Your name is Henry; you are a fire lookout for Shoshone National Park.
At this moment, your life is in a nose-dive spiral, and at this new job all you hope to find is a break from the chaos of your life.
This new job is one of solitude; You are alone, with only the soft yet spirited voice of the woman in the tower across from yours;
My introduction to Firewatch was a playthrough of the game done by jacksepticeye. I remember clicking on the video, knowing of the game, and the appraise it had gotten for it’s beautiful visual designs, but otherwise not planning on playing it.
I multi-tasked, working on some homework while I half paid attention to Jack rambling to himself the first several minutes of our journey into Shoshone and Henry’s life. It was a beautiful game, I noted; bright orange light filtered through the forest trees, which were scattered around the scene like an ocean of shining gems. As I witnessed the beauty of the Shoshone national park, I found myself also becoming invested in the story of the game. Henry’s story was one of sadness and trouble, and in many ways I found myself able to relate with the feeling of being lost in your own life, as Henry was feeling; various family members of my own had struggled with dementia, and the feeling of being forgotten by someone you loved was something I could remember all too well, and during those times I remember feeling the same loneliness Henry was feeling. Jack went quiet to listen as Henry walked into the tower, and began his first interactions with Delilah.
Delilah asks about his reasons for coming out to work for the Park Services, and Henry skirts around the question; you can tell there’s an immediate connection between the two.
I immediately paused the video; the conversation felt so genuine, as if I was there. I remember feeling blown away by the natural ease with which Delilah and Henry spoke to each other; I felt as if I was listening on the private conversation of two real people.
I bought the game myself, and played through it, falling down the rabbit hole of beautiful scenery and voice acting that is Firewatch.
Don’t get me wrong, there are tons of other games with beautiful voice acting, but Firewatch presents their characters in a way that makes it hard not to care deeply for them; you feel like you’re learning about the intimate troubles of two very real people, presented in a personal conversation between two co-workers. One of Firewatch’s main mechanics relies Henry and Delilah’s interactions through the walkie talkie; you learn of her own troubles, what she’s gone through. The game has some of the best voice acting I’ve heard for that exact reason; these characters are portrayed in the way that real people actually are: complex, emotional beings who all have their own meaningful problems, relationships, and feelings that make up their life. The thing about Delilah and Henry is that they have so many layers of emotion to them that can be clearly recognized through the conversation with each other of the intricate relationships they both have in their lives.
Take Henry, for example. Whenever he’s talking about Julia, you can hear the strain in his voice, the troubled sigh he releases after thinking about her; you can tell this is a large, complicated part of his life that affects it in an extremely significant way.
Many narrative-driven games have a bad habit of playing a character up based on one distinctive trait. When this occurs, it’s hard to see the characters as complex, emotional beings, and easier to see them as a static plot device who does not achieve their purpose in the long run.
Delilah is a good example for this as well. Delilah portrays a variety of emotions all throughout the game during her conversations with Henry:
When Delilah calls Henry back after the first morning in the watch tower, you can tell she’s embarrassed at the words exchanged last night, and during the scene when you come across the written script of the conversation you’ve been having with Delilah, Delilah’s voice is full of stress and worry; You can tell this bothers her. The voice acting has to be good in this game, because a large part of the story relies on it.
When you’re talking to another person casually, it’s hard to script what you’re going to say; Conversation just flows freely. All conversations in Firewatch have a certain flow to it that you can only find in real life: Delilah and Henry aren’t super heroes, and they aren’t ‘destined for something great’, as is a trope in many games; They’re normal people, lost souls like the rest of us looking for an escape from the void of stress currently consuming their lives. It’s something everyone can relate to at one point or another, and the experience of confiding your troubles in another person you can tell everything to is an experience that Firewatch replicates so, so well.
A person’s voice can hold so, so much emotion, and Firewatch takes this and uses it to show just how much you can learn from a person through voice.
Header Image by CJ Richter. The Image URL can be found here http://cjrichter.tumblr.com/post/5453986414/walkie-bw