Spec Ops: The Line
Fiction is used as a method of communicating ideas and emotions. So when I play a game, if I'm paying any attention I'm looking for that idea, that emotion. It has been twice in a row now that I've played and found only a mirror, but it hasn't so much made me look at myself in the mirror and make some worthwhile examination of character. What I've found instead is the game looking at itself and conveying themes to the effect of: "ugh, I'm horrible...why do you love me again?" Like some self loathing lover. The first time it was Spec Ops: The Line, and I thought (rather self righteously) "At last! My loathing for the first person shooter genre vindicated." A game that examined the gameplay conventions and fraudulent narrative framing of player actions in the genre, and subverted them.
The Mirror
This wasn't so much a revelation to me as a reassurance that AAA game development had grown some self awareness, and turned it into a commercial product. Though that didn't change the fact that I had played through the entirety of a mechanically uninteresting game in order to have something I already knew affirmed, though engaging character performances and linear narrative did go some way to easing my path to the game's conclusion.
Ripe With Meaning
When the idea that the fiction conveys is (trying to refrain from using the word merely) merely a piece of criticism, then that fiction really needs to justify its form as fiction at all when it might be able to better make its point as an essay. I mean, if some information can be said more clearly using writing and gains nothing from the indirectness of story or gameplay then why not just outright tell me rather than leading me through an elaborate labyrinth of reasoning before presenting the key argument? Far Cry 3 I'm looking at you, kind of sideways.
New Perspectives in Far Cry 3
Far Cry 3 should be celebrated for its ambition to be more, more than what most games aspire to convey, for attempting to challenge the existing flaws in the genre that players have grown lazy and comfortable with.
But its so flawed in the way it does this that all of it feels stupid. If subversion was the point, then don't you need that one strand of sanity amongst all the insanity? Something for the player to grab hold of and trust, so that the crazy stuff actually has a frame of reference?
This is not normal...
I feel like better use of the player's time would have been to play off the game's excellently designed combat and movement systems, against the narrative need to save the protagonist's friends. This was apparently one of the creative goals: can the player resist the freedom of the island in favour of saving Jason's friends? They're are all pretty much empty vacuous clichés barely worth saving regardless so its not the strongest of arguments to begin with. But then Far Cry 3 treats time no differently to any other game, and there are in fact no consequences, as far as I can tell, for gallivanting off doing trivial rubbish for hours. Why not have characters begin to die off if Jason doesn't turn up at all? Have them suffer longer at the hands of their captors should Jason arrive late. That way the consequences are part of the systems of the game.
The Clichés Assemble
I finished the story, made my hollow binary narrative decision, and then was allowed to stay on the island regardless. I held a gun in my hands, stood in the empty road and looked in the cool tropical moonlight. I felt really empty. I don't know what Jason was supposed to be feeling, having been so vocal with his endorsement of my horrible actions throughout the game he was suddenly speechless. The narrative framework had been removed and for a minute, and we were wrong footed. But then down the road came a jeep. We snuck into the grasses- bow drawn, and waited.
Playing Bows and Arrows
It was only now that the fake impetus of the story had expired that we could fully acknowledge that playing felt good, good enough that we needed no excuse or a purpose. I felt just a little bit tainted by the self loathing that Far Cry 3 had taught me through the seduction of its agency and systemic empowerment. I felt just a little bit used. And in that sense, there was one fibre of thematic resonance to be found. That, just as Citra exploits Jason to conquer the island, Far Cry 3 exploits the player to make an example of the genre, without giving us a choice.
Citra

You could have just written me an essay, maybe.


Pixel Propaganda

The writer has been interviewed extensively defending his work and I really sympathise with him. What he did was bold and flawed. It deserves recognition for ambition if nothing else.

Jonathan Blow wrote a fantastic piece over Christmas about it taking him 15 years to recover from burning out over work, and how he's finally inspired again.


A nice turn around on the the can games be art debate (that never dies). Can art be games?

Uplifting piece about videogames and self harm.




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