WARNING: Full spoilers regarding Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons ahead. To read an article on the game with more subtlety, check out what M. Joshua Cauller wrote about it.
Ever since I was young, my mother told me that I had an older brother. Sadly, certain unfavorable circumstances eliminated his chance of seeing this world for himself, which eventually left me as the only child of the family.
Being alone had its perks. Yet in retrospect, I realize that I was fairly lost growing up, especially due to the fact that I lived in three different countries during my primary school years. Combine that with a father who was mostly absent, I never had any male role model to look up to — or just a mentor figure that I could talk to — in all my years of childhood and adolescence.
The lack of guidance meant that I rarely had the courage to try new things, as no one was there to show me the way. Hence, there were many things that other kids knew how to do, but that I didn’t have a clue. Even to this day, as an adult nearing the age of thirty, I can neither ride a bike nor swim in a pool. By Australian standards, this is rather close to being handicapped. I do wonder sometimes, and imagine how different my life would be if my brother had lived.
Perhaps we would be like the siblings in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.
Naiee was the younger of the two. Similar to me, he had trouble navigating the world. But with Nyaa to lean on, he remained in good company. Too high a ledge? Nyaa could give him a boost. Too heavy a lever? Nyaa could lend him a hand.
Hydrophobia was his deepest challenge. Since witnessing his mother’s drowning, Naiee became extremely wary of stepping into rivers or lakes. In the water, he could barely manage to stay afloat — this we have in common. But unlike my situation, Nyaa kept him buoyant, propelling them both toward desired destinations.
In return, Naiee offered his own contributions, as tasks required his talents or small stature. He could squeeze through places that Nyaa couldn’t. Their strength came through most clearly in collaboration, and this partnership made their journey possible. After all, “though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.”1
The story of A Tale of Two Sons deals with the brothers’ efforts in seeking out a cure for their ailing father. Having only one remaining parent, Naiee and Nyaa desired to find the Tree of Life no matter how arduous that journey would become. And though under considerable urgency, they also didn’t hesitate to help those in need along the way.
The controls for the game are an exercise in harmonizing a dichotomy. You control Nyaa’s movement and actions with the left stick and trigger, while Naiee’s occupy the right. Controlling both simultaneously turns into a trickily dexterous affair, even for an avid gamer like myself! A lack of coordination let the brothers down many times, but I assumed that this trial by fire would prove an essential process for any team. As I sharpened my skills, they gradually improved in learning to work together and to trust each other. Pretty soon, a precious synergy became apparent.
Consequently, the altruism that they displayed toward others grew in significance. During the adventure, they managed to reunite a pair of friendly trolls, rescue a stranded inventor, and prevent a depressed father from suicide. However, not everyone returned the gracious hearts of our protagonists in kind. After finding passage through a warzone, they delivered a village girl from being killed in a ritualistic sacrifice, only to discover her actual nature: a monstrous, shape-shifting spider. They battled the creature and triumphed in the conflict, but Nyaa collapsed from a mortal wound just before finally arriving at the Tree of Life.
His untimely death had a tangible effect. It made me feel as if my left hand was paralyzed. I tried to move, to interact with the left stick and trigger, but the game refused to recognize the inputs. The elder boy lay there in stillness, severed from life, disconnected from my influence. I could do nothing except use my right hand to compel a distraught Naiee to give his brother a half-decent burial.
Unless Naiee wished to mourn his entire family, that time of remembrance would need to wait. With the cure in hand, he held the sole responsibility to save the life of his father, to finish what they both started. Thankfully, a benevolent creature expedited his return trip and gave him a fighting chance.
Nonetheless, there comes a time when our worst fear is the one thing that stands in the way of restoration — in Naiee’s case, this took the form of a river that cut off the path to his house. I pushed the right stick down on the controller, spammed the trigger, but the boy was simply unable to cross. He was now the only child, alone and helpless. This threw him into tears.
At this moment, his mother’s spirit appeared and brought some much-needed comfort. Then, as the wind rose, Nyaa’s encouraging voice became increasingly audible. I tried again to push Naiee through the river with my right thumb, but to my dismay, he remained stationary. But surely those supernatural signs meant something, didn’t they? Could it be that the game was glitching on me?
I did what gamers do in times of frustration; I spammed everything. And behold, the game was indeed “bugged”… For when I put pressure on the left stick — the one assigned to the deceased brother — Naiee started to perform the impossible. Overcoming all limitations, he paddled as Nyaa would in a miracle that was both narrative and mechanical. He was actually swimming!
Seated comfortably in my cozy room, I understand that this reality of mine is less prone to carry such excitement and drama. There is much contentment to be found in the mundane, though once in a while curiosity pokes its head in and lures my mind into exploring the hypothetical. I enjoy these moments, as they often reveal greater perspectives and allow me to marvel at how insignificant I am. The opportunity to examine the astounding impact that could result from brotherly relationships only adds to the appreciation.
In the end, to live their story as part of my narrative experience in this world, and the mechanical possibility of doing so from the safety of my own home is also, by the standards of an only child, a two-fold miracle.
- Ecclesiastes 4:12 (NIV).