Trigger Warning: Brothers A Tale of Two Sons- Coping with Death

*This post was originally published on The Game Bolt in November, 2016*

[“Trigger Warning” – is a piece dedicated to showcasing video games which focus on mental disorders as well as emotional and psychological trauma. It is my hope as a lifelong gamer and sufferer of various psychological disorders to combine my greatest passion with my greatest weakness to benefit the gaming community at large. These pieces are meant to applaud games that I have found to appropriately exemplify such issues in the human condition. Some of them are visceral and violent games that take a liberal approach and are not for the faint of heart. Others take a lighter approach to the whole affair and can apply to a much wider audience. Hopefully, those who do not suffer from such afflictions can look at these games as a chance to grasp at something otherwise intangible. While those who do suffer from psychological afflictions can look to these pieces of fiction for hope and catharsis. Without further ado, enjoy. 🙂 ]

[By the way, this is the trigger warning for the article: death, gore, violence]

Brothers, In Summation

Brothers- A Tale of Two Sons represents a unique experience in gaming where an independently developed video game managed to stand up to some of the most poignant triple A titles in gaming history. To give you some perspective, GTA V, Bioshock Infinite, and The Last of Us all came out in the same year as Brothers. Despite this, Brothers still made waves by winning numerous awards, such as Xbox Game of the Year, and receiving high critical acclaim. It’s a brief but powerful tale of death and self-discovery that takes on the qualities of a children’s book in terms of look and feel.

The game starts off with Naiee, the younger of the two brothers, mourning at the grave of his mother. A flashback plays out in which Naiee attempts to save his drowning mother amidst a storm at sea. Naiee is desperately reaching over the side of their row boat to pull his overboard mother back in. Due to his meekness and the raging storm, he cannot. As his mother sinks into the sea, the scene snaps back to Naiee as his older brother Naia beckons him. Their father is sick and they must take him to the town doctor.

As the game hands over the controls of the two brothers, the player is introduced to a control scheme entirely unique to Brothers. Each brother’s controls are mapped to either the left or right control stick and triggers. The older brother Naia is the stronger of the two and is mapped to the left side. He often lifts heavy objects or boosts Naiee to higher places. The younger brother Naiee is mapped to the right side controls and is used to get into smaller places. This control scheme takes quite a bit to get used to but plays a symbolic part in the game as a whole.

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Once you guide the brothers to the doctor’s hut they are told of the only way to save their dying father. They must retrieve mystical waters from the Tree of Life. Threatened by the death of their only remaining parent they set out to scale a titanic mountain range in search of the life giving waters. What ensues is a tale that reminds one of the fantasy folktales of youth combined with the striking sting of death and mortality.

Death as a Tool

The world of Brothers is as beautiful as it is dangerous. Throughout the game there are various points where you can sit down and just watch the camera pan over beautiful mountain vistas, a quiet mountain town, or the encroaching silence of night over a wooded valley. You come across numerous instances where the two brothers are prompted to help forlorn people along their travels. In some cases the pair take some time to play by chasing wildlife or pranking the locals. All of these moments remind the player not only of just how young and naive Naia and Naiee are but of the importance of taking a moment to collect one’s self.

Despite all this beauty the motif of death saturates every point in the story as the two sons worry about their dying father. The thought of losing another loved one is enough to drive them to the literal ends of the earth. It’s their motivation to push on despite the peril they are constantly under. There are numerous close calls where either of the brothers almost die but they keep pressing forward. In these situations the player is constantly reminded of mortality and how fragile life can be.

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Death even seeps into the landscape and level design as you eventually make your way through a battlefield of giants. *minor spoiler* Their dead bodies block your passage and you must use their scattered weapons to dislodge or dismember their corpses to press onward. *end spoiler* And this is just one moment in the game where death takes on a symbolic guise. The game slowly changes pace starting from a light hearted adventure to eventually confronting you with death as an inevitability in the very landscapes you traverse. Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons wants you to look at death and confront it.

But out of all of this, it’s the tale of little Naiee’s struggle that brings home the true message of Brothers.

We Are Only So Strong

Naiee is clearly troubled by the death of his mother. He mourns her grave at the beginning of the game, but it isn’t until he has a near death experience that the impact of his mother’s death truly shows. *major spoilers from here on out* Naiee nearly drowns and while unconscious has a dream of his mother. He is standing before a gigantic version of her whose hand is gently covering Naiee’s dying father. After being confronted with this vision he turns to find his older brother knocking him down and trying to strangle him to death. The shock wakes him from his dream as his older brother Naia hugs him when he sees him awaken.

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Clearly, Naiee blames himself for his mother’s death. He feels guilty over not being able to save her, which is understandable. He’s too young to be able to cope with losing a loved one and blames himself. This guilt is also carrying over to his father’s current condition even though Naiee had nothing to do with his father’s current state. Then you have Naia trying to strangle him. This shows that his subconscious is actively punishing him as Naiee fears he is failing his family.

As the two brothers make their way to the Tree of Life, Naia is mortally wounded in a battle with monstrous spider. Upon reaching the tree, Naia encourages his little brother to forge ahead. In the race to the top Naia passes away and not even the life giving waters can bring Naia back. There on the mountaintop, underneath the Tree of Life, Naiee uses his bare hands to dig a grave and bury his brother in sequence where the player is forced to take control of themself.

But Naiee’s struggle hardly ends here as he is whisked off the mountaintop by a griffin who drops him off by the shore of his home. His only task is to get home and deliver the water to his father. Sadly Naiee cannot swim and he is on the opposite shoreline from his village.

What One Can Gain from Brothers

Throughout the game every swimming sequence had Naiee cling to his brother’s back while they swam through an obstacle. Here, pressed to cross the shallows of the shoreline during a rainstorm, Naiee collapses under the stress. He simply cannot confront his greatest fear.

That is until the spirits of both his mother and brother visit him. In his darkest hour, Naiee’s mother appears as a ghost to comfort him one last time. Ultimately, she is letting him know that it’s okay and helping him overcome his fear of swimming that may have stemmed from her death. As Naiee begins to swim his older brother’s spirit gives him strength. In this moment, despite Naia being dead the player has to actually control the game using both brothers’ controls instead of just Naiee’s. After arriving at the shore and delivering the life saving water, Naiee collapses from exhaustion.

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The game ends with Naiee and his father standing over two grave stones. One of the mother, and the other as a marker for Naia. Naiee’s father falls to the ground while Naiee stays standing tall. Here is where Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons’ most important lesson comes forth. It’s that death is part of life itself regardless of our involvement. Naiee came to understand something most people go their whole lives without realizing.

Your Dear Writer’s Thoughts on Brothers

When we lose a loved one, it’s not our fault that fate itself decided to take them away. I have come across too many people in my life that say “If I had just been there” or “Maybe I could have saved them.” But death is uncaring and shockingly abrupt and we never truly know when someone’s last minute will be. It is impossible to be ever vigilant to the idea that every time we talk to someone it could be the last time. We are only human. We make mistakes and we sometimes forget the fact that we’re all mortal.

Take special note of what happens when Naiee is visited by his deceased loved ones. They encourage him and tell him to forge on ahead in spite of their deaths. Although we may never be visited by the spirits of the dead in our reality, the message is universal. The lessons, the encouragement, the strength our loved ones gave us in life still reside within us after their passing. It is up to us to hold to those and use their efforts in our own lives.

Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons is a story that shows us the tragedy of death while teaching us to accept the deaths of others in a way that allows us to live our lives to the fullest.

Trigger Warnings for Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons: Brothers isn’t an overly violent game. There is some gore and violence which might be a bit distressing but it’s certainly not over the top. The biggest issue here might be for people who are very sensitive to the topic of death. However, I would suggest you still play this game. I believe its ability to heal far outweighs any possible damage it might do. Please, if you’re someone who struggles with the concept of death, this game is a must.

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