I’m part of the video game generation….but I don’t personally play video games. I’m not really that good at them. I tend to die a lot, or get all jumpy, and forget which controls do what leading to mass frustration. What I do is watch video games. They’re my husband’s favorite form of recreation even though he really doesn’t have time to play them anymore, so he watches them. It’s like sports. When you’re a kid, you play football, baseball, soccer, and basketball. When you get older, you watch others play.
Many of the video games that have come out in the last twenty years have had amazing stories, compelling characters, and beautiful artwork. Yes. Artwork. I’m one of those people who believe video games are artistic and a form of art just like movies, photography, painting, writing, music, sculpting, etc. Early on, the means to showcase the artistic side of gaming was less visible unless you knew the craft, but the stories were there. (If you did know, it’s quiet impressive what could be done with 8bits.) Games like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear, and the first Starcraft had gripping, moving stories that left you asking for more. As technology advanced, the artistic side of video games became more obvious to the everyday layperson playing a game here and there. I remember the first time I picked up a Warcraft 3 art book. It blew me away. It was beautiful, detailed, rich, and haunting. Skyrim, a fully interactive world, has sweeping scenes of majesty, epic music, wooly mammoths, customizable characters, and an entire land you can walk collecting plants, animal hides, and meeting strange and interesting characters.
But what about the stories? I’m here to tell you that not only are the stories filled with myth, twists, turns, and character development, some of them have even made me cry. Yes. Video games have brought tears to my eyes. The top of the cry chart is Red Dead Redemption. I pretty much bawled. After that comes StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm, the beginning of The Last of Us, and now Brothers, a Tale of Two Sons. (Honorable mentions are Mass Effect 2 and Metal Gear anything.)
Brothers, a Tale of Two Sons, is an epic, short, moving, fun video game designed by Starbreeze Studio with the help of 505 Games. The story takes place in an agricultural setting against a fantasy backdrop with amazing visuals. The mountains, valleys, rivers, trees, sky, giants, trolls, ogres, fish, birds, and everything else are impressive. They’re beautiful, awe inspiring, and detailed. There are benches placed here and there throughout the game so that your characters can sit and take in the view. Every scene is sweeping. Meaning, no matter where in the game you’re at, the view spreads out as far and wide as you can see. But, all that’s just the backdrop for a game that tells a story through unique game mechanics.
This is a story about two brothers. You play both of the boys at the same time. Your left hand controls the older brother while your right hand controls the younger brother. They start you off slow, giving you time to get used to the controls so you don’t have one brother standing still while the other runs off in a crazy direction. Pretty soon, you have them working in unison on ever more complicated climbing puzzles and traps. (None of it gets too complicated because that’s not the point of the game.)
The game opens with the younger brother visiting the grave of their mother. The older brother interrupts him with horrible news. Their father is dying. The two boys rush their father to town where they’re told that the only way to heal him is with a drink from a magical tree. Off they go on an adventure. The designers perfectly capture everything a brother adventure should be. The boys defeat bullies, big dogs, help friendly trolls, scale mountains, ride rushing rivers, free trapped birds, discover giants, fly, slip down tunnels, ride goats, explore an old battle field, and sail the sea. All the while, you control one brother with your left hand and the other with your right. None of your adventures are possible without the effort of both brothers together. And here comes the tears. (You probably already guessed it.) One of the brothers dies. He dies at the base of the tree they were searching for to heal their father after all their adventures. Suddenly, your left hand is doing nothing. Your right hand climbs the tree, gets the drink, and then buries your brother. Your left hand does nothing. Never before have I seen a game mechanic used to create so much emotion.
But, it gets worse/better. Now, you must make it home alone. One of the creatures you aided on your adventure takes you almost all the way back. He leaves you, the only brother, standing on a beach facing your biggest fear, and you’re alone. (It’s a fear, until now, that your brother always helped you through.) A ghost of your mother appears and encourages you, but even when you move your character forward, the game stops you….until you control him with the controls of his brother. (Bawling yet?) Only when you use the left hand side of the controller is the remaining brother given the courage to face his fear, move past it, and save his father.
Even the guy we watched play the video game choked up. It was just so perfectly done.
This is the kind of game where you lose yourself. The beauty of the world sucks you in right away. The story, filled with exactly the kind of adventure you’d want to have with your brother, encourages you to invest in it emotionally from the beginning. To have to play one-handed, until courage is needed, is the perfect end to this game.
As a writer, I found the landscapes inspiring, the story moving, and the adventure a good refresher on what should be included in a Tweens or YA story.
Parental warning: This game is fairly mild with no language or sex. It is emotionally moving, slightly violent, but not in any sort of heavy-handed way. It does get darker as they move along in the story, but if your kids have seen or read Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit, or Harry Potter they should be fine.