Fear and Gaming: Muumuu

Jonathan Gourlay plays the game Braid, a platformer about time travel and regret.


You are wearing a blue and yellow muumuu. Of all the people at this party, I’ve decided to talk to you. Why? In that shapeless bright sack, you remind me of Emily.

“I used to teach Philosophy in community college,” I say.

When I say this, you appear to die a little bit inside. You have no exit strategy that doesn’t involve tipping over a table with an ugly lamp and a stack of Wired magazines.

“But I only did it because the regular teacher was a drunk. He was disproving Cartesian dualism with Bud Light. Ha-ha. You know, mind/body split and all that?”

You are coming to realize that I am fairly attractive. Have I been working out?

I regale you with my witty remarks on community college philosophy teaching, saying things like “thank the prime mover that there are cartoon versions of all of those big books!” You may be falling a little bit in love with me. I’m certainly attracted to you. Though really, it’s just because you remind me of Emily. I haven’t thought of her in years but, well, you have to admit that blue and yellow muumuus are out of the norm.

A short, floppy-haired hipster wearing an ironic suit jacket approaches us. His name is Tim.

“Our world, with its rules of causality, has caused us to be miserly with forgiveness,” Tim says.

Tim is the lead character of the game Braid. You sip your drink. It’s cheap red wine. This is not an upscale party. You are talking to a community college teacher and a video game character, after all.

You unsip your drink. I unsay my witticisms. You unfall a little bit in love with me. Time reverses. Then time begins again and the shadows of our never-were selves sip drinks, say witticisms, just as before while our now-true selves go down a different path. The younger, hipper, hair-having Tim is now the focus of your attention. I slink away. I never remember Emily again, after all of these years.

I try my lines with someone more age appropriate and fall a little bit in love with the new person and yet… it’s almost as if there is a princess in a castle somewhere… and that’s you and if I could only get to you then we would be perfect together. But in order to get to you I would have to somehow not be me. In this world (with its rules of causality) I can never jump the tracks of time. I’ll never reach Castle Somewhere. Yet I’ll never be truly content with this new love I’ve found. The possibility of you and the memory of Emily are dissipating shadows. Refracted images in a shattered multiverse.

And that’s what it feels like to play Braid.

Imagine Jonathan Blow, sad genius creator of Braid. It’s the early ’90s. He’s propped up against a leaky dorm-room radiator on a cold night, smoking dope with his friends.

“Time is just a human construct, man,” says Jonathan Blow.

Then he realizes that money is just paper unless you believe in it. Then he wonders if it was Spinoza or the Spin Doctors who sang “Two Princes” or if it even matters. There’s no free will. Everything is cause and effect. Particles bump each other in a preordained pattern, creating the now. He was fucking Siddhartha that night, propped up against the radiator, realizing that time is a river you dip your toe into. It’s never the same river twice but it’s always a river and the stones… and the ocean… and…

“One, two princes kneel before you,” he hums. “Princes who adore you. That’s what I said now…”

And then he passes out.

Braid is playable dorm-room philosophy, lost-love story, post-modern Super Mario Bros. deconstruction, and anti-nuclear screed all twined into one maddeningly difficult, tight pony tail of a game. You control Tim, an unhappy hipster, through various puzzle worlds. These worlds appear to exist in a roomy, rent-controlled Bronx apartment. Each world introduces another self-involved game-mechanic. Sometimes, the world only moves when Tim moves. Sometimes Tim can split himself into two Tim time-lines. Sometimes Tim has a magic time-slowing ring. It’s all about sad Tim and his lost love. That is, until they finally meet and then, well, I won’t spoil it. Braid is the rare game that actually has a satisfying ending.

Emily was ex-marine and from some tropical island no one has heard of. We used to hold hands and say we had jungle fever because that was the big Spike Lee movie then and because we lived in a jungle and we were feverish. It is her muumuu that I remember, after all this time. Like the flip of a braid that sends Tim on his journey, it’s the swish of your muumuu that brings Emily back to me.

Why are you approaching me again?

Do I know you?

A muumuu is a kind of islander burka that leaves everything to the imagination. The fact that Emily was hidden behind that unshapely flower-patterned bag made it somehow very important to get her out of it.

And so on hot nights we made out on my vinyl couch and I attempted to understand her curves. If you can get your hands in a muumuu, you’ve already gone pretty far. I would lose myself in her flower patterns until some line, known only to her, had been crossed and she would yell “Brake!” like a drill sergeant. Then I would reverse course, smooth out the wrinkles in the muumuu and begin again until, inevitably, the next “Brake!” came. She had not learned rules of causality which dictate that one thing eventually leads to another.

Then she left and I was devastated. I sat alone on the brown, vinyl couch wondering what had gone wrong. I didn’t want to exist. I wanted to open doors into other worlds. I jumped through each move I had made, searching for the error. She glowed with golden timelessness in my imagination. Then, I lost her memory. Then, I spun time backwards and started again. I split in two. My shadow self was never without her while I remained on the couch.

You are at a work party and I approach you. You are talking to some floppy-haired hipster named Tim.

“Our world, with its rules of causality, has caused us to be miserly with forgiveness,” Tim says

“Isn’t forgiveness about the future?” I ask. “Though we can’t reverse time and change a mistake, we can change how we feel about it in the future. Isn’t that the nature of forgiveness? Trusting what I am going to do rather than trying to change what I have done?”

Tim hits the shift button and time reverses. But this time we have a golden, timeless glow and we are unchanged as we watch people never enter the party, the snacks are un-ate, and the drinks are un-drinked.

You are Emily and you have been with me all this time. We entered together, didn’t we?

“Brake!” you cry.

Time begins. The party fills. We have been together so long and yet I still find those muumuus enticing, even the ones with the frilly shoulders that make you look like a giant bug. I am lost in the blue and yellow hibiscus flower patterns.

In some world, somewhere, we still love each other as if you never left.

Jonathan Gourlay is an editor at The Bygone Bureau and author of the ebook Nowhere Slow: Eleven Years on a Micronesian Island. He lives in the quiet corner of Connecticut where he is a vicarious goat herder. Follow him on Twitter.