What I experienced playing Firewatch
Firewatch is from the first person perspective, and I guess it could be described as an adventure game since you can explore all over the place
with little restriction, even though there isn’t really much in the way
of side-quests. Instead, the game focuses heavily on story. You play from the perspective of Henry, a middle aged man who takes a job at a Forest Service lookout tower, who’s only job is to hang out and look out for forest fires. His boss stationed at the lookout tower near him is named Delilah, who has done the job every summer for over 10 years. She is Henry’s only other human interaction, and all of it is done through their radios. After a while though, Henry stumbles on a conspiracy which changes their relationship.
As for the audio commentary mode, it is treated like an audio tour in a museum, where you walk up to a stand and pick up a cassette tape that plays the commentary. There are also “park signs” which include things like concept art and notes from the creators of the game, which was cool. This way, you are able to listen to it when and if you want to, or just move on with the game.
What I experienced:
You pick up on the tone of the game from the very beginning. You intermittently make not so perfect decisions regarding the events of Henry’s relationship with his wife as he strolls through the path to the lookout tower. The decisions ultimately lead to Henry’s wife, Julia, being taken in by her family after she suffers from early onset Alzheimer’s. The imagery of walking the path to the job and reflecting on the decisions that led him to taking the job was very nice. The theme of making human, meaning flawed, decisions also sets up the theme for the game.
And listening to the audio commentary, the reason they create so this sequence is to have the player learn for themselves about what kind of person Henry is. The creators said unlike the traditional make your own choices video game character who is left as a blank slate for the player to fill; in Firewatch the player is instead experiencing someone else’s story, with room to make some variations. For example, when Julia’s dementia worsens, you have the choice to either place her in a facility or take care of her at home. While you may think you are doing a good and noble thing by keeping her home, Henry instead sneaks off in the middle of the night to drink because of how miserable he is in taking care of her.
The rest of the game is mostly played through the dialogue decisions between Henry and his boss Delilah. You can choose to share openly, stay guarded and silent, or flirty. There were some instances where you were forced to be a little flirty, but that was to help the story go along and make sense.
The thing you learn about both characters is how flawed they are. Henry seems overly paranoid and aggressive at certain times, and Delilah is a little too easy going (and an alcoholic).
Their are no perfect decisions for the conversations either, only different responses. One time I made a choice that upset Delilah and she refused to speak for awhile until I advanced on with the objective at the time. I thought that was a nice touch, because rather than choosing any response just to get some dialogue, I actually put some thought into what I picked. I opted to be somewhat guarded about Henry’s past, since Henry is still technically married even though his wife has full on dementia at this point.
Henry discovers transcripts of their conversation, and they realize someone is listening in on them. When Henry is attacked, the two of them get defensive, since they sound somewhat incriminating after covering up they might know something about two teenage girls who went missing in the park. Also, whoever was listening in on them noted that Delilah has a boyfriend already too. In the second playthrough, I actually learned about Delilah’s boyfriend through the dialogue. Since I was more open about Julia the second time around, she was open about herself and said she had an ex-boyfriend named Javier. She even mentioned once if maybe she and Henry would possibly meet up and get together after, which didn’t happen when I played more guarded.
Once it was revealed that he eavesdropper was one man covering up a secret of his own, I noticed the dialogue between the two of them leaned more towards being a friend rather than potential lover. There were also choices that downright placed blame on Delilah’s shoulders too, since she knew some information on what was going on. Even if you make what seems like the right choice and console, Delilah’s own flaws of self-righteousness prevent anything from sinking in. I made a choice to put some blame on her, and instead of backlash she just agreed and said it was her mistake.
The rift is noticeable, which leads to the love-it-or-hate-it ending I mentioned earlier. If you were more flirtacious, Delilah even mentions that she cannot think of Henry in the same way since he was the one to discover the secret and she feels guilty.
A couple of fires broke out in the park during the summer, and they reached a point to where even the lookout towers have to evacuate. Your vision is impaired by smoke from the fire as you go towards the rendezvous near Delilah’s tower to be evacuated. You can ask Delilah to wait for you or go on without you. I chose to have her leave, because it seemed clear things weren’t the same between them anymore. <strike>Apparently even if you ask her to stay, you end up having to beg her all throughout your time getting there, and she still leaves anyways.</strike> The second time around I asked her to stay, and you plead once and she agrees is gone by the time you get there. She thought meeting Henry under those circumstances would only ruin the moment.
You get one last conversation over the radio in her tower as you wait for evacuation, and she asks about what the future holds. Again, the imagery of a path clouded by smoke and the uncertain future that awaits both the characters was well done.
She ends up telling Henry to go see his wife, who he hasn’t seen for a few years at this point, as she decides to go off on her own. Even if you are flirtatious and like each other, she still tells him to go back to his wife. The message I got was that both sides had unresolved issues to work through. Henry used the job to be alone in the forest to put a pause on what to do with the stagnant relationship with his wife, or even whether he can call it a relationship anymore. Delilah seemed to be using the summer to hit pause on her own relationship too, as escape from having to make bigger decisions regarding her career.
In other words, they were just two people blindly searching for answers in a world with no clear direction. They found some comfort in their shared lack of direction, but in the end thats all it was. Just two people sharing a moment, with their real lives still earnestly awaiting their return.
Neither of them gained any answers while on their sabbatical. It doesn’t matter how much time you spend thinking, when the only thing that can move your life forward is making one decision after another, and never knowing if it is the right one until afterwards.
People were greatly disappointed that as players we never got to see Delilah, that the characters did not end up together, or have come to resolve their issues. I myself love ambiguous endings, and get tired of seeing “they lived happily ever after” type of endings. This one was gritty, open-ended, and so much a reflection of what actual human beings go through. The characters also seemed more relatable because of their flaws. I know many people like to use videogames or TV to escape reality, but I would rather use the stories to help me learn and make decisions regarding my own life (and be entertained at the same time, of course). Hence, the reason why I made this blog!
Anyways, what do you guys think about ambiguous endings like this one? Do you prefer a game let you pretend to be Mr./Mrs. Perfect, or are you okay if it forces you to act as flawed as your character is? Let me know in the comments below!
This is a copy and paste from another place I post, but I thought I would give Medium a try since it looks an interesting online community. The whole concept that I have for this blog is to talk about some of the deeper lessons in the stories that are told through TV and videogames. I do include spoilers, so anyone who hasn’t seen the episodes or played the games I post on are hereby warned.