I’ve been catching up on my games from 2016 before I go to GDC at the end of February. I just got through Firewatch which ran on my sad laptop at about 4fps, but I pushed through for Delilah. I’d do it again for Delilah.
Firewatch is played from the perspective of Henry, a 40-something married man whose wife is wasting away with early-onset Alzheimer’s. He takes a job in a park in Colorado where he is stationed in a tower on the lookout for forest fires. His only company is a voice on the radio – his supervisor, Delilah.
This is not a review. I assume most of you who are more on the ball than me have already played it. I’m just going to talk about Delilah’s character arc and motivations, so beware of spoilers below.
Firewatch is a game about running away. All of the characters featured with voices or through notes scrounged around the area are fleeing something. Henry’s flight is complicated: a rainbow of guilt and sadness. You find notes by Dave, a guy fleeing calls from his sister and mother. You find composed songs about finding solace alone in the forest. But what about Delilah?
Delilah is possibly the most complex character I’ve encountered in a long time. She manages to be interesting, sympathetic, and a frustrating enigmatic puzzle in a story that takes place in 1987. By that I mean she manages to be what she is without any fantasy or science fiction. She is a powerful, independent mystery. We don’t know exactly what Delilah is running away from, just that she constantly runs.
1. The Camper Girls
Early in the story she avoids telling the truth about some campers that go missing to the authorities so she and Henry aren’t harassed with suspicion. It doesn’t matter how much you try to convince her to go through with it. It also doesn’t matter that Henry was the last person to see them, and they left a note that they were going, and they might be murdered. As far as we know, she was trying to protect Henry (and herself) and she may have been avoiding having to deal with search and rescue parties.
Delilah is careful about what she tells Henry about herself, only giving him a handful of any real information about her personal life. Her story about her long-term boyfriend Javier is telling about who Delilah is. He needs her and she avoids the emotional responsibility of a partner only to have him leave her. The interesting part about this story (if it is true, and not embellished) is that Delilah knew what the right choice was (going to be with him in a hard time) and chose not to do it. She even avoided telling her sister what happened – telling her that he slept with the neighbour.
3. Brian Goodwin
Delilah avoids telling her superiors about the presence of Brian Goodwin at the Two Forks lookout in the summer of 1986. She speaks fondly of Brian and wonders what happened to him when him and his father disappeared before the summer was over. She states that she didn’t blow the whistle on the boy and his father because she wasn’t sure where they came from, or if where they went back to might be even worse. This, to me, is a fair reason for her to have not called it in, even though it was a mistake.
4. Ned Goodwin
If you agree with the statements made by Geek Remix on the trolling of Ned and Delilah (and I mostly do) it’s also a fact that Delilah says nothing to the authorities on the presence of Ned Goodwin. It’s hard to say if she new Ned was present over the winter in the park, but she did know he was listed as missing and she made no effort to let anyone know he was alive.
5. The Death of Brian Goodwin
It’s clear by Delilah’s emotional response that she had genuinely no idea that Brian was dead. She does seem to miss Brian, and does not seem satisfied with whatever Ned may have told her happened to him (if he told her anything). When Henry discovers Brian’s body, she is devastated and her house of lies falls down around her.
“Now I’ve got to decide whether I tell people that he’s down there so they can retrieve the body or not. And if I do, I’m going to be asked about Ned Goodwin.”
We don’t get to see in what way she runs from this, only her moment of indecision before she has to take a stand.
At the end, even if she tells him she will stay, Delilah runs from Henry. She abandons whatever romantic interests the two of them had in each other, and takes off in a helicopter before him. Something in her voice tells me she has no desire to ever hear from or see him again. Delilah is troubled and chooses to run from Henry rather than to rely on him. She chooses time to process the events that just took place alone, rather than to take on Henry’s emotional baggage as his rebound.
It hurt me a little because I love her, but I can hardly fault her for this one.
It’s interesting how Firewatch is misleading, bringing you to care about the relationship between these two people only to take it away from you. The joke is that Delilah is and always was an autonomous person with her own life happening, her own interests and her own fears taking place. The story about the two girls who went missing comes back around to a happy ending after she avoided responsibility, so it’s easy to assume that she gets away with these things most of the time. This story in 1987, though, is about her, and how her culmination of lies (that have little to do with Henry) come back to bite her in the ass.
Delilah is incredible because she is a woman with a flaw, a huge, cancerous, distracting flaw that destroys her life as a lookout in the rockies. It makes her into a lovely and frustrating character who manifests in my mind as her own person in a way that I rarely experience in fiction. I’m sure much of it is because of her excellent voice work, but the rest is in masterful storycrafting.
It could be that Delilah realizes her error and comes clean about her dealings to the authorities, but I doubt that she will. Instead she will give them a censored debriefing about events, disappear home and never return to the rockies. Her long deliberation on whether or not she should confess tells us that she doesn’t want to, so I believe she won’t do it. Did she learn anything? Sure. Will it change her? Probably not. Firewatch is a story about running, not about growth.