It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.
– Senior demon Screwtape to his apprentice, Wormwood, in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters.
Warning: this post contains spoilers. You have been warned.
A stalker has been watching me and listening in on my radio conversations with Delilah. We’re both worried for each other’s safety. That’s why Henry, your character, can’t stop signaling her on day 77 of his summer job as a fire lookout in the Shoshone Wilderness of Northwest Wyoming. Delilah told him to not leave his tower until she said so. It’s been a long day of anxious silence, but when Delilah responds out of the blue, I bolt straight up in my chair just like Henry.
Depending on your personal investment with the story, this symbolic gesture speaks not only to the kind of relationship you choose to foster with Delilah throughout Firewatch, but also how much you value Julia and the virtue of commitment.
When it comes to Delilah, you may be led to distrust her motives and stories throughout the narrative, but her honesty and openness quelled my reservations. It’s why I disclosed Henry’s reasons to come to Two Forks Lookout Area. He has a wife with Alzheimer’s disease that he failed to take care of and didn’t know what to do but run away. Players can direct how Henry feels about this. I chose to express regret, which will motivate Delilah to tell him that she understands running away from personal experience. However, she knows Henry hasn’t closed the chapter on his love and urges him to go see her multiple times. I want this for him as well.
I could have rejected this kind of approach by escaping Henry’s trial-stricken life as a husband and pursed romance with Delilah. By brushing off her concerns about your relationship with Julia, you can indulge your affection toward the woman in the radio. She’ll reciprocate these cues as well. Once you approach the game’s ending, you have to travel to her tower and board a helicopter to escape a wildfire encroaching on your sector, so the obvious option is to see her, begging her to wait until you get there.
No matter if you tell her to wait or not, the ending maintains her distance from you – literally and figuratively. If you expect to be rewarded with your love interest, you’ll be left in the cold. She remains friendly and talkative all the same, but doesn’t express the same feelings toward you. In fact, she remains resolute in her conviction that you should go see Julia. Since I chose to be friends with her, I parted ways on good terms. This wasn’t the ending I expected, but I had hope for Henry restoring his marriage. That is Firewatch’s most beautiful ending.
Perhaps this is what developer Campo Santo wants players to experience after all of their lofty expectations for Delilah and the extraneous drama funnels into an anticlimactic conclusion. The other plot points are another issue entirely, but why was Delilah written to avoid you? I believe it’s neither rude nor irrational for her character to simply deny players what they expect. It seems that she loves Henry whether you treat her as a friend or lover, but knew it would be a mistake to act upon these feelings.
That’s why she leaves the tower. She knows it will hurt her to see you. Delilah doesn’t want you to run away from your problems like she did for years. In an act of denial to self, she puts on a ruse of disinterest because her love is bigger than Henry’s. She loves him enough to help put his life back together. By returning to Julia, Henry will be redeemed, and Delilah believes that’s worth what it will cost her.
It’s so rare to see something like Firewatch subtly push a player’s views on virtue of commitment. This is even more evident in how you never see or hear Julia, since you’re only treated to personalized vignettes of your life with her through a text-based narrative at the game’s beginning. On the other hand, you’re provided an intimate relationship with a stranger you’re tempted to imagine and think about constantly–in Hebrew Delilah means “she who weakened.” Just as Julia might have obscured memories of Henry because of her illness, the player has an imposed dementia of her in return.
Back in Henry’s tower, I noticed that he has one portrait of Julia. Her face is hidden with the flash of her camera, and while I was disappointed to not see her, I realized the innocuous imagery could relate to how you choose to honor her. You can strive toward removing the blinding light that obscures your memories of Julia by seeking forgiveness, living up to your vows in sickness and in health. Or you can try to superimpose Delilah over Julia to blot her out from your life. Choosing Julia is the longer, more painful road. For Henry, it would require caring for someone who’s incapable of fully reciprocating, but Delilah loves Henry enough to encourage him to do hard things—to persevere in love despite the cost.
“What are you going to do when the fire season wraps up?” Delilah says at one point. “Are you gonna go be with her? Just go back to Boulder?”
“You should go be with her.”
“Maybe I’ll go visit her, I think,” Henry replies. “She’s with her family, in Melbourne. They’re not big fans of mine. Her sister Susan is great, but her parents . . . I think they always thought she could do better and . . . that I could’ve done a better job looking after her.”
She answers, “If you want to go be with her, you should. Don’t let a couple assholes keep you away from someone you love.”
“I’ll think about it,” he concludes.