia (2012), Maddox Pratt’s Anhedonia (2013), or Amy and Ryan Green’s That Dragon, Cancer (2016). The latter, by contrast, are made by designers setting out to create some sort of impact or awareness of a situation they themselves might not be intimately involved in. Here, you find things like the output of Gonzalo Frasca, Molleindustria, Ian Bogost’s Persuasive Games firm, and various other things under the “games for change” banner.

It’s tricky slotting Sym into this division. On the one hand, it is very intimately about the first-hand experience of anxiety. The uncomfortable self-awareness that accompanies public life takes the metaphoric form of stealth puzzles, as players must dissolve into underground shadows to avoid staring eyes, while at the same time avoiding the psychological dangers that lurk below. Blocks of text accentuate its queasy landscapes, meting out morsels of self-loathing.

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On the other hand, though, after playing Problem AtticSym‘s overtness begins to feel like a liability. When Problem Attic decorates its levels with text, it encourages an uneasily slippage between player, character, and unknown third party: we’re never sure who’s being addressed, and who’s being verbally abused. We just know that we, as players and readers, are caught in the middle of it, implicitly interpellated in its address.

Even in its most valiant attempts to simulate a stream of consciousness muddled by anxiety, Sym feels unavoidably literal by comparison. There’s something about the game’s cleanliness—of its text, of its simple mechanical metaphor—that makes it seem less like a personal statement, and more like a public service announcement, or after-school special.

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I want to be careful not to be overly damning of Sym. Certainly, if anyone who suffers from social anxiety plays it and feels as if it represented their lived experience in a way that they had not previously felt, then it has served its purpose well. Far be it for me to deny the value of such an experience.

But Sym, like The Company of Myself, is a puzzle platformer first and foremost, and a careful consideration of social anxiety second. No, it’s not tied to an absurd murder plot this time around. But Sym‘s consideration of the psychological effects of self-imposed ostracism must always ultimately fit into neatly into the package of solvable puzzles, in a manner that can be too pat.

The following level provides a good example of this. The thematic resonance of the central mechanic of slipping into the floor to avoid obstacles is hammered home in the level text: “When I’m hidden, their looks vanish and shadows embrace me.”

We’re a far cry here from the “phasing” level of Problem AtticSym is clear about its intentions, and about its mechanics. This makes for a more pleasant play experience, but also one in which streamlined solvability substitutes for affective contagion. To take another counter-example from Problem Attic, let’s look at the game’s “red room” level:

Unlike the level in Sym, this level is not overtly and recognizably “about” anything. (I think that Vance’s analysis of it is a good one, but let’s bracket that for a moment.) Rather than delivering a brief and direct narrative about what it’s like to navigate public space while dealing with social anxiety, it’s about creating an uneasy visit to a queasy hellscape.

One thing about the level that doesn’t come through in this video is that its control scheme has been sabotaged. The button the player normally uses to jump is now unreliable. Each time the player presses it, there is some sort of internal dice roll going on, as the game determines whether or not it’s going to deign to allow the player’s avatar to jump. It is difficult to describe just how frustrating this is. The more time one spends in this level, the more a burning rage at one’s powerlessness builds. It is an actively unpleasant place to visit, not just because of its dissonant sound design and garish, skittering visuals, but because of the profound lack of agency that its control scheme engenders.

This is a great example of creating emotion through UI and mechanics. It is not a great example of puzzle design, though. There’s no real “puzzle” in this level, to speak of. Puzzles are solvable. Puzzles allow you to escape them, as long as you’re clever and quick-fingered. This Problem Attic red room level is missing that promise of escape through resourcefulness. All that’s on offer is a feeling of distraught powerlessness.

I think this feeds rather well into Vance’s positioning of the red room level as a site of personal trauma. But rather than rehash Vance’s reading here, I like to turn things in a comparative direction, towards Sym. In its mechanical metaphors, Sym positions social anxiety as an emotionally unpleasant experience, but ultimately as a problem that can be solved with effortProblem Attic offers no solutions. “Winning” in Problem Attic isn’t about defeating one’s demons, but about learning to live with them, every day, one breath at a time. “You’ve hurt me tremendously,” the text of the game’s final coda level reads, “but that is okay.”

If you’d like to play Problem Attic but don’t want to be too put off by its hostile obfuscation, I have created a walkthrough for it, here. I’ve also made YouTube video walkthroughs for both Sym and The Company of Myself, although I didn’t expand those into full posts. Somewhere in all of these, I was going to make another “Let’s Study” video, but I lost the nerve. As my next foray into that area, I’m considering Jonathan Blow’s The Witness (2016), continuing on the puzzle theme. (UPDATE: I did it!)

[i]. If you love gorgeous physical objects, Ryerson’s article is also printed in the hardcover version of The Offworld Collection.

[ii]. I have been aided in laying out this history by Paul Martin, who presented a good overview of the interpretive reception of Braid at DiGRA 2014. See Martin, Paul. “Making Meaning Makers: The Construction and Negotiation of an Interpretive Community Around Braid.” Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA) Conference 2014, “ the of Game ,” August 3–6, 2014, Snowbird, UT. (Unfortunately, the full text of Martin’s delivered paper is not online, although you can find the abstract on his Academia.edu profile.)

[iii]. I picked up the term “witness marks” from the S-Town podcast. I love it and am never letting go of it. It refers to indentations, scratches, discolorations, screen holes, and the like inside of old mechanisms that have been re-constructed over the years, something a restorer can follow to reconstruct the device’s original operation. Terms that circulate in game design such as “signposting,” “breadcrumb trails” and “handholding,” proceed from the analogical assumptions that guiding the player is akin to prescribing a certain route, with lesser or greater force. The leaving of “witness marks,” on the other hand, credits players with being observant, able to make sense of a complex system as long as they’re able to trace through its function.

[iv]. Greenfield, Patricia Marks. Mind and Media: The Effects of Television, Video Games, and Computers. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984. Pg 107.

[v]. Sudnow, David. Pilgrim in the Microworld. New York: Warner Books, 1983. Pg 5.

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