Wednesday, November 28, 2012

People are still talking about The Line?

An interesting exchange between myself and some random person. For context, we are discussing this article about a rather lengthy deconstruction of Spec Ops: The Line, one of the (in my opinion) more over rated and over discussed games of this generation. I admit to starting out a bit snarky.


Chamberlain:  That's quite a bit of attention for a mediocre shooter...
And yes, I did play it.

Brutus: That's because you're seeing it as a shooter only. It's a brilliant piece of narrative, for a game (I can't wait until I no longer have to use that qualifier). I believe it sits beside Bioshock in terms of its narrative.

Chamberlain: If by that you mean that it features the same 'would you kindly' flavor of twist, I suppose I can agree. But Bioshock would be entertaining to play even if all the story bits were removed. The mechanics itself were interesting. Take away the holier than thou, you should feel bad for enjoying cathartic virtual violence finger waggling and The Line is a middle grade shooter, at best. It's as if half way through its development someone realized that they didn't have the cash to keep up with the AAA franchises and decided to mock them instead using the cliffs notes for Heart of Darkness for guidance.

A game can be both engaging to play and think about. Celebrating one for abandoning the first in service of the second make no sense to me.

Brutus: I personally enjoyed Spec Ops' gameplay. I thought it felt good, up until the terrible stuff started happening, then I felt bad for playing.

Also, it sounds as if you're uninformed about the game and the apparent lengths they went to to convey it's message; if you can say it had a statement to make and wasn't just holding up a mirror to shooter players without casting judgment. Killing Is Harmless might help with pointing out how much thought went into the game and narrative.

This wasn't a thrown together game because they didn't know what they were doing. It's so obvious if you pay attention to things other than the next person you're going to perforate with bullets. I think that statement is very unfair, disrespectful, and downright ignorant. I never felt preached to in Spec Ops, but I understood what they were saying.

Chamberlain: All the game did was preach. It was subtle to begin with, but by the end it was screaming 'Look what you did! How could you! Shame on you! You were the monster all along!' Allowing you to turn on your own rescuers just reinforces that.

It was not enjoyable on either an intellectual or game play level. I think The Line preys upon something that people think they should feel guilty about but rarely do. It's an unnecessary cheap shot that attempts to shame the genre which the game itself inhabits.

Brutus:  I never felt preached to. It was consistent in what it was conveying but not judgmental. It never explicitly said shooters are bad. I'm confident there are people out there who bought it and saw it as only a shooter and missed everything it was doing.

If you felt preached to then you likely felt some level of guilt about what you were playing. That's a significant thing for a game to be able to do. My ending was not the same as yours. I turned the gun on myself. The option to shoot your rescuers is exactly that; an option. You didn't have to shoot them, you chose to shoot them. You bear responsibility for that, not the game. All it reinforces is your view of games and the way you play them.

The Line is far from a "cheap shot", it's a surgical dissection of the shooter game and the content therein. In order to execute this dismantling as well as it did it had to inhabit those tropes in order to yank the rug out from under you and subvert them. It lulled you into a sense of security by making you initially think it's like every other shooter you've played, then it pulls its mask off when you are nice and comfortable.

I believe The Line is one of the most important games ever made. It seems we are just going to disagree on this.

(I inserted the emphasis. But really?)

Chamberlain:  I never said I shot the marines that come for you in end, just that it was an option. Which I did take after reloading the last save just to see what would happen.

I never felt guilt, just bemusement over what they were obviously trying to do. Look, civilians! And you melted them! There was no choice given on using the white phosphorus or not. I was watching a character's poor decisions based on his decent into madness, but it was his problem, not mine. The only choice I had was at the very end, and since I could take them all it wasn't much of a choice anyway.

Bioshock is important. Flower is important. Doom is important. The Line is a foot note. A foot note that is trying really hard to say something, but still a foot note because it is an incomplete experience.


I am not going to pursue this any further, as Brutus, whoever you are, and I are not going to come to any sort of consensus. His defense of the game makes me think that it struck a very personal chord for him, something that it could not do for me. Perhaps he is a soldier, has seen battle, even killed a man. I have never fired a gun in my life. Games do different things to different people. What I see as pandering and ham fisted rings quite true for him. Who am I to tell him what he feels is wrong.

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