Edge of Empowerment


Power is defined every bit as much by what it can’t achieve as what it can achieve. Even an indestructable man can’t save himself from drowning, even a walking god can’t reverse death. Omnipotence is a contradiction, a rock made too heavy to lift, a decision to make one change barely holding back the overriding weight of an infinite sea of decisions unmade. Being Bigby – being bigger and badder than anyone else – you would think it would make you feel powerful. And it does – but in a way that shows you that power’s limits, shows you that being strong and smart and wise can only take you so far.

No matter how big you are, the world is bigger. No matter how bad you are, the world is worse. It will gobble you up whole. It already has.

Telltale’s storytelling games have an interesting relationship with choice. Your decisions matter, and yet they all lead back to the same place eventually. You can fail, but only in fragments, only in little dead-ends and momentary diversions. The story will play out as it will, overriding your free will, and yet it rarely feels contrived. It all feels so familiar. We never know more than we know, we never become a person different than who we are, and we find ourselves compelled by our history to take certain paths, believing it was our choice all along.

Some people call it fate, but it’s a tautology: Whatever will be will be.

The things we do make a difference, but never as much of one as we wish they did. Maybe we can save a life, but that life will eventually burn out on its own. Maybe we can right a wrong, but eventually the wrong would have been forgotten anyway. The world keeps on turning, no matter how much we push back – for now.

But we are not alone. Others push with us, and bit by bit momentum shifts. Wishes for the strength to stop it, start it spinning again in a direction of your own choice, are naive: It’s the sudden stop that kills, and if you stand in the way of the world’s rotation the inevitable result is that one or the other of you will be destroyed. Steady pressure, applied gently but surely from as many hands as possible, is all that can change the angle of rotation.

Our personal power ends at the tips of our fingers, but we are not alone. we are communities. We are workforces and schools of thought. We bring manifold histories and we come in many forms. Sooner or later we will need Bigby, someone to protect or to cut out a cancer, but his power means nothing without ours.

Those tyrants who forget, who believe in their own power above all, will wake up, sooner or later, at the bottom of a lake, with a belly stitched full of rocks, forgotten by the world above.


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