Brothers: A Tale of Two Player

***SPOILERS AHEAD.*** You have been warned.

“Dude, she’s a spider lady. She’s going to eat us.” My friend looked over at me. “Don’t go in the cave.”

I disagreed. There’s no way this girl that my character had gotten lovey-dovey with–something I had called a short while after meeting her–would actually be a spider-person who had been leading us on from the start with the final goal in mind of eating us. I was wrong. My friend was right.

This was my first time playing Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. I had not read much on how you’re supposed to play it. Later I would come to see that the creator specifically said it shouldn’t be played as a two-player game. I didn’t have that piece of information when my friend showed up halfway through the game and suggested we try it. Of course, at the time I knew it wasn’t how it should be played, but why not give it a shot?

The game was awkward for the first twenty minutes or so. We had to reach one of our hands across our bodies to reach the controller in between us. I controlled the older brother with the right stick and buttons and my friend controlled the younger brother with the left stick and buttons. I had already played about half the game by myself, so I knew the challenge would be lightened by doing this. However, this wasn’t about the challenge of getting one self to work as two any longer. No, this was a much older problem.

“You can’t let go, god damn it!” I was whined to while climbing the tower where a rope connects the two brothers– something that led to less working together and more of one player freeloading and swinging while the other did all the climbing. The result when we both tried to freeload? An enjoyable free fall. For the early part of the experience, this was what happened more than a few times. We would come across the simplest of obstacles and completely fail to work in the unison required to complete a puzzle. While putting up a bridge, he had trouble communicating to me how the locking mechanism works and I ended up sending my character falling to his death. He laughed at me, I rolled my eyes and laughed along.

It wasn’t until we finally freed the girl from a tribe trying to sacrifice her that we got everything in gear. Together, we had to row a boat across open water littered with cooler-looking orcas. After spinning in circles for a minute, ramming into anything that provided collision detection, I finally got us into gear by reaching for my inner Viking– calling out “stroke” every second to keep us in time. It worked really well for a small while… until an orca leapt out of the water and our communication devolved into pure chaos. At that point, we panicked and ended up rowing right into one of the whales.

After three more tries, we finally got through. Cheers of applause rang out! At that point, too, we finally started working a lot better alongside each other. Communication started being limited to what was necessary– along with our own offhand comments. “I call her,” I said at one point. (apologies to all my lady readers) This was when something weird started happening: we started to become our characters.

“Whatever, man. Do your own thing.” He told me. Something that would be repeated by the actions of the younger brother only a few minutes later after escaping from the invisible giant. During that chase, of course, the girl showed us something quite… intriguing. After several seconds of climbing around a long trench spanning maybe 10-20 yards, she jumped it in a single leap. My friend was surprised and  skeptical. I was surprised as well, of course, but I decided not to think anything of it. So what if she’s a superhuman? I still like her. My mistake.

“Don’t go in the hole, man.” My friend ended up figuring out everything about her long before I did. He sided with his character every step of the way. I, like the older brother, did the opposite. “There’s no way.” There was a way. She turned into a spider and tried to eat his character. Now it was personal.

“She’s done. Why do we still need to pull off the rest of her legs?” Why? Because she betrayed me? Because she tried to eat you? Because I have an irrational fear of spiders? All of the above. My friend’s suggestion was lost on me as I decided I was going to make the monster feel pain. I went after every leg without question, ignoring my friend when he asked the question again every time a leg was pulled off.

I should have listened. When the spider-monster was crawling away, obviously defeated, there was no longer any reason to keep pulling off her legs. She was virtually immobile at that point. What did I have to gain? Revenge ended up costing me, as anyone who’s played the game will know. But I realized something at that point. This perspective wasn’t something I could have experienced if I’d played the game by myself. No doubt I would have gone into that fight the same way I did playing with a friend, but without his own perspective, I would not have understood the fault in my actions.

Every action in the game was given new light while playing with a friend. Certain times, all it accomplished was lowering the difficulty level. But other times, it multiplied the power of the experience. Specifically: the final level. The older brother was dead at this point and so my friend was the only person with any sort of hand on the controller. He got to the water, of which he absolutely needed to cross and realized: I can’t do anything. Where do I go? What do I do?

He struggled for several minutes over this question. Eventually, I asked if I could help. If there was anything I could do. He told me no, he could figure this out for himself. I reached for the controller anyway. In a small scuffle, my finger slid over the R2 button, and suddenly the younger brother dove into the water and started swimming. My finger slid off and he stopped, drowning in the water. We both had the same reaction. “Woah.”

I’ve read numerous player’s reaction to this moment. The most common reaction was the understanding of how meaningful the action was on a mechanical level. None came off as leaving one speechless. I wasn’t speechless, I started cheering him on. “Go, you can do it!”

This experience my friend and I had playing Brothers will most likely not be replicated by many other pairs of people. At least not on an emotional level. Chances are, there are many people who have tried playing the game with two players. Our personalities mixed with how our playing turned out and changed how every mechanic in the game worked. We almost became our characters without even realizing it. That probably doesn’t happen for a lot of people. For some, perhaps, playing Brothers with two players isn’t a good idea.

The creator of the game seems to think so. The game was built to connect the right and left side of your brain, and he says he’d rather cut his wrists than make the game co-op. He says to avoid awkwardness and keep comfortability, you shouldn’t play co-op. For my friend and myself, though, I most assuredly disagree.

2 thoughts on “Brothers: A Tale of Two Player

  1. Pingback: The Body of Narration | bigtallwords

  2. Pingback: The Narration and Abstraction of Bodies in Games | bigtallwords

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