Friday, September 14, 2012

I do not think that means what you think it means

I have been working my way through the archives of Extra Credits because I enjoy their intellectual approach to gaming more than I dislike the annoying voice filter that the narrator uses. A few weeks ago they did a two piece entry on Spec Ops: The Line. Hey, I thought, I played that (in two days), what do they think about it?

Without typing out the entire twenty minutes of video, they are of the opinion that it is lampooning the modern shooter genre by starting out looking like one but slowly changing into something else, ending up as a commentary on how ridiculous the portrayal of warfare is in gaming and a bit about post traumatic stress disorder. I think, on the other hand, that they have read far too much into an average shooter with a plot twist or two used to make up for lackluster mechanics and a smaller budget. Extra Credits even went as far as to say that the game is not fun, which it really isn't, but that this was okay because it has an important message to deliver.

Isn't it a games function to be entertaining? As a form of media games have a hard time being informative, educational, or enlightening. On the other hand they can be very entertaining, challenging and emotionally engaging. A documentary about the atrocities of war can get away with being very difficult to consume and still worth the effort. A game? No. I will put games up against most other forms of entertainment, but as a venue for exploring deep, dark issues, there are better ways. Spec Ops: The Line may very well be an adaptation to Heart of Darkness. I must confess to having never read it so any allusions to the source are lost on me. All I see is a shooter that is trying very hard to keep up with the games that actually make money all the while pointing at its heavy, 'shocking' plot and screaming 'I am different! Take me seriously!'

The big games beat them to it, it's called No Russian. It's called seeing a nuclear blast from a first person perspective and dying.

Please don't take this as an endorsement of Call of Duty and Battlefield. To me those games are little more than two or three day roller coaster rides. The Line is the same ride but without the loops. Later levels devolve to memorizing enemy placements as it is impossible to react to them, killing any momentum towards the twist ending. It has no hills, either. All that is left is a boring ride with a message that it thinks is unique but is instead preachy and bit hard to follow.

If I wanted a boring documentary I would tune into PBS. I love boring documentaries, they are perfect trivia fuel for my eventual (disastrous) appearance on Jeopardy. This is not a space that games should attempt to fill. I am not convinced that Spec Ops: The Line was actually aiming trying to do this. If it was, nice try, have a better game to back it up next time. If it wasn't? Then Extra Credits spent an awful long time getting excited making academic excuses for a mediocre shooter by someone who read a book once.

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