When Michel Hazanavicius’ mutli award winning black-and-white silent film The Artist (2011) arrived in cinemas, audiences were captivated by this wordless wonder. Our protagonist, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) the leading light in the silent film era, finds his career and life unravelling with the arrival of the “talkie” era of Hollywood. The films emphasis on score and gesture were more than sufficient to tell this compelling story of loss, pride and transition without a single spoken word.
In Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (2013) a similar impact is achieved. Opening with one of our two protagonists Naiee grieving at his mother’s grave, tormented with memories of her drowning and his inability to save her, his elder brother Nyaa informs him that their father has taken ill. The brothers must journey to the Tree of Life to collect water in order to save him. Our heroes travel through towns, hills, and mountains, reuniting friendly trolls, saving a man from suicide, evading terrifying wolves and rescuing a girl from sacrificial offering. These events bring the brothers closer together. The gameplay requires you to use your controller to full effect; both analogue sticks and shoulder buttons are used in perfect symmetry to guide the brothers on their quest. In this dialogue free universe, events are emotionally charged through score and gesture alone. One particular setpiece unsettled me so much, that completing the ensuing gameplay event was a palpable experience. Through simple gesture alone, I was taken on an emotional journey far surpassing the geographical journey I embarked on with our protagonists. In no other game have I experienced a truer breaking of the fourth wall between player and protagonist. Through the duality of gesture and emotional mindset I was transported to a tangible reality. Brothers is a masterpiece, it left me ruminating on the preciousness of life and the inevitability of dealing with mortality.
In an industry of maturing storytelling and graphical fidelity, the sound of silence never seemed to offer so much.
words by david rushe