Now here’s a game that hooks you with an emotional opening, and reels you in with introspection, exploration, and relationships. A quick three to four hours of gameplay that leave you contemplating the various moments for days afterward. If you want to avoid spoilers, I suggest skipping this article, but if you’re curious about what might be going on, read ahead for my crazy theory about Firewatch.
Let’s start with the secret ending –
That’s right, the secret ending is the option to stay behind amidst the burning forest where you just spent the entirety of the game. When the chopper comes to pick you up, rather than walk up to it, you just stand aside. Give it a little bit, and the chopper flies off without you, and the screen cuts to black. Roll credits.
Anti-climactic? I don’t think so. What does this decision mean? Henry, who came here as his life back home was falling apart, has now decided to die here. He was just abandoned by Delilah, his only (friendly) human contact over the last seventy-nine days, and in making this decision, he has finally and truly abandoned his wife. Not that she’d recognize him if he went back anyway – but is that an excuse? Who did Henry have, at the end of it all? Just the trees around him.
The game is rooted in the sense of loneliness, loss, and isolation. And while everything else in the game does well to create this feeling, dying alone really captures it.
And what if you get out?
What are you going back to anyway? Henry, depending on your choices, either makes a move on Delilah, or stays loyal to his Alzheimer’s-stricken wife. Either way, Delilah abandons Henry, even if he begs her to stay, and as Henry says himself – his wife probably wouldn’t even recognize him.
But wait – why did Delilah tell Henry to keep the good luck for himself? I immediately thought of one distinct possibility – she abandons Henry so she can rat him out. Afterall, the game doesn’t show you what happens after you get pulled into the chopper. Maybe you just get home to wallow in your sorrow. Or perhaps you get taken in by the authorities to answer a few questions about the dead child, and the fire that you’ve been framed for? Afterall, Delilah is a liar – she’s admitted to it on numerous occasions, and she had the most to lose from the truth getting out. Once again, a game about loneliness, loss, and isolation – betrayal is the best way to encapsulate that, apart from dying alone.
But what is the truth?
Firewatch is a mystery game, that much is certain. But unlike most pieces of fiction in the genre, Firewatch offers next to no closure at the end of it all. We can choose to believe the story, as told to us by the pathological liar Delilah, but through the whole game, her tendency to lie is referenced. Hell, even at the end, you can see the stolen Pork Pond sign in her tower. And that’s immediately after abandoning you, even if she says she won’t. So what really happened? Was it really all Ned’s fault, as we’re made to believe? So what’s with all the lying on Delilah’s part? And what about the time when you overhear her on another call – “of course he doesn’t know” were her exact words to this third party, if I recall correctly.
There’s also the question of the “lost” key to the cave. Delilah mentions that Debbie had lost the key in the woods, some time ago. But when you find the key, it sure as hell doesn’t look lost. It looks very securely tucked away, with an alarm system to boot. Ned’s doing? Or perhaps Delilah? But it couldn’t possibly have always been there, because your wave receiver would have gone off sooner if it had. Which would imply it was planted there after you found the receiver. Surely Ned knew you got the wave receiver, given his snooping tendencies, but why was he surprised that you found the key soon after?
Ned may have made a terrible mistake, but Delilah is the real criminal.
Delilah? More like De-lia(r)! Yeah that doesn’t work…
I think we can all agree that Delilah is a terrible human being. She lies constantly, cheats on her boyfriend, disregards the law, doesn’t report important information, and as far as I’m concerned, causes the death of a child.
And then she keeps said death a secret through inaction.
Here’s my crazy theory – Ned and Delilah are lovers, and Brian’s death was a tragic accident that was going to tear their relationship apart if anybody ever found out. Delilah let Ned sneak his kid into the area, and then when Brian fell to his death, Delilah wanted to leave while Ned wanted to stay. Ned couldn’t go back home to 21 questions, and Delilah didn’t want to bring the authorities in on multiple occasions, because she didn’t want them to find the body. Why else would she not report two missing girls, and lie about doing it when you ask her to?
So Delilah hatches a plan to get out of this place with Ned, all the while blaming the crazy new guy whose life was falling apart back home, and had every reason to go psycho. Rather than working with Ned, Delilah instigates him into making poor decisions. Meanwhile, Ned tries to leave no evidence of his relationship with Delilah, treating her like a subject of his fictional study, just like Henry.
And so Delilah tells you that the guy who shines his flashlight in your eyes is nobody. And then she gets you a new walkie talkie. And then she gets you the key to the cave, activating the tracker after knowing you would be able to find it. And then she waits.
Meanwhile Ned starts to do unreasonable things. When you find the key to the cave, he tries to lock you in there. After you get away, he sets fire to the place, hoping to burn all the evidence in case you call in the authorities. Afterall, with Delilah the only person aware of the death, Ned was safe. But now a third party knows. A third party that isn’t in love with Ned. And so Ned does the one thing he’s wanted to avoid for so long – he burns the place down, torching all the evidence, and leaves.
Ned has been given an escape – he was able to start the fire (thus covering up the incident), and with Delilah’s help, the blame falls squarely on Henry’s shoulders, whether he lives or dies.
The Other Crazy Theories about Firewatch
There are quite a few – this is purgatory and Henry actually died when the mugging took place. There is a larger conspiracy at hand that goes beyond you and Delilah. The place behind the fence is an actual science experiment. Aliens.
There are a lot of theories, and while I’ve had a few of these cross my mind too, I’ve seen them debunked. And maybe there’s something I’m missing that debunks mine – the game could simply be about a summer out that gets a little crazy.