Firewatch and Life Lessons

The Book of Henry

Admittedly, I didn’t play Firewatch until last year.  This was primarily due to it being an indie title that was narrative heavy with little variation in gameplay.  It’s an adventure game centered on Henry, a volunteer fire lookout in Shoshone National Forest who ends up getting caught up in a mystery that occurred years ago.  Gameplay is fairly standard, players will wander the forest in search of their objectives and if need be, interact with various objects that can be utilized in different sections.  What made Firewatch stand-out however, was its grounded story and realistic dialogue on self-isolation and discovery.

The game opens through a series of textboxes detailing Henry’s reason for becoming a fire lookout.  What starts out as fairly cheery quickly devolves into an eerily realistic depiction of how life can go off the rails.  In my opinion, this is one of the most powerful openings in gaming as Henry’s scenario can happen to anyone.  His response to personal strife seems extreme, but I believe that if anyone were in his position, there are those that would decide that escaping the issue is feasible.  Henry represents those of us who are still trying to discover themselves and for that, the writers of Firewatch should be applauded.

At the center of Firewatch is the relationship between Henry and Delilah, his supervisor.  Their relationship is completely dependent on the player as you can choose the responses of Henry to be positive, negative, or say nothing at all.  What’s truly great about Firewatch is that the interactions with Delilah are believable.  These are two incredibly lonely people who are both at a crossroads in their life.  Delilah will first come off as sarcastic, but as the game progresses, you will see that while she is knowledgeable and professional, she is just as lost in life as Henry, which in turn makes her just as endearing.   What’s fascinating is that when choosing dialogue responses, I went with what I would personally say instead of choosing a response that would lead me to the best outcome.   I can’t think of a game in recent memory that’s ever made me feel that way.

After completing Firewatch, I felt that I had just finished a great novel.  It takes around five hours or so to complete, but in that time, I felt that it weaved a more powerful story than most triple-A titles.  No high fantasy here, just a man who was trying to leave his life behind to see if there were greener pastures on the other side.  The realistic interactions can tug at your heart strings especially if you’ve ever been in similar situations.  It can really pull at you and the ending will honestly surprise you.  There are few games that I’ve played that have resonated with me on a personal level.

Firewatch teaches a valuable lesson.  Running away isn’t the answer…it will more than likely just lead to more questions.  It doesn’t make you a bad person if you try, but you’d be naïve to believe that those problems won’t just come around eventually.  Stepping away to evaluate your options is important because life can come at you at all angles and sometimes a new approach is needed.  Sometimes you just need a break to allow yourself time to breathe.

All that from a videogame, isn’t that something?

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