Puzzles, Half Truths and Unreliable Narrators

14 Mar


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I just finished Portal 2.  Yes, I know, I AM SO BEHIND.  In reality, I wanted to wait until the price went down and then I needed to find time to finish the game.  Seriously, if I don’t reign myself in, I can literally sit around for hours getting sucked in. I would stay up all night playing Half-Life.  I finished The Indigo Prophecy in one weekend.  I would easily log in eight hours at a time on Resident Evil. 

Now that I have a real job and a home to take care of and family close by, all these things take up time.  So gaming time is normally limited to the late evening, early night for a few hours.  Plus, I have to share a gaming system, so even if it is free, there is no guarantee it’s my turn to play.  So finishing a game in the space of days has turned into MONTHS of play for games like Heavy Rain.  (Some of that though may have had to do with the subject matter, which really stressed me out if I played too long.)


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I will say, most of the games that I played go back to days on the computer itself.  Remember Zork, Myst, 7th Guest, or Missing?  There was a lot of thinking and yes, possibly even note taking involved in these games.  But the mystery can be what makes these stand out in my mind, exploring and experimenting until something worked. 

This is the same with Portal 2 and at the end of the single player game(I am still in the middle of co-op), I was curious about certain aspects of the game. 



Yes, I saw her name on the potato project, which made me wonder how long she had really been in the facility.  Seems that the smart thing to do would be to keep all the people there that day, put them in long term sleep to wake up whenever a new test subject is necessary. 

I saw a lot of debates on whether anything GLaDOS said should be trusted and how the main protagonist is silent and the ones who do speak are unreliable narrators.  A lot has to be inferred on what the player can actually see, as well as trying to decipher what could be useful information to you and what is only useful to someone else at your expense.  GLaDOS, and by extension the other AI, are unreliable.  Some of them indicating they were only doing things because they were told not to and given a made up consequence if they violated the rules. 

There are a lot of illusions to the story of Prometheus in the story, as well as some dark humour.  Loved it. 

Of course, there aren’t really any clearer answers by the end of the story, just clearer questions to ask. 

It’s very smart that the narrative trips you down memory lane to give you this, because even after the game is over, there are still things your mind lingers on. 

Plenty of movies follow the same;  the ending of Inception, Source Code,  the whole of Donnie Darko,  parts of Moon, Stay, The Machinist, PI, Fight Club, Momento, American Psycho.   Some of this is due to the viewer’s perception based on not being given enough information but in plenty of these examples are also faulted by an unreliable narrator.  Some movies at least tie up things in a nice bow at the end but really… don’t some people just love not always having the answers?

Haymitch gives advice to Katniss. But how much isn't he telling?


The Wicked novels by Gregory Maguire, just ended with “Out of OZ” and there is some question of an extra character being included by the end.  I asked the only other person I know who has read the entire Wicked series and she gave me her view, which is very different than mine had been.  The forms have tons more speculation, which was just fascinating to read.  Even “The Hunger Games” (really gearing up for the movie’s midnight showing) has questions of whether Katniss is a reliable narrator?  Is she being too hard on the people around her?  How clearly does she really see these people?  As the series goes on, it becomes quite obvious that she was left in the dark for a number of things going on around her, so her perception is very unreliable at times.  In the case of THG, there is a fanfiction author I enjoyed named “Solaryllis” who does a good job of trying to fill the holes in of what is actually going on within the confines of Suzanne Collins story.  To be fair, this made me more sympathetic to certain characters that we don’t get much background motivation for in the novels.



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But let’s move on to one of my favorite puzzle like books with an unreliable narrator, “House of Leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski.  It is the story of a young man, Johnny, who finds a manuscript in the aparment of a man named Zampano, titled “The Navidson Record”. This is a tale about a house that is bigger on the inside and how it affects the family who lives there.   Almost everything in this book is ambiguous, from who the “writer” is, how much of the original story has been changed in the narrative and how much influence the companion piece “The Whalestoe Letters” have on the psyche of the narrator.  There is even a footnote indicating that the person who found “The Navidson Record” is making conscious changes to the story.  After that, you begin to wonder what other changes he is making based on his mood or other outside influences.  The best part is going on to the forum website and seeing the little notations people found, like the midi file hiding on the cover that plays “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again” or the secret codes hidden in some of the letters.  Then there is the CD “Haunted”, written by Poe and the author’s sister.  They were obviously inspired by each other during the creative process which makes things so much more interesting. 


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In just about any of these cursory internet searches, it points the way to the forums where loads of fans discuss theories in the books, little nuances they noticed along the way.  Even more fun can be TV Tropes WMG (Wild Mass Guesses)  where they freely admit all sanity is left behind.  But in all cases, the fun is in the debates, the fun is in the guessing and throwing out conspiracies and finding things to back it all up.   A good story is one that stays with you long after you’ve finished the book, or watched the movie, or even finished the game.  It’s something that even years down the road, is something that sticks with you and, because of this familiarity, can be recalled with fondness.  It is something that when you revisit down the line, with a different perspective, may be looked at in a different way.  For this, I am glad that there aren’t always clear answers.


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