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planet of the shapes

maura @ 11:55 am

I realized the other morning that even though my sabbatical is in theory not bound by the same academic calendar constraints that my regular worklife is, in practice I’ve ended up aligning to those semester-based rhythms even when on leave. It’s true that I did have to interview students for my research project during the semester, because that’s when they’re on campus (we do have summer classes but enrollment is significantly lower than during the year). But looking back now I’m struck by how much my time in February, March, April, and May was fairly regimented during the week.

The regular academic year finishes up at the end of May, and this month I have relaxed my self-imposed sabbatical schedule somewhat, too. Especially over the past two weeks, when the kid’s been out of school more than in (thanks but no thanks high school regents exams). Our apartment is big by NYC standards, but even so I find that I can’t work well for long chunks of time when all three of us are here. I have a spot in one of the study rooms at the NYPL that I typically use about once/week, though with the evermore erratic behavior of the subway system I sometimes don’t want to make that commute into the city. Sometimes I use the Brooklyn Public Library as a workspace too — a much shorter (and walkable) commute.

But this month I’ve also been letting myself do less research work overall. As someone who sometimes worries that I’m not getting enough done, when I look back at the last four months I have crossed lots of sabbatical goals off my list, so a little relaxation is not so scandalous, right?

All of which is just a long-winded (very long-winded!) way of saying that recently I played a game! From start to finish! That had been sitting around unplayed since I got it for my birthday 2 (?) years ago! And it was delightful.

The game is Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and is a good example of the kinds of narrative games that I like more these days, less about button combo skillz and more about using a game to get somewhere interesting or tell a story. The plot is that two brothers are on a quest to find a magical ingredient to save their dying father. The game world is fairy-tale like with relatively straightforward puzzles as you leave the doctor’s house and travel through the town, up the mountains, and farther afield in search of the cure. It’s also very pretty. I especially liked the inclusion of benches at various locations along the way when the game wants to show you what’s ahead, which also served as a very real analogy to when you’re on a hike or long walk and want to stop for a brief rest.

While I’ve been known to gripe about the 2 joysticks on the PlayStation controller, I admit that for this game the physical mechanics are pretty neat: the left joystick and button control the actions of one brother, and the right joystick/button the other. Sometimes you need to have the brothers do the same action together, and other times they need to work together but doing different things. Figuring out the controller action was fun for some of the more interesting puzzles — my favorite was a climb up and into a castle on a rocky precipice that required tying a rope between the two brothers to connect them as they climbed and swung between handholds.

What seemed like a fairly standard-issue quest through a vaguely Medieval-European-ish world gradually took a pretty weird and ominous turn. First there were bloody streaks in a river you had to cross, followed by dead giants strewn along the path who looked to have died in a battle. You suddenly come upon a scene of small men with beards and spears who look to be about to sacrifice a girl, and after scaring them away the girl leads you further up into the mountains past an invisible snow yeti. Once you survive *that* she gets a little flirty (!) with the big brother and leads you both into a creepy tunnel — I should add that the little brother doesn’t want to go, but the big brother insists. (Also, the northern lights along the path to the tunnel were beautiful.)

Aaaaand then the tunnel ends up being a spider’s nest and the girl transforms into a spider with a girl head. There’s a boss battle to escape, and while both brothers finally defeat her, the girlspider stabs the older brother just before she dies. A brief and limping walk bring the brothers to the location of the magical healing liquid to cure their father, which the younger brother has to climb a tall tree to retrieve. But by the time the little brother comes back down the tree, the older brother has died. The little brother then has to *bury* the older brother — seriously, the game makes you dig the grave — and returns home to save his father, all of which is a little weird because not only is it sad but also you’re now only using half of the controller. There is a spot near the end when the ghost of the older brother comes back to help the younger brother and you’re made to use the whole controller again.

The game ends on a melancholy note with the now-cured father and younger brother kneeling at a memorial for the older brother. While sad, it was definitely worthwhile, and I’m so glad I made the time to (finally!) play.

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