SPOILER WARNING

As of word of warning, I will be interpreting the meaning and messages behind the story of Firewatch and will therefore be referencing events and dialogue from the whole of Firewatch. DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER, IF YOU’VE NOT FINISHED THE GAME. For my spoiler-free thoughts on the game, read my review.


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Introduction: Am I missing something?

After my first play-through of Firewatch I was left feeling utterly confused. What happened to the government conspiracy? What happened to the axe murders abducting teenage girls? “That’s not what I expected,” I thought. Of course I understood the story on a surface level, but I was left feeling I had missed something. I felt there must have been more to Firewatch than what meets the eye; after just one playthrough, I felt like I had only begun to scratch the surface.

So I immediately began my second play-through. A third followed. And then it all began to click.

Studying and carefully considering the story, its major and minor characters, its setting, and even the video game form itself, I found something amazing. In my eyes, it was the kind of amazing that warranted a score of 10 in my review. Worried it may not click for everyone, I’ve endeavoured here to explain my interpretation of Firewatch, beginning with the narrative before moving into its meaning.

Let me stress, this is my interpretation; it may be wrong, yours may well be different. In fact, I would encourage you to form your own! I would love to hear your thoughts; I sense a discussion needs to be had regarding this game. (UPDATE: Thank you for all the comments! Be sure to continue scrolling after reading my thoughts to read the dozens more interpretations.)

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Explanation:

Part One: Firstly, what on earth happened?

Firewatch’s story wraps up quickly, with lots of little narrative pieces hidden in the brief instances of dialogue or in notes scattered throughout the game map. As a result, you might finish the game confused as I initially did. Therefore, let me try to quickly summarise the basic plot as I understand it. Of course, this is my reading of the plot; yours may well differ, so don’t be afraid to share your thoughts in the ongoing discussion in the comments below. (UPDATE: Countless others already have.)

The game begins with an introduction to Henry, drunk in a bar, as he meets a college professor, Julia. (As you play as Henry throughout the game, I will use ‘you’ and ‘Henry’ interchangeably.)  The two start dating, fall in love, get a dog, talk about kids, got through normal strains on any relationship and drink a lot. There’s a lot of drinking in this game — remember that, that’s important.

Anyhow, Julia develops early onset dementia and her memory starts failing. As Henry, you make the choice to put her in a care facility or to try and look after her yourself. Ultimately, the decision you make doesn’t matter (that’s kind of the point, we’ll get back to it) but either way she ends up with her family back in Melbourne, Australia.

Unable to deal with the situation, Henry takes a job working as a fire lookout at the Two Forks lookout in the Shoshone National Park with supervisor Delilah, whom you talk to via radio.

Delilah has had it rough too. She kind of abandoned her boyfriend when his relative died and he rightly dumped her, but she blamed the whole thing on him. Notice the theme of abandonment yet? Julia’s kind of troubled as well – the poor soul – and is somewhat of a regular at the Shoshone.

Progressing forward, you run into some troublesome teenage girls who later go missing. Naturally, you suspect this scary looking figure you ran into soon after seeing the girls. This figure turns out to be Ned, we’ll get back to him. He’s very important.firewatch-2

Henry returns to his lookout to find it trashed. You blame either the sinister looking figure (Ned) or the teenage girls. Either way, Delilah puts in a call and attempts to pursue the matter, but her inquiries are sabotaged as someone cuts the communications wire. It’s made to look like the teenage girls did it, so you track down their camp to give them what for, but discover they’ve gone and the camp left ransacked.

Assuming it was a bear or a “mushroom trip” or something, you let it slide but later discover a strange transcript of Henry’s dialogue with Delilah. Before Henry can really compose his thoughts, someone clocks him around the back of the head and takes off. You remember enough before being knocked unconscious however to discover an even strange fenced off area in the forest called Wapiti Station.

Uncovering clues suggesting someone is observing and studying both he and Delilah, Henry suspects some grand conspiracy. You break in and uncover all sorts of strange surveillance material, a radio wave detector that picks up electronic signal and more “scientific” records of you and Delilah. Angry and scared, she suggests burning the whole place down, but you dissuade her. Regardless, the place catches fire as you’re leaving. Not cool!

Later that evening, your fancy new radio wave detector picks up a signal which leads you to the very well hidden – and alarmed – set of keys to the cave you stumbled across earlier. Delilah spots someone at Henry’s lookout, but they’re gone by the time you arrive. All that’s left is a cassette tape with a recording of Henry and Delilah’s conversation prior making it sound like you wanted to burn down Wapiti Station. Eek!

The next day, you use your newly acquired key to get into the cave but someone shuts the gate behind you and traps you in. Desperate to get out of this creepy cave, you manage to find a way out that leads you to the hideout of Brian Goodwin. Brian Goodwin was a 12 year old kid that lived with his father and PTSD-sufferer, Ned Goodwin (a.k.a the mysterious figure you were to remember), at Two Forks three years ago. However, the pair mysteriously vanished.

At Brian’s hideout, you find some anchors that allow you to climb deeper into the cave where you sadly discover Brian Goodwin’s severely decomposed corpse.

Well and truly over it, Delilah and Henry decide to leave the next day. However, your radio wave detector picks up another signal which leads to a rope and another cassette. The rope leads to Ned’s lookout and the cassette is a voice recording of Ned Goodwin – who is alive after all – explaining the truth…

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Part Two: So… there’s no conspiracy right?

Nope. This is a very real story of human tragedy. Or at least, that’s how I see it.

Piecing together what I can from the notes in Ned’s hideout and his explanation on the voice recording, I feel like I now have a understanding of all the character motivations, and an explanation from all the mysterious events.

Brian is killed in a climbing accident, we kind of have to take Ned’s word on that. Maybe he murdered him, had a PTSD episode and inadvertently killed him, or maybe Ned was just negligent, but either way it sends Ned of the rails and he abandons his post and hides away in the forest, literally and figuratively abandoning his son.

And so he lives in solitude for three years until he accidentally runs into Henry, triggering all the following events. It’s very cause and effect.

Ned’s ransacked Henry’s lookout, perhaps in an effort to scare him off having ran into Henry. He’s paranoid and so acts irrationally. Or perhaps he was ransacking the joint prior to bumping into Henry for supplies, hoping the teenage girls you pissed off would take the blame. That perhaps makes sense considering winter is coming.

Either way, Delilah puts in the call. Ned, attempting to stop Delilah from pursuing the matter further, cuts the communications line and frames the teenage girls leaving the trail of beer cans. As Henry goes to confront them, Ned panics again knowing the girls would deny any involvement and perhaps cause Henry to suspect someone else. Subsequently, Ned destroys the girls’ camp so as to scare them off, leaving Ned’s sheets to direct suspicion towards them for wrecking his lookout. Alternatively, he could have destroyed the camp earlier in a bid to get rid of them too. Worried that this will cause issues for them and may merely be the result of a rogue bear or the influence of drugs, Henry and Delilah put the matter aside, blaming the teenage girls at that point for most of the trouble. Both have had trouble with the police in the past, so it makes sense that they would avoid calling them.

Ned’s in the clear for the time being, but makes a mistake, leaving his transcript of Henry and Delilah’s conversations for Henry to find near the lake. He freaks again, knocking out Henry.

2907271a-de48-4d33-a120-5f65c67e7eb5Trying to make the most of Henry and Delilah’s paranoia to scare them away (and explain the recorded dialogue), he leads them to believe that they are the subjects of scientific research by planting false “scientific reports” as Wapiti Station. The station is actually a university research site, currently on break for the summer (this can be discovered by finding a particularly well hidden note). It’s somewhat realistic that Delilah did not know about it; we’ve already established that the Forest Service’s communication and organisation is not great and the station is in at the base of the valley, surrounded by trees, making it difficult to see.

Ned takes advantage of Delilah’s remarks about burning the site down by recording them to use as leverage as need be, and proceeds to burn the site down himself.

Back at Two Forks, the radio wave detector Henry takes from the station picks up Ned’s alarm guarding the cave keys he’d attempted to hide. Admittedly, this confuses me. My guess is that Ned was likely unaware the alarm, potentially a backup in case something or someone stumbles on the keys, would be picked up by the radio wave detector. I don’t know how plausible that is, but it could be possible.

As Henry explores the cave, Ned makes a final ditch attempt to stop him finding Brian’s body. Ned may well want to avoid Henry calling in a search and rescue squad to locate Ned, or the police on suspicion of his murder, so Ned shuts the door behind Henry in an effort to trap him in there. Unfortunately for him, Henry breaks out, finding Brian’s hideout and anchors, which a note reveals Brian has kept hidden from Ned, because he’s not keen on climbing. Hmmm, Brian didn’t like climbing hey? Interesting… Did Ned insist he join him on his climbs?

Anyhow, using the anchors Ned didn’t account on you finding, Henry climbs deeper into the cave eventually leading him to Brian’s body.

Conceding defeat and being forced to flee because of the approaching fire anyway, Ned leads Henry to his hideout and admits the truth, pleading Henry not to send anyone after him, but let him live alone in the forest where he does not have to take responsibility for his mistakes.

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Analysis:

Part One: Okay… But what does that all mean? That’s kind of anti-climatic right?

Hell no. This is where it gets crazy, and I perhaps get a little crazy analytical, so stick with me if you’ve made it this far.

“I came out here for a breath of fresh air and some adventure.”

Henry delivers this line right at the beginning of the game, and I’ve put it in bold for a reason. In this one line, almost all of Henry’s character motivations are explained.

Firewatch is all about escapism. It’s about running away from real life, from it’s hardships, from your mistakes. Almost every character in the game has a troubled past they are trying to flee from, mistakes they are trying to avoid facing, all of which are inescapable facts of life. Firewatch reminds us that no one is safe from the harsh reality of life. We must face hardship, and deal with its consequences.

Don’t believe me? In the initial stages of the game, the text choices you make are interrupted by Henry literally making his escape into the Shoshone. You even run into a wild deer, which becomes startled as you approach, and flees for safety. The theme slaps you right across the face.

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Regardless of the decisions you make in the introduction, mistakes with regards to your relationship with Julia are unavoidable, and Henry runs away from the situation rather than confronting it. For example, when she comes home late you can either be angry or ignore it, but both have negative consequences on your relationship. Let’s remember that we are human, and humans make mistakes. They are an unavoidable fact of life. Unable to deal with the degradation of their relationship, and Julia’s worsening illness, Henry goes seeking “a breath of fresh air and some adventure,” a reprieve to distract him from his thoughts.

It explains why he builds up the conspiracy in his head as he does. Some part of him – something I would argue is part of us all – seeks some desperate, terrible circumstance to distracts us from other challenging aspects of our lives. A grand “conspiracy” seems a plausible because it conveniently distracts him from his real problems. If you play-through the game again, knowing that it is indeed all Ned’s creation, Wapiti Station looks far more fake and clearly not a centre for human surveillance. The folder with their names on it only has only one page of “reports” for each of them; that’s not a very detailed study going on. Yet he seeks this distraction, this psychological escape and so willingly accepts it. We too go to play video games looking for a ‘story’ to distract us from the mundane reality of our lives, so we’re likely to believe it too — but more on that later.

Escapism is symbolised in the cast of supporting characters too. Delilah represents a possible source of escape for Henry, potentially even a romantic one that you can attempt to pursue. That ultimately fails too; Delilah is an influencing factor on Henry, despite making an escape herself. She too escapes to the lookout post each season, taking a break from life, but the struggles that plague her thoughts remain and she continuously returns to alcohol as an escape. Alcohol is somewhat of a motif throughout the game, continuously signposting escape attempts, from the teenage girls, to Delilah, to Henry himself who admits to being a heavy drinker. That obviously doesn’t work for them either; remember they both get DUIs.

It’s interesting that players so eagerly pursue romance with Delilah or at least want to meet her. Maybe the player wants to abandon Julia, his/your wife, too? I wonder how many of you spotted the ring on Henry’s desk and decided to put it back on…? Again, more on this later.

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However, no escape attempts works. Fate forces reality back onto Henry, back onto Delilah and back even onto Ned. The fire, symbolic of life, fate or whatever, closes in on them and forces them out of the forest, back to reality.

Ned maybe represents the extreme path Henry could’ve gone down. There are strong parallels between them. Faced with an incredibly tough situation – the death of his son – Ned abandons Brian and escapes into the depths of the forest, into complete solitude where he does not have to face up to his mistakes or deal with the hardships of real life. Remember, Henry too has abandoned Julia and runs away from dealing with it. Having discovered the truth about Ned, Delilah curses him, calling him a “coward”. Is Henry not cowardly too?

As fate would have it though, cause and effect – and continued mistakes on behalf of Ned – force Ned back to reality as he admits the truth to Henry in a bid to prevent him from alerting the authorities. A manhunt would well and truly foil Ned’s escape.

The truth of the matter is there is no gigantic, larger than life conspiracy. There is no grand plan, no puppet master pulling the strings. There is no one to blame, nowhere to escape, even in the depths of the forest in 1989 before the time of cellphones and the internet. Firewatch is a realistic look at inescapable human tragedy. We learn that no matter how hard we try, any attempt to flee reality is doomed to fail. We must face it. We must confront it. We must deal with our mistakes. Life will always catch up to us.Firewatch-13

Part Two: Isn’t the act of playing video games a form of escape?

And then we consider the form of video games themselves and it gets even more interesting and frankly what makes this game so special I felt it deserved the highest score I could award it. Firewatch affirms video games as a true art-form.

And video games are inherently related to escapism. We play video games to escape aspects of our lives, the hard bits and the boring bits. We enter a world, a world of fantasy, of the surreal, so as to escape and momentarily distract us from the real world. Henry, both literally and metaphorically, enters a video game.

Do we not – in a metaphorical sense – play games for a “breath of fresh air and some adventure?”

Campo Santo use and manipulate the form of video games to impart the same message; escape is impossible, whether it be in the Shoshone Forest or in a video game, we must eventually leave or log-off and return to reality.

They do so by removing our decision making power, as life so often does. There is a single, fated outcome and despite our best efforts, we are destined to arrive at the same destination, even if the journey is different.

Firewatch exploits traditional video game conventions to build suspense. We’re familiar with outlandish, unrealistic stories in games and as we uncover clues, we naturally begin to formulate our own ideas of conspiracy, of scientific studies, aliens, monsters and axe murders. Let me remind you of the poorly supplied ‘surveillance facility’ we uncover, or the romantic relationship we pursue with Julia. We pursue the same escape Henry seeks.

However, the game ends the way it does and reality hits us hard. There is no conspiracy, just a tragic tale of people unable to deal with the hardships of life. In the end, it’s kind of mundane, sort of anticlimactic. But then, life often is. There’s no grand narrative, climax or big reveal, just real life with all its faults. Depressing I know.

Campo Santo use the medium of video games in a way I’ve never experienced before, in the process making criticisms of the form like no one has done before. Video games, like taking a job as a fire lookout, cannot allow us to escape. Nothing can. We must eventually log-off and return to reality. That’s probably something all gamers ought to remember.

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Conclusion:

There we have it; that’s my attempt at explaining and interpreting Firewatch. That’s the depth to which I believe this story goes to, and the reason I felt it deserved a 10.

I feel that – in basic terms – Firewatch tries to impart the impossibility of escape. We cannot escape the harsh reality of life, regardless of what decisions we make. Hardship is something we all experience at some point or another, but we must face it and confront our mistakes.

But that’s my reading of Firewatch, what’s yours?

(UPDATE: Subsequent to publishing my explanation, the game’s lead artist – a well known artist in his own right – Olly Moss gave my thoughts some credit in the tweet embedded below, so perhaps I’m not wildly off the mark.)

  • Mandela Man

    Very interesting opinion. I find myself agreeing with it wholeheartedly. I was also very confused as to where the whole “conspiracy” thing was going and was surprised it ended up going nowhere. As you pointed out, that is the entire point. Can’t wait to play this game again.

    • Ewan Roxburgh

      Thanks for the comment! I think it’s definitely more enjoyable the second time ?

  • Clayton Burk

    I found it very underwhelming.

    • Ewan Roxburgh

      As life so often is right? (Sorry, that’s kind of bleak.)

      • Alex

        Exactly… That’s what I felt – this story is just like real life. This realization was such a stark contrast with how the scenery is portrayed – idyllic, dreamy, picture perfect, better than reality-like.

        • Tyler

          Yeah I like how you bring up the scenery. The escape always does look and feel dreamy and perfect. Nobody intentionally runs away into the exact same place you were escaping. You try and escape reality by going somewhere dreamy, better than reality. Maybe you are turning on a movie, a video game, or maybe you are traveling across the world. It all feels dreamy. That all ends when reality catches up to you.

  • Just finished the game and came straight here to read your analysis because I was confused. I’m a lot less confused now, so thanks. I think your interpretation is pretty spot on.

    (spoilers ahead)

    My only problem with the game was that it was too short, and I know that seems really picky, but an hour or two more of hiking and talking to Delilah would have improved the pacing. The first two days were really enjoyable and then it started jumping between days/weeks, which also made it difficult to find the relationship built between the player (Henry) and Delilah … convincing enough? I just wasn’t feeling it. I mean, by the end, a genuine connection between them mayyyy have been there, and some players may have even asked her to go to Boulder with Henry, but the night she was saying shit like “I don’t talk to the other lookouts like I talk to you” and that she wished she was with me (Henry) in my tower, I was just thinking wooahhh settle down, I hardly know you yet!

    • Ewan Roxburgh

      Thanks Dave!

      I’m kind of with you there on the Delilah front. I thought the character was well performed and fleshed out enough to establish a connection, or at least some attraction, but I didn’t gel with her in that way at first. Perhaps I was just too loyal to Julia.

      In my second play through however, I flirted with her as much as possible, ignored the wedding ring (even throwing it in the sink), but you do not achieve a romantic relationship with Delilah. You do not achieve that escape.

      • I did the same thing, putting the wedding ring back on, propping Julia’s photo up daily, and ignoring Delilah’s advances… Then replaying and going for it and tossing my ring and photo away.

    • I believe that was meant to be unsettling on purpose. The sudden moves from Delilah, when you are still grappling with the loss/guilt of abandoning Julia is meant to raise suspicions that she might not be entirely truthful and perhaps not on your side.

  • Daminou Dehell

    Damn, that’s totally my thoughts after completing the game. It felt even greater as I spent the whole game trying to accept the fate of Julia, and accept my incoming grief. I wore the wedding ring, but I also didn’t feel strong enough to want to go see her in Australia… My goal was ultimately to find a way to deal with this Julia’s situation, I was glad that it was actually the point of the game, and not some kind of weird conspiracy scenario.

    The last part of your analysis is pretty interesting, though, I have to admit I didn’t think about the parallel between the game’s theme and the fact we are playing a videogame.

    The more I think about Firewatch’s writing, the more interesting and powerful it gets. Great article, thanks for putting some words on my vague thoughts 🙂

    • Ewan Roxburgh

      Thanks for kind words! It’s good to hear you were impacted a similar way as me 😀 Thanks for reading all 3000 words too!

  • Guest

    I neglected to look at the papers in the research area, which are apparently all about bears, and only the one folder has Ned’s personality assessment of H and D. So I really didn’t understand it, and thought there was some government involvement! Makes sense now though, so thanks. Something I wanted to hear someone’s thoughts about: D’s “work” call in the beginning, in which she says stuff about how “he” doesn’t know anything… + the stuff in Ned’s note in the research area that says D still has a boyfriend… Is that saying that D sleeps around, and is cheating on her current boyfriend? Is the boyfriend the one who doesn’t know anything… And she gets all upset as you mention it when leaving Wapiti Station, so maybe she just doesn’t want you to find out the real her. Which would fit with the theme I guess.

    • Ewan Roxburgh

      I thought about that a little bit. I thought it was maybe just an innocent call that we could blow out of proportion and view as part of the conspiracy. But maybe people have different interpretations.

      • Hoaxness

        It would make sense, I guess. Throughout the game, she gave off a vibe off someone who’s not really that into sticking to one person (even though she had a relationship of 5 years) She even says so in the beginning, if you choose the right option with Henry. So maybe, her sleeping around was one escape from reality (the past she had with Javier) and now she might be escaping from somebody else entirely. Idk, wish we had more information on the topic, because even though it was probably quite the innocent call, “he does not know anything” must be an escape from somebody.

        I don’t think it’s about Henry, as I thought in the beginning. And seeing her relationship with Javier ended, it must be somebody else. Furthermore, it’s a great Red Herring; it makes us believe there is something more happening (such as a conspiracy), but it’s just innocent. We want to believe, otherwise the game feels too much like real life, which we are trying to escape from and that is why we follow Henry in his delusional theories.

        There are many options, and yet they road towards the ending might be a little different, the ending is still the same. So, I’m paraphrasing somebody in the Youtube comments section now, it’s more internal than external. We’re not really a Player playing the game, we are Henry. And his path is already set out, we can’t change it. We can’t force a relationship happening, for example. Even though we control his actions, we’re not in control of his destiny. We’re just living his life.

        Anyroad, I honestly expected something more. Some kind of conspiracy, and that is why I’m attracted to the ending. It is just a slice of life that makes you think. Think about how you can’t escape your problems nor your reality. I’m not usually for these kinds of endings, but I like it when they occur.

        Ps: If you look at the story, it’s also about dementia, and people are speculating that a lot of the things happening could possible refer to that. You spend so much time with Delilah, and at the end we don’t even get to see her, nor is she coming with us and in the end the rug was literally pulled right out from under us. Just like with Julia, who Henry knew for a long time and then she was not really herself anymore. So, the makers probably wanted to give us that same “anything can be easily taken away” feeling Henry experienced too. Furthermore, you lose large amounts of time (skipping the days), nothing makes sense, you don’t know who you can trust. (The last bit are ideas from random people actually, some of which actually came to this page, so kudos to them). Besides, the books the characters are reading are all connected to the mind (or some of them really)
        I enjoyed your theory very much, so I thank you for that^^
        – Hoaxness

        • Ewan Roxburgh

          It sounds like you’ve put a lot of thought into the game, I appreciate your input 😀

  • Maux

    But what about the remark of Henry when he sees the notes that Ned took about containing stuff about Julia he (Henry) never told Delilah? Ned couldn’t have overheard and therefore known about that stuff.

    • Ewan Roxburgh

      Yeah, I was less sure on that. Depending on the dialogue choices you make, Delilah shares more or less about Javier too.

      You might remember Henry keeps a journal (he picks it up in the opening and you see the sketch of his model pose). I thought perhaps Ned read parts of the journal when he has the opportunity. We know he visits the lookout on more than one occasion. Maybe he frequented it as part of his surveillance of Henry.

      All kind of speculative though… You got an interpretation?

      • Steven Micko

        Something I’ve not seen anyone else mention is the stuff Henry types out. I don’t think I managed to read every one of them because I forgot, but next to the typewriter there are some pages that Henry has typed. I think there’s a new one on top of the pile every day but I’m not sure. They contain some important backstory on him and Julia, and it may be where Ned got his info from.

        • Ewan Roxburgh

          I didn’t realise that was readable, might be something else I should investigate.

          • Steven Micko

            You can’t pick it up I don’t think, but you can zoom in and read it on the table.

          • Ewan Roxburgh

            Noted! (Unintentional pun, I’m sorry.)

      • I feel like it’s pretty fair to assume that there’s more discussion that goes on between Delilah and Henry, as well as surveillance of Henry than is shown in the game. Note that Ned reaches out to Henry specifically, suggesting a one-sided relationship of sorts, and that he seems to imply that Henry was the one he was “keeping an eye on”.

        We jump across gaps measuring in weeks where we’re invited to entertain that the relationship between Henry and Delilah has strengthened (supported by Delilah’s responses after Henry finds the clipboard), and that Henry has become more comfortable with existing within the Shoshone (the sunset sandwich and initial spotting of the large fire are nice moments that seem to reflect this).

      • Bryan Generous

        We also know that Henry told things to Delilah about Julia that we didn’t actually hear, during those gaps in time, just based on how she talks about Julia as the game movies on, so I just figured Ned got that info from there.

  • Anna

    Really interesting analysis, you made me like the game even more.

    However, I thought of the whole “isolation” and “working as a lookout” thing as a pause on life to reflect and make the bests choice regarding Julia. I just kept thinking Henry loves Julia, but what is he supposed to do? He’s still young and can’t be the rest of his life alone with a woman who most of the time doesn’t even recognise him. Should he sacrifice his love life because of his wife’s fate? It reminded me a lot of a part of the story from Jane Eyre.

    I did see the ring and did put it back on without hesitating or even considering on leaving it there.

    Also, in the last day of the game, when you’re headed to the pickup spot, I asked Delilah to wait for me. Not because I wanted to meet her but because I was scared something would happen (Ned assuring his secret was kept safe, getting lost in the forest and/or trapped by the fire or just simply encountering a bear, which they kept talking about during the game) and that Henry would end up dead and forgotten in the forest.

    Anyhow, thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • Ewan Roxburgh

      I love your reading, and I know exactly what you mean with that Jane Eyre reference! (Jane Eyre happens to be one of my faves ?)

      And I too asked Delilah to wait for me. I want pursuing anything romantic, but I just wanted wanted a friend.

      • JoshJack

        Did you also notice that Jane Eyre was one of the books in the caches? I thought that was a nice touch.

        • Ewan Roxburgh

          I did ?

  • Sandra

    Great analysis! Made me appreciate this game even more. I have a feeling I’ll be coming back to this game regularly. Sooo good!

    • Ewan Roxburgh

      I’m glad you liked the game!

  • Adding to the whole Ned-Henry parallel is the final scene in the game when the helicopter comes to get you—if you actually wait about 2 minutes without boarding the helicopter, it’ll actually leave you behind and the game ends. I guess it’s implied that Henry decides to abandon his life back in Colorado and just stay there.

    A further implication is that Henry perhaps makes a more extreme choice than Ned; whereas Ned goes deeper into the Shoshone to escape the fire and possible consequences and live by himself, Henry decides to stay behind and just die in the growing inferno.

    • Ewan Roxburgh

      Wow! I didn’t do that in any of my play throughs! That’s awesome! Thanks for letting me know, that sort of reinforces my speculation as to his character.

      But I love your whole idea behind him staying behind! Fascinating ?

  • Tim Hengeveld

    When I was linked here I thought there might have been some deeper layer I missed, but this is actually exactly how I understood the story, so I think you’re absolutely right. Did so many people miss the point of the game? Maybe because, as you say, the average gamer is trained to expect conspiracies?

    • Ewan Roxburgh

      I sense the story didn’t connect for a lot of people, that’s why I decided to write this yeah. Glad to hear I’m not alone though, worried I might have been reading too much into it.

  • Gary Postlethwaite

    I wish there was more of a comparison between Dave and Ned’s relationship and the theme because that’s what I was thinking about a lot. Like how Ned seems to (frequently) abandon Dave, but Dave is the one left in the forest not the other way around, also did the theme of escapism not apply to them?

    • Ewan Roxburgh

      I suspected Ron and Dave might be of great significance, but I was not confident enough in my ideas. I may need to research their story some more.

      I thought it was funny how one of them (can’t remember which) was trying to ‘escape’ their family, but was constantly receivin letters from his sister. Despite being totally isolated from them, she’s still able to annoy him.

      • Yeah, I still have a lot of unanswered questions about Ron and Dave (I think they were in love, but then, why was Ron dating a girl?). I had to wonder about the missing hiker, too. Maybe all of that is unconnected and peripheral. Oh yeah, and that other cabin out near the supply drop point that Delilah refuses to comment on–what the heck is with that? There are song lyrics in the outhouse, and in one playthrough, there was a guitar in the ruined cabin (in another playthrough there was no guitar). There’s a Korean War vet hat in the supply box, which she does comment about, so why doesn’t she talk about the cabin? I know Ned was a war vet with PTSD, but I don’t think that would have been the Korean war, and why would Ned have had that cabin? He had the Two Forks Lookout. And after he abandoned the lookout and hid in the forest, he wouldn’t have built a cabin. So the cabin must have been before Ned/Brain even arrived.

        Still so many questions!

  • this is deep.

    • Ewan Roxburgh

      It’s a deep game I reckon.

  • Stass

    Why has no one pointed out any of the grammatical mistakes in this. For example calling Brian, Brain multiple times throughout and using their instead of they’re. I really liked the article as I had just finished the game but just wanted to point this out for you so maybe give it a quick edit.

    • Ewan Roxburgh

      Noted. I tried to get this out quickly and yes there are mistakes. It frustrates me too! I apologize and will try to improve.

      On a side note, I did strive to use Brian’s name as much as possible to avoid confusion. Little annoying if there was a typo, my apologies.

      • Ewan Roxburgh

        My high school English teachers would be amazed I was still making those mistakes.

        • Stass

          haha, luckily they probably arent reading your articles

  • Grégory Geinoz

    (Little spoilers)
    That is a really nice explanation. And I think that you touched the ”deep message” of this game.
    But still …. There must be more … Like Ron and Dave, there is maybe a connection between all the boxes and notes, a different storyline, more clues. Or the notes that Henry writes every day … Or other mysterious stuff (wtf was this ski under this tree ? Nothing maybe, maybe not ^^).
    This game is a little too short, but its story is cool, the graphics are simple and really beautiful, the music too. A really good stuff.
    I thought that it would be a survival-horror game, you know, alone in an unescapable forest with mysterious stuff happening … I thought it would be a ”Ethan Carter like” (play it ;D). But no, it was in fact a sad story about a dad and his beloved (for me it was an accident) child.
    Well, thank you mate for your job here !

    • Ewan Roxburgh

      You’re welcome, glad it was useful to you and thousands of words didn’t go to waste! But yes, could of gone on for thousands more on the whole Ron and Dave thing likely.

      • ShiggyHappyFunMan

        I just finished the game last night… What is this Ron and Dave stuff everyone on here is talking about? Never came across anything about them.

  • ChrisHarrisionPhoto

    Fascinating, reading this straight after finishing it for the first time really, really helps.

    I spent my play through incredibly suspicious of Delilah (particularly after the overheard phone call), so was a short as possible with her throughout.

    Amazing that a seemingly simple game can provoke actions like that, when you think about it.

    • Ewan Roxburgh

      Great to hear! Thank you 🙂

    • Now you’ll have to replay and be less short with her! I was really suspicious about that, too, but I finally figured out it must have been about her personal life and have nothing to do with Henry.

  • josephpwagner

    Some things still don’t add up for me when it comes to the surveillance.

    1. How does Ned, a man completely off the grid, come across tons of advanced equipment, set up a sophisticated camp and erect a fence with government warning signs all over it? Remember: We had the memo left behind by the firefighters that the camp was known and there were concerns the experiments there were going to be interrupted.
    2. The documents Henry finds are clearly about a 10-week psychological trial. Henry is marked as being highly likely (9/10) to be able to be manipulated.
    3. Delilah acts shady throughout their conversations. We catch a side conversation where she leaves the radio on, and she also has been dishonest to Henry about her relationship having ended (according to the surveillance documents). Then, after 10 weeks of daily conversation and trauma she bolts before ever meeting Henry.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on these items, particularly #1/2. #3 I can chalk up to normal human behavior.

    • Ewan Roxburgh

      I do address some of these points.

      1. That is university research equipment, I believe they are studying deer in the Shoshone. It was not Ned’s equipment, but he broke in knowing Henry would investigate, and made it look like they were researching him and Delilah. The legitimate university research was not operating at that point in time (they were on break) but the note left for the firefighters was only concerning the protection of their equipment.
      2. Those documents were all forged by Ned. You discover this upon finding his hide out, where he had draft “reports” of Henry and Delilah near his typewriter.
      3. Delilah’s conversation was unrelated to the whole thing, but we naturally suspect her as being part of the whole fictional conspiracy we conjure up to create an imaginary problem larger than the real problems Henry has to deal with.

      Hope that helps! z

      • I was confused about Delilah’s conversation as well. I finally decided it must be about Javier (whom I never managed to get her to talk about much or at all!)

  • Chris

    Henry is Delilah’s escape. She sees him as the remedy to her problems, even though she knows it’s not right for him. Like all the other characters, her escape plan comes to nought.

    I see the Dave and Ron “mystery” as just that. I think they are to the player what the conspiracy theory is to Henry. We want it to be something bigger and grander, but it’s not. The game gives no more info on them so all we have (meaning all it is) is a few notes between mates.

    • Ewan Roxburgh

      Lovely interpretation!

  • ChrisHarrisionPhoto

    Thinking about these points highlights what is by far the biggest issue with the game: they key locations are almost all accompanied by a sense of urgency (brought about by Delilah). Many people have missed much of the backstory as they have wrongly but understandably assumed there is a time pressure at these critical points in the game.

    I know many didn’t even visit Ned’s hideout, and the subtleties of the research station are easy to miss given you’re pressured to leave asap.

  • swifterik

    Great explanation.
    Though I have a question. Can someone explain to me why Delilah hiked through the night to hide the “untapped” radio in the cache, that was south from Henry’s tower, meaning that, since her tower is north from henry’s, she had to go PAST Henry’s tower to get to the cache.
    Maybe I misunderstood what happened there, but why didn’t she just knock on our door and gave us the radio herself?

  • aliendrone

    You know I remember when I finished Gone Home, SPOILERS that game also deceive me into thinking it was some kind of horror creepy stuff.. At the end it was only about a teenage girl running away from home.. I must admit I enjoy this games even if they aren’t so much on the gameplay as we usually think of games in general. I sit down and get immersed on the dialogues and landscapes.. It was a nice work.

    • Yep, I thought Gone Home was going to be a haunted house sim and got that–then I thought Firewatch was going to be a hiking/nature/ranger sim and got something else instead. 🙂 Loved them both though!

  • Brad Danyluk

    TL;DR: We don’t need stories which only point out that real life is often mundane. That’s the entire reason we’re seeking out a story in the first place. We do need more stories about people, which this game is – until it decides it’s instead going to be a tricky thriller – and then steals that back from us again without ever paying-off either the thriller part or the human part.

    I disagree that the theme was setup well. The problem is that you’re playing it in the context of the game. Yeah, in the real world, Wapiti Station would have more research to uncover if it was a “real” conspiracy, but in games, we’re entirely used to this level of detail (the minimum required to advance the plot around the point presented) being the “real deal.” So it’s very easy as a player to accept it wholesale. We come to expect things like this in the context of a game as representing real stuff. We assume that there actually is more there in some boxes somewhere, but that the game has deemed it unnecessary to show us anything more specifically. And I don’t think that fact says anything particularly deep or interesting about games or players. This is the medium the devs have chosen to tell their story, and there are consequences of using that medium which effect the ways in which they can tell the story. That has to be accepted for it to work.

    The other problem is that there actually kind of was a conspiracy. It was the conspiracy of a single man (Ned) alone in the woods grappling with his demons, but you know what? He could very well have been actually dangerous, given his situation. He did punch Henry out (which, by the way, means he punched Henry hard enough he could have killed him). I never assumed it was necessarily the government or whatever (and I made Henry’s dialogue choices reflect that I felt that), I just accepted that I didn’t know exactly what was going on – only that it wasn’t good. And in the end I was proved right. Um, OK? It feels like half a plot. I certainly didn’t come out of it thinking that H and D were just being paranoid. They were reacting very reasonably to a pretty crazy man. And so… I didn’t learn anything interesting about them from the “thriller” plot.

    What I really wanted from this game was for it to commit to being one thing or the other. It plays like an interesting human-interaction experience and nature-exploration game for a while, and then it starts playing like a thriller. It’s almost good at both. But only almost. I liked the game, but I think I would have truly loved it if Ned didn’t even exist. If the game committed to being a story about being alone in the woods doing real firewatchy stuff (more interactions with nuisance locals, more problems related to actual reporting of fires) and meanwhile expanded far more on a rich theme of human contact between Henry and Delilah. In the version we got, they stop having personal conversations to focus on the “conspiracy,” and the game loses its intimacy. If the writers are going to do that, then at least make the thriller twist pay off. But better yet, don’t do it at all, and make the character exploration pay off instead.

    “Real life doesn’t always pay off” the article says (paraphrasing). I don’t give a whoop. This is a story, not real life. Good stories are known to have payoffs, in whatever form, since the dawn of storytelling. If this were a novel or a movie, media which are far more mature in storytelling than games, I would be even more dissatisfied with the writing. Yeah, it took a direction in storytelling we don’t normally see, but there’s a damn good reason we don’t normally see it: it doesn’t work. Look at the movie Adaptation. It’s a story precisely about the lack of payoff and drama in real life, but then it goes somewhere – drama and payoff are added in huge quantity to tell us that we can and should seek those things out in stories, because they are far more rewarding than their absence.

    None of this is to say that payoffs must be “good,” or even satisfying. But they should at least make an effort to be emotionally resonant. The very best endings in storytelling make you feel something difficult to explain, which then make you think for a long time. Instead, we were left with a very emotionally-hollow ending which does its very best to make you stop thinking about it by making it very clear that nothing really mattered.

    There was a huge wasted opportunity, for example, in exploring Delilah’s tower at the end. Even if the writers changed nothing else, simply providing some poignant clues there could leave such an impact. Perhaps clues that she was hiding an illness, forcing you to re-contextualize every interaction with her over the season. Or, if they wanted to payoff the conspiracy plot a little more, perhaps we find no evidence anyone had ever lived in her tower, opening some interesting questions.

    • FalloutNL

      Yeah, pretty much how I feel about it. It was a good game, but not great. It doesn’t commit to either of the things it tries to do. Especially the thriller part just felt weirdly anticlimactic. Still don’t really understand how Wapiti Station ties into Ned (did he just use their equipment or something? And what the hell were those two reports on D and H? Did he type those?). Also, why wouldn’t Ned just keep to himself. Seems like it would make much more sense for him to just hermit it out somewhere in the woods instead of antagonizing park rangers by keeping tabs on them and fucking with ’em.

      Still, there’s good stuff in there. Strolling through the woods and listening to Delilah and Henry talk was… nice.

    • Ewan Roxburgh

      You make some valid points. I’ll accept that it is a matter of personal experience, thank you for sharing yours. I’d like to add that I think it is credit to the game that it is able to create such discussion. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts 🙂

    • Tyler

      Your idea of removing Ned and making it almost like a Fire-watch simulation with this deep human interaction between Delilah and Henry sounds like a really good idea. Create a contrast between strangers hiking in the wilderness reacting to you and the connection you have with Delilah and/or people you have already met. I read your post and I do somewhat agree. I find the game had a refreshing ending. It was unusual and broke the idea that every story has a payoff of some sort.

    • Relaxel

      You definitely make good points, but stating that there needs to be a payoff in the story doesn´t seem right to me. “Good stories are known to have payoffs”. Have you considered all the stories that have an open ending? Stories that are seen as literary masterpieces. Simply deciding that a story is good when it has a payoff feels like a grab into space to me. It´s a story, but at no point does it attempt to give the player a certain impression. The great thing about it is how much you can work with the entire game. The only outcome you can really change is whether Henry stays and dies or flies away with the helicopter. However, the complexity and unlikeliness of the events that take place in the game make so many things interpretable, discussable and questionable that the story in no way needs a “point”. Also concerning your last statement about the missed opportunity with delilah´s watchtower, I would say that there are maybe some things you haven´t seen or looked up. One small example: Remember the “pork pond” sign that Delilah talked about being stolen? It´s hanging above her desk. That´s just one of many details though.

  • This was a fun read. Thanks for sharing!

    I feel like my interpretations of Ned’s actions are a little different – I saw him as being more calculated and deliberate with his approaches to scaring and tormenting Henry and Delilah. He was obviously panicked and working hard to react to everything that happened, but even when the clipboard at the lake was discovered, Ned still chose to lay a trap to knock Henry out rather than run away or murder Henry, which feel like the more believable actions for someone who’d been cornered like that.

    I’m not so sure that the alarm setting off the wave detector was an accident. Based on Ned’s behaviour up to that point, it feels in-line with this character to use the backpack to lure Henry out of the tower so that the tape recording of Henry and Delilah’s conversation about setting fire to Watapi Station could be planted. The alternative reading leaves it to coincidence that Henry had decided to go out when Ned needed to drop his blackmail package, which to me doesn’t feel like it gels as well with the story being told.

    The question that this raises for me is what Ned hoped to achieve by giving Henry the cave keys (assuming that it wasn’t an accident that they were on the bag). Was his intention to trap Henry in the cave, or to draw Henry towards discovering Brian’s remains (which to me seemed fairly well preserved – all his skin was intact)? If it’s the former, the incriminating tape is directed towards affecting Delilah’s emotional state. If it’s the latter, then this would be the first step in Ned deciding to open up to Henry and reveal the truth, and the tape is insurance against Henry reporting Brian’s death to the authorities.

    • Bryan Generous

      I’m just re-posting this from above because I feel like it applies here too, about Ned placing the bag and keys on purpose:

      I completely agree with this. It’s the one thing I have serious conflict with about the interpretation. And part of the reason for that is because I went to that spot prior to having to, and there was nothing there, so Ned must have placed the bag there after the fact.
      My guess is that Ned wanted to Henry to find Brian, to unburden himself of being the only one to know about it, without having to still face the consequences of causing this accident, which I believe it was. He knew the fire he set was getting out of control, and he probably knew the body would either get burnt, which he probably didn’t want, or get found, which maybe he didn’t want, and he was going to have to move outta there soon. I think he locked Henry in to force him to find the body, or at least the fort, which would further his investigation.
      Biggest flaw in the gameplay by the way was getting back into that Cave. I actually turned the game off that night after about twenty minutes trying to find the entrance to the cave I had climbed out of, before finally stumbling on the cracked rock that let me go back around. A real design flaw in my opinion.

  • Very good interpretation – thanks for the great read. I just finished the game and your text made it more clear what happened. Great game, worth every cent.

  • Interesting reading. I only want to comment upon one aspect. I believe you are wrong that Ned did not expect Henry to find the keys to the cave. I believe Ned deliberately placed the keys there, with the tracking device, hid nearby to listen for the alarm, and knew it was then time to follow Henry and lock him in the cave. To kill him? I don’t know. If he locked him in the cave to kill him, why did he give up so easily when Henry escaped? Why did he not kill him earlier? Later?

    I can’t answer the questions. All I am able to do at present is point out that I think it was deliberate. If Ned had wanted to hide the keys, he would have hidden them better and not put an alarm or tracking device on them.

    I was really confused about Wapiti Station. I think I understand the game well enough now, thanks to your explanation that Wapiti Station was an actual university site. That makes sense. I couldn’t figure out how the heck Ned got all that stuff out there and/or built it! And why there was a soil grid! If Ned had been smart, I guess he would have removed the soil grid, because that was our clue that it was, in fact, botanists (with weird radio equipment), as Delilah suggested.

    • Bryan Generous

      I completely agree with this. It’s the one thing I have serious conflict with about the interpretation. And part of the reason for that is because I went to that spot prior to having to, and there was nothing there, so Ned must have placed the bag there after the fact.
      My guess is that Ned wanted to Henry to find Brian, to unburden himself of being the only one to know about it, without having to still face the consequences of causing this accident, which I believe it was. He knew the fire he set was getting out of control, and he probably knew the body would either get burnt, which he probably didn’t want, or get found, which maybe he didn’t want, and he was going to have to move outta there soon. I think he locked Henry in to force him to find the body, or at least the fort, which would further his investigation.
      Biggest flaw in the gameplay by the way was getting back into that Cave. I actually turned the game off that night after about twenty minutes trying to find the entrance to the cave I had climbed out of, before finally stumbling on the cracked rock that let me go back around. A real design flaw in my opinion.

  • Davey

    Great article. Read it through completely (which isn’t that common for me 🙂 ). If interested there’s a diary entry in Ned’s cave that explains why he ransacked the Firewatch station – it was because he was running low on supplies and books.

    I think my biggest problems with the game related to it’s delivery. During the course of the game there were a few disjointed conversations – where Delilah and Henry were discussing a character I’d not heard about before. Initially I thought this was the games way of trying to show me, the player, what it might be like to have Alzheimer’s. Day, to day, to 1 month later, to another month later. Conversations that I didn’t remember initiating, etc.

    I think what happened was that the timed conversation pieces cut dialogue short. So perhaps Delilah asks me an important question but I accidentally choose to look at snowmobiles. This starts a dialogue about snowmobiles and, when the timer runs out, she cuts immediately into “well if you don’t want to talk about it that’s fine”. The problem is that the game assumes I’ve heard an entire conversation so later, when asking me to make a conversation decision relating to that earlier discussion, I’m at a loss.

    I think I’ll need to play it again and be a little bit more careful with my choices and waiting for conversations to end.

  • Caique Barbosa

    O.M.G! I’m in shock! I came here looking for some references to talk about this game in a video and I SWEAR: this is absolutely the same interpretation I got from the game! I’m so happy to know I wasn’t the only one! But I also think there’s more to it when You keep connecting the dots. For exemple: To me, Delilah is the personification of the unattainable escape in virtual reality we all seek in videogames. She can feel so real, and seduce us, and we can even fall in love with her so much that we are willing to leave our wedding rings on the table. But no matter how close we get to her, how we play her game, do everything to please her and ask her to stay with us, she’ll always be far, we’ll never touch her, or see her face to face.
    Man, congratulations on your piece!

    • Ewan Roxburgh

      YAY! Awesome 😀 Thanks man!

  • jimjimmy123

    I couldn’t delete this game off my HD fast enough after finishing it 🙁

    The game is about choosing responses in given situations. A game about self discovery, where will my personality and choices end up?

    To then have the game give the exact same ending, no matter what choices you made throughout the game is poor gamemaking.

    Whether through budget constraints in development or whatever excuse it felt like a cheat.

    Reading things with great depth into it is because of the emotional investment of your time playing it rather than any intrinsic quality of the game if you ask me.

  • Kevin

    Great article! Definitely let me appreciate the game better. However, you could use some editing. Some parts are badly worded and a little confusing to understand.

  • Alex

    I loved your interpretation. Isn’t this a great game? Congrats to the developer team, it was worth your efforts. I hope this is NOT a commercial failure. How about a Firewatch II? same tower, perhaps another character and another fire season, more days to cover, more tasks to complete, a mystery to solve… The setting is perfect… for escapism. Even if it is a pointless effort.

  • Katie Conigliaro

    I was wondering how many people were going to view the possibility to try and form a relationship with D this way. It is the only big thing I really disagree with you on. Maybe its just because my family has personal experience with dementia, but finding a new romantic partner is not the same thing as abandoning Julia. To be clear, Henry does not handle things well. He fails to visit her and runs off into the middle of nowhere because he can’t cope, but at the same time expecting a person to “remain loyal” to a wife who does not remember him is unfair and frankly cruel. She is not coming back. There is no fixing dementia, ya know? So the choices are to either spend your life miserable and too guilt ridden to move forward, or to be willing to accept what has happened, recognize that you will always love your partner, but that she is never coming back and be willing to continue living your own life, as Julia would want you to if she could articulate it.

    I chose to pursue the relationship with D not because I wanted him to abandon Julia, but because he did deserve to continue living despite the tragedy that had befallen his family. It was upsetting to me that he wasn’t visiting, but I didn’t get to make that choice. And as someone who has a family member with alzheimer’s, I still don’t approve of his avoidance, but I do understand it.

    Katie @ http://www.katsyxo.com

  • Bryan Generous

    So I just finished last night, which I guess puts me three months behind, but I did almost immediately come looking for some further dialogue about the story, and this article came up immediately.

    I really felt like much of the thriller perspective of the story was being given to us, sort of as you say, as a red herring, for what was really more of an achems razor solution, the simplest solution is probably the correct one. And I totally agree with the notion that this is an allegory for dealing with reality, weather that’s Henry dealing with his reality, or as an allegory for the notion of dementia that Julia has … it’s truthfully probably a bit of both.

    But one thing I don’t understand in seeing people disappointed with the ending, is the notion that the ending is not a big deal. You do find a dead kid. That moment would be the most stunning thing in most people’s lives. You’d be talking about finding the dead kid forever. So I don’t think there was any intention by the design team to make that feel uneventful.

    The other thing I thought, while not entirely buying into a full conspiracy, is that there is more to the story than we’re being given. Particularly the story between Ned and Delilah. Ned writes some things, fabricated or otherwise, about Delilah, that indicate some emotional tie to her. He describes her as selfish on more than one occasion. And to me the defining characteristic of my relationship with her as time went on was that I became less and less likely to trust her.

    I did play through the game with a growing attachment to Delilah, but I disagree with a lot of what I’ve seen about having to choose between her and Julia. One of the three closing conversation options when she asks about Julia is that “I need to move on”. I basically played through as as nice a guy as I could. I wore the ring, and spoke openly about Julia when given the opportunity. I went as far as I was allowed caring for Julia at the beginning (I think that brief opening was really emotionally powerful, but if you spread the short game over time, the lengthier relationship with Delilah may have been what pushed more people toward her). I wore the ring. I fixed the picture. But I still had interest in Delilah, and came away feeling like Moving On, Getting Over, were as much themes as escaping. Escape is certainly a part of those things. The key I believe is not to get lost in that step of the grieving process, which seems to be what Ned did. (I also thought it was nice that the game lets you continue after you finish it at Delilah’s station, so I went back and tried a few different approaches with Delilah at the end. I had yet to get angry with her, even though I had wanted too more than once, I just felt committed to playing the nice guy by the time I had gotten frustrated with her).

    I read the Ron and Dave notes as a parallel to Henry and Delilah story. One wanted more than the other was willing to give, and by the time I got to that final note, where Dave tells Ron (or vice versa, I don’t recall exactly), that he’s “someone to get a beer with”, I was pretty sure that was the direction things were going to wind up with Delilah. One character wants more than the other. Weather it’s emotional or physical (Ned references an unrequited sexual advance somewhere), or both, which is probably what Hank had in mind with D, almost doesn’t matter.

    I really enjoyed the backs of the book jackets, but never got around to figuring out where they fit in. The reminded me of the comics in The Last of Us, and I intend to go back and read them all. I wish we were allowed to keep them and stack them in the bookshelf in our tower so we could put them all together.

    The one thing I have serious conflict with about the interpretation is the idea that Hank just stumbles upon the cave keys, and I’m putting this here even though I posted it on a couple other spot where people had similar interpretations to mine. I went to that spot prior to having to, and there was nothing there, so Ned must have placed the bag there after the fact.
    My guess is that Ned wanted Henry to find Brian, to unburden himself of being the only one to know about it, without having to still face the consequences of causing this accident, which I believe it was. He knew the fire he set was getting out of control, and he probably knew the body would either get burnt, which he probably didn’t want, or get found, which maybe he didn’t want, and he was going to have to move outta there soon. I think he locked Henry in to force him to find the body, or at least the fort, which would further his investigation.
    Biggest flaw in the gameplay by the way was getting back into that Cave. I actually turned the game off that night after about twenty minutes trying to find the entrance to the cave I had climbed out of, before finally stumbling on the cracked rock that let me go back around. A real design flaw in my opinion.
    Overall just a really interesting game concept. The tone was so good. The art design was so unique, and the music was spot on. Even doubting anything was coming, I still found myself genuinely scared on several occasions. I was waiting for the moment I climbed up a wall of rock and someone would be standing there waiting for me. It would be a great vehicle for a game like that (A bigfoot hunt comes to mind), and in a lot of ways, Until Dawn did use something similar to this to put together an excellent and unique horror game. But as it stands, it was still a great experience. I rarely play through things more than once, but now knowing my way around, I’m sure I could get through pretty quick, and it would be interesting to change my approach. I would like to go through being about as big of a jerk as possible, and see where that gets me with Delilah.
    Thanks for the dialogue.

    • Grant Delmore

      Just a small point about the cave, i thought to myself shit… where did i come out… and remembered… oh i still have the key.

  • Nick

    Hi Ewan, thank you very much for this, I love your Interpretation!
    First of all: Sorry for my mediocre English.

    I think you mentioned the most important aspects, but didn’t mention the (in my opinion!) second most important word – after “escapism” – for the ending:

    Catharsis.

    The big fire at the end possibly stands for “purification” or “cleansing” as well as “renewal” and “restoration”. Perhaps his time at the National Park could even be seen as something like a purgatory for Henry.

    The whole place, where everything takes place, is burned down. Ned could tell his story and maybe “move on in life”…Henry maybe tries a “new attempt” in dealing with Julia and their parents and for Delilah it is about the same.

    I recommend to read the article of “Catharsis” on Wikipedia or something…I couldn’t explane it much better in a foreign language.

    It is the conflict between passion and duty with the balancing of fervor(?) at the end.

    What do you think?

    • Ewan Roxburgh

      Yes! I love it it! Totally agree!

  • Tyler

    I made sure to read every note several times. Every time I picked up something new, I read over all the other notes in my inventory to compare and piece together some sort of conspiracy. Every moment of the game, searching for clues, trying to understand what this game is about. Even after watching all the credits and spitting me back to the home screen, I refused to believe it was over. I was in denial. Conspiracy was so far planted in my mind, I honestly believed the game was tricking me into believing nothing “big” was going on in that forest.

    First reaction: What!? Its over? What happened? I was thinking some massive plot twist was going to reveal itself. At the very least, let me meet Delilah…

    I sat down and just began to digest it all. Take it all in. Think deep about what I had learned. I understood that no big conspiracy ever revealed itself and all those thoughts had been tied up after finding Ned’s home. Still finding it hard to explain what was going on at the research facility.

    After an hour of digestion, I took to the internet and read this post. Abandonment. Escapism. Accepting reality. It really comes together and hit me pretty hard.

    RING: As a player, I did not put on the wedding ring. I wanted to connect with Delilah more and I felt like it was in my characters best interest to move on from that point of his life. I wanted to run away from it and replace her with Delilah.

    DELILAH: I was loosing trust in Delilah towards the end. Early and mid game, I would tell her everything and talk as much as possible but when the theme of conspiracy presented itself, I began to question who I was talking to. When I saw the homework paper that Brian and written about using a meteor shower and a HAM radio to communicate with people from far away, the idea planted in my head that I have never seen this person and she could be sitting anywhere in the world, using technology to send a radio signal to Henry’s location. I stopped reporting a lot of what I found to her. It is crazy that I had those strong thoughts with no real proof or reason.

    SIDE NOTE: This game would be great to play before starting the “Life is Strange” series. Abandonment and escapism play a big role there too, this game would amplify those aspects of LiS.

  • Owen

    I know I’m late to the discussion but I enjoyed your analysis a lot in comparison to mine and thought you understood the game under the surface better than myself so I have something to ask. I bought the game this week and played through it twice after reading the main argument for the conspiracy side of the game, that Delliah was secretly communicating Ned as assumed during that call you are allowed to interrupt. This is my main point of confusion even after reading your analysis and other’s opinions on the game’s meaning and plot, I understand they added this to the story in order to feed the escapism, conspiracy mindset that the idea of the game constantly reverts to and it does it’s job well at that however, it also fuels the conspiracy side enough to almost counter-act that effect. Sort of noticing this I don’t understand why that was added to the story because after reading the detailed conspiracy arguments this main point of their stance assists in creating a legitimate argument for their case. I intially thought that it could create a lasting escapist feeling that’d linger to remind of the meaning of the plot or they wanted to add an ambiguous ending but after reading a few analysis it just doesn’t seem from the perspective of learning about our behavior and improving that this feasible. Please, if anyone could offer an opinion on the topic even just telling me I’m wrong and explaining your rationale would be appreciated.

  • Relaxel

    After a year or two, I just finished the game a third time and I feel like your analysis is very accurate and sums up a lot of what I´ve been thinking about the game, but I think that there are soo many unanswered questions yet to be answered. It´s way too interesting. To name a few:
    1. Halfway through the game, I´m not sure if it´s at Wapiti station or at the Lake, Henry finds a report obviously written by Ned that contains things that he, as he tells her then, has never told Delilah via radio at any point. Ned Goodwin was living secluded out there in the mountains, where would he get data on Henry?

    Speaking of Delilah, I feel like she was the biggest mystery in the game. Even the game´s main menu only features Delilah´s lookout, she seems to be the center of it all. Putting aside the fact that she only very briefly talks about herself at one point in the story and how weird it is that we never get to meet her in the game, considering how much free time Henry has, (it´s really a quick trip to her lookout), here are several things that were very odd about her:
    1. She left her lookout despite Henry´s pleads for her to wait. Sure, she says that the helicopter is waiting for her and she feels like she shouldn´t make it wait, but it´s still odd for her to (sort of) betray Henry like that. She says that she wouldn´t want to see Henry while “standing in Brian´s shadow” and that she couldn´t stand being in “this place” (meaning the entire area of the game) any longer. The whole part about her being so torn between leaving and waiting for Henry is pretty sketch in general, but it can totally be seen as her having mixed feelings towards meeting him, like being shy (people who have met someone after a long time of just talking or texting to that someone will understand that feeling) or (possibly) feeling guilt-ridden like Henry (which I will get to in the next point and later on).
    2. Reports that Henry picks up talk about the fact that Delilah is still together with “Javiere” or however it´s spelled, the “sexy” boyfriend because of the breakup with whom Delilah claims that she decided to take the job at the firewatch. When Henry mentions what the report says to Delilah, she frantically tells him that whoever made it must be trying to mess with them. The way she says it definitely sounds sketchy and I have trouble believing her every time I see that part. We can´t know for sure, since the developers have said next to nothing about the true meanings of the story etc., however it is entirely possible that Delilah lied about her reason for being at the firewatch and is still together with her boyfriend or something similar (although that totally leaves her reason for being at the firewatch in the open) and feels guilty about her relationship with Henry, explaining why she manages never to meet Henry during the entire summer, not even in the end. Delilah literally escapes from Henry at the end of the game, she is a heavy drinker, we catch her drunk 2 times during the game, she also drinks when things are looking bad for her and Henry, eventhough she should probably be on high alert. Escapism is the main theme of the game, it´s also why we play the game itself, again another reason I really liked your article, you were pretty thorough about it.
    3. Now, Delilah´s reaction to her and Henry being spied on and recorded etc. was pretty convincing. She drinks, exchanges walkie-talkies and is pretty shocked and stressed in general, believably so (unlike in point 2 ^). Wapiti station however, is not a sight that she should have missed. Aside from the grid on the floor, which would be easy to miss considering how far her tower is away, the big-ass tower standing next to the grid is clearly visible from her lookout.(the tent isn´t) It´s especially weird since there is a pulsing light at the top of it. The real happening of the research that was being done at Wapiti station is that a bunch of college students were researching elks in the area, it´s what the tracking collars were for. This is somewhat hidden in the game, since you have to go over Ned´s trapdoor to find the elk with the collar, but there´s also notes and other things that ground this fact, you can look it up online probably.

    While these things are really weird and mysterious they can be chalked up to just about anything. Perhaps they´re just plotholes, inconsistencies in the story and game design, maybe there´s still things to discover about the game, but it could just be that no one has quite put all the puzzle-pieces of the story together yet. Even now I can´t remember all the things that didn´t quite make sense in the game, there were a ton.

    Great article and all in all a game that definitely deserves a 10/10 in my opinion. It´s probably one of the only two games I´ve ever played more than 2 times. So fresh and different from all other games that I know. It will always hold a special place in my heart.

    • Grant Delmore

      Well Henry clearly sleep talks maybe that’s how Ned would found out information that wasn’t spoken over radio?

      • Relaxel

        You mean Ned might have been near Henry´s tower at night and Henry talked about personal info in his sleep? It´s possible, but still a stretch. I mean, who recites their biography in their sleep?

        • Grant Delmore

          Well i mean it fits with the information we already have so its not as big as a stretch as say Ned having other contacts.

  • Andrealchimia

    Good job Ewan

  • Emily

    So I just finished the game recently (yes I know so late on the hype train) it was one of the best games I’ve played in a while, I completely agree with your explanation and I feel like there is no one right plot line and it just depends on how you interpret the game for yourself which I think is very interesting because there are other interpretations that make sense when they are explain example: D setting up this whole mystery working alongside with Ned which frustrated me since I really liked D but looking it in that sense it does make sense. But I won’t accept that theory since that’s not how I read it the first time hmm

  • Fredy Alexis Cea Urrutia

    Hello, pretty late but i just played the game and i really loved it, and well my experience in videogames just told me “This isn’t the kind of game that would turn into a resident evil kind of game” but everything i went through while playing it was just making me feel that this was that kind of game, and when i found Brian dead, i just thought “Ok, so the guys that were studying us were studying that kid? was he a genius or something?(based on the kind of stuff i found at his hideout)” and then Delila just said that it would be impossible, that i couldn’t be saying that kinds of stuff right now, and it really was like a hit to “reality” within the game. Seems i was wrong, there was no conspiracy or biohazard kind of theme, my hunch was correct but the game made me think otherwise. So the ending was kind of a let down and at the same time it was a weird kinda hype i felt, the game was just amazing, so much that i couldn’t even understand the actual meaning it really had (which i think is the meaning you gave to the game) and i am right now really happy to have played this amazing game, although it was a little short and i kinda hate the fact that i never got to see Delilah and i kinda hated that just when the game was ending, Delilah didn’t even wanted to see Henry, made me think how superficial their relationship was. Just as how Henry wanted to escape from his harsh reality, the love he had for Julia that was practically gone because of Alzheimer, the fact that Delilah was sometimes really flirty with Henry but never actually tried to get things straight with him and always leaving Henry really doubtful about it, for example, like when he found Brian’s hideout, and called Delilah sweetheart because of the flags she was “giving” him and everything, they were both just an escape route for each other, and it was all crushed when Ned meddled with them. They were nothing more than co-workers at this point, and because of the story they were kind of partners-in-crime. Well, that’s what i think about it, but regardless. Amazing game.

  • Egon Freeman

    I think what’s somewhat novel about the game is that it tries to pull you in all these directions without ever strongly hinting at any of them being the true course (at least not until the end).

    The thing about theories is that the “theory space” is IMMENSE – it takes a huge body of evidence just to get a DIRECTION towards what really may have happened – but in most games we’re presented with the explanation on a silver platter (and yes, even if we have to piece it together, we ultimately end up with what is afterwards called “word of God”). Not quite so here: even despite having some questions answered at the end, there’s a whole heap of loose ends we’ll probably never clean up — like the broken Gameboy under the makeshift table at the fort. It’s only because we can draw on similarities from “real life” that we can put these things in context, but it’s still just a vague idea. This causes the players to question everything, because they really and truly know nothing at all (if you have a theory that doesn’t differentiate between one outcome and the next, you have zero knowledge). This is a “real life” story precisely because it’s messy and open-ended on all fronts, in contrast to proper “stories” we’re told that have a main current and resolve at the end, with identifiable bad guys and heroes.

    This is “just a story”. A slice of life; stuff we commonly escape from because we like our stories, our escapes, to have closure and structure, simply because life often just doesn’t work out that way.