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Messofanego
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(11-11-2012, 03:14 PM)
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Games are complex, with lots of intersecting parts. Certainly more than other mediums. So I can see how they're up for a lot longer criticism.

Thought this was newsworthy that for the first time I'm hearing about a book of analysis dedicated to just one game. We've seen it with other pop culture franchises, such as the philosophy or the science of Star Trek. Or even South Park.


Brendan Keogh (Critical Damage and freelances for Edge, Kill Screen, Gamasutra) is writing a book of critical analysis for Spec Ops: The Line

I'm sure some of you are tired with hearing about this game, so here is his reasons for doing it:

While with most other games I could perhaps sum up their themes and how they conveyed them in a thousand words or so, I found this to be impossible with The Line. I think this is largely to do with the unique way that The Line is structured. Most videogames have narratives that work in a kind of looping fashion, going in complete circles one after the other, and you can talk about any of one of these loops in relative isolation. The Line, meanwhile, is one long, slow, gradual arc, and it is truly difficult to talk about any single bit of it without talking about all of it.

So to analyse The Line, then, I needed to analyse all of The Line, from the opening menu screen to the end of the final epilogue. I needed to look at every single little bit of the game from start to finish to see how it all goes together in such a way to make me ask the questions I asked. So that is what I have done.

After an introductory Foreword, the book is split into sections that align with the gameís sections (a prologue, fifteen chapters, and an epilogue). Each section talks through that stage, describing and analysing in equal part. I look at what the characters say, what the environment looks like, what music is playing, what the player does and is made to do, and the relationship between all of these. It is a close reading of the game, an act of interpretation that looks at the game much like you could look at a book or a film, and it tries to understand how it conveys what it conveys to me.

This is not just for the echo chamber of fervent fans around the game but also for people who disliked it or just didn't didn't want to play it:

Ideally, I hope that others who found the game to be so powerfully evocative might be able to get some insight into just how it was so. Further, I hope that those that disliked the game might find some answers as to just why others did find it powerful. Further still, I think good videogame criticism should be able to describe to someone who has not played a certain game just what that game meant to those that did play it. Hopefully Killing is Harmless will be able to communicate to those that are interested in The Line but never wish to play it themselves just why other people found it so engaging.

Why so many (50,000) words?

But more than that, on perhaps a slightly more meta level, Iím hoping to show that a single videogame can be so critically rich as to warrant such a prolonged interrogation. I want to show that one videogame has enough happening in it to warrant 50,000 words of analysis. As videogame criticism comes into its own, related to but distinct from games journalism, I think it is important to explore new avenues and methods of being a videogame critic. Not just new ways to Ďdoí games criticism, but new ways to distribute it to a readership. This project is such an exploration.

I believe long-form videogame criticism is a valid form of writing and one that an audience exists for. Certainly, too many words about a single game can become long-winded and self-indulgent and repetitive and utterly meaningless. But if it is done correctly, it can also allow for the most magical of insights that a smaller article just canít grasp. Look at Tim Rogerís must-read 12,000 word analysis of Earthbound, for instance. Some of the insights it makes are absolutely stunning, and could not be made in a shorter article.

"TL;DR Version
Killing is Harmless is a digital book that performs a close, critical reading of Spec Ops: The Line. You can buy it on November 21 for a special introductory price of $2.99. Day One DLC is TBA. Get excited."
Riposte
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(11-11-2012, 03:17 PM)
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Look at Tim Rogerís must-read 12,000 word analysis of Earthbound, for instance

If anyone asked to in person, I would commit a crime on them.
DragonSworne
Banned
(11-11-2012, 03:18 PM)
I don't understand. The game needs to be looked at a whole because of it's structure but the game itself is broken up in chapters?

Ummm...
Psykotik
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(11-11-2012, 03:21 PM)
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this game is in my top 5 of the year. looking forward to this analysis.

great game.
KissVibes
Why yes, I am on Xbox LIVE. How did you know?
(11-11-2012, 03:24 PM)
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It's crazy how Spec Ops shook the entire industry on average sales and meager advertising. The lessons learned from Spec Ops will change games for the better and worse in some aspects for many years. It'll be exciting.
Clear
This post contains disingenuous arguments meant to disguise my fanboyism. Reader beware!
(11-11-2012, 03:24 PM)
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After doing this he should try Nier and its surrounding meta-text. Similar themes are explored but there's so much else going on besides.
pa22word
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(11-11-2012, 03:25 PM)
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Probably the most important title released this year. Pretty much the Silent Hill 2 of this generation, imo. Great to see an expanded look into it like this. I'll be sure to check this out.
Indrid Cold1
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(11-11-2012, 03:27 PM)
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I might read this, as I thought the gameplay was excellent but the story a hackneyed Apocalypse Now / Heart of Darkness rip off. The story was the worst part of the game for me.
animlboogy
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(11-11-2012, 03:28 PM)
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I'm getting more and more interested in playing this game, but the talk on the gameplay being so pedestrian makes it difficult. Games that skate by on themes alone (Bioshock) while leaving the rest fairly uninteresting haven't done much for me in the past; usually I feel like they'd be better off being in a different medium.
Victrix
*beard*
(11-11-2012, 03:30 PM)
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I'm not clear on how this game is such a brilliant game worthy of critical analysis when it's just a retelling of Apocalypse Now, unless I'm missing something
Haunted
(11-11-2012, 03:32 PM)
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While it's not uncommon to write a critical analysis on an adaptation, you'd expect one of these to pop up for a completely original work instead. That said, there's probably enough uniqueness to Spec Ops' delivery within gaming as a medium and an industry to write about that aspect of it. I agree that it's suited to study and analysis from both a design and a thematic standpoint, so no complaints there.

Originally Posted by xXxDudeBro420xXx

It's crazy how Spec Ops shook the entire industry on average sales and meager advertising. The lessons learned from Spec Ops will change games for the better and worse in some aspects for many years. It'll be exciting.

I wish.

The impact you're talking about hasn't occurred. Most of the people who played it appreciate it as an excellent adaptation of Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now with some meta-commentary on the gaming industry and the shooter genre - but the decision-makers at publishers look at the sales numbers as well as the mixed critical reception ranging from lukewarm to excited (settling for an unimpressive <80 on Metacritic) and will disregard it as an influence, looking towards CoD for guidance instead.
Last edited by Haunted; 11-11-2012 at 03:38 PM.
jiji
purveyor and connoisseur
of fine gaming specimens
(11-11-2012, 03:33 PM)
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Using Tim Rogers as an example of why long-form videogame criticism is a valid pursuit? Naaaaah.

But I would otherwise have completely ignored this title, and I'll take a look at it now.
Nihilistic Monk
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(11-11-2012, 03:34 PM)
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All due respect to the author and his idea to do this, but there's no way I'd pay $2.99 ($4.99 later) for this.

The game was promising but is a shameless apocalypse now "tribute". It has a couple of interesting ideas about player choice and narrative but that's about it.

I'd take the time to read this journos vanity project. But asking for my time AND my money on something this navel gazing? Sorry. Too far sir. Too far.
Prophet Steve
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(11-11-2012, 03:35 PM)
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Originally Posted by animlboogy

I'm getting more and more interested in playing this game, but the talk on the gameplay being so pedestrian makes it difficult. Games that skate by on themes alone (Bioshock) while leaving the rest fairly uninteresting haven't done much for me in the past; usually I feel like they'd be better off being in a different medium.

Spec Ops definitely does not work in a different medium and has more than merely a theme.
SirButterstick
Banned
(11-11-2012, 03:35 PM)

Originally Posted by animlboogy

I'm getting more and more interested in playing this game, but the talk on the gameplay being so pedestrian makes it difficult. Games that skate by on themes alone (Bioshock) while leaving the rest fairly uninteresting haven't done much for me in the past; usually I feel like they'd be better off being in a different medium.

Get it. Sure, the gameplay is good but not original, but the story and setting as well as the feeling of desperation it gives the player is amazing.

The soundtrack is great as well.
Kurita
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(11-11-2012, 03:37 PM)
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Sorry to sound ignorant but... What's so special about this game?
tim.mbp
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(11-11-2012, 03:37 PM)
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Originally Posted by Victrix

I'm not clear on how this game is such a brilliant game worthy of critical analysis when it's just a retelling of Apocalypse Now, unless I'm missing something

Apocalypse Now isn't any less brilliant because it is a retelling of Heart of Darkness.
snoopeasystreet
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(11-11-2012, 03:39 PM)
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Spec Ops: The Line is certainly interesting but I think people are over-elevating it's story because it's a video game that actually tries something. It does do some interesting things but it's heavy handed and doesn't really take advantage of what's unique about the medium.
RealDeadOne
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(11-11-2012, 03:41 PM)
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I don't know if this game is nearly as worthy of an entire book as everyone says it is, but I'll definitely be reading this. We need more deep critical analysis in gaming!
28 Posts Later
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(11-11-2012, 03:44 PM)
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Originally Posted by Kurita

Sorry to sound ignorant but... What's so special about this game?

You can get a decent introduction here.
JDSN
Banned
(11-11-2012, 03:45 PM)
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Ill put this on my reading backlog, many people are quick to dismiss a Heart of Darkness rip-off despite the devs not denying where the inspiration comes from (OMG John Konrad LOL SO OBVIOUS), its a decent story that also has a fantastic meta-commentary on bro shooters and gaming as a whole. The art and setting is some of the best of this generation.
Last edited by JDSN; 11-11-2012 at 03:51 PM.
Kurita
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(11-11-2012, 03:46 PM)
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Originally Posted by 28 Posts Later

You can get a decent introduction here.

Thanks!
Eidan
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(11-11-2012, 03:47 PM)
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Originally Posted by Nihilistic Monk

All due respect to the author and his idea to do this, but there's no way I'd pay $2.99 ($4.99 later) for this.

The game was promising but is a shameless apocalypse now "tribute". It has a couple of interesting ideas about player choice and narrative but that's about it.

I'd take the time to read this journos vanity project. But asking for my time AND my money on something this navel gazing? Sorry. Too far sir. Too far.

Yes, for $3 I demand bang for my buck! Why buy this when I can spend that hard earned money on something truly worth while, like two Slim Jims? Or something from McDonald's lauded dollar menu? Times are too hard to just go throwing three bucks away!
gurudyne
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(11-11-2012, 03:48 PM)
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Originally Posted by snoopeasystreet

Spec Ops: The Line is certainly interesting but I think people are over-elevating it's story because it's a video game that actually tries something. It does do some interesting things but it's heavy handed and doesn't really take advantage of what's unique about the medium.

Wait, what? It takes the player's agency, an element that's iconic of video games to the point of being the definition of their existence, and throws the logical consequences of it in the player's face in one of the most gutwrenching ways to date.
Haunted
(11-11-2012, 03:49 PM)
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Originally Posted by Kurita

Sorry to sound ignorant but... What's so special about this game?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjaBsuXWJJ8
LiveFromKyoto
make it rain, motherfucker
(11-11-2012, 03:51 PM)
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You had me until Tim Rogers. That guy's writing is lower-to-mid-level wankery.
Zia
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(11-11-2012, 03:51 PM)
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Brendan Keogh is a very bright guy and a good writer. And, yeah, the three bucks: for those that like to constantly moan about the state of games writing, "it" would greatly improve if more good writers would charge for their writing instead of throwing it up on blogs in their spare time.
Haunted
(11-11-2012, 03:52 PM)
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Originally Posted by LiveFromKyoto

You had me until Tim Rogers. That guy's writing is lower-to-mid-level wankery.

So good for you that he isn't writing this?

This is by Brendan Keogh.
Nihilistic Monk
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(11-11-2012, 03:55 PM)
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Originally Posted by Eidan

Yes, for $3 I demand bang for my buck! Why buy this when I can spend that hard earned money on something truly worth while, like two Slim Jims? Or something from McDonald's lauded dollar menu? Times are too hard to just go throwing three bucks away!

I take points about good journos charging money for in depth looks at parts of game culture/history/interesting games. Edges "making of" series was fantastic & I did buy the collected edition of that they out out.

The history of Nintendo put out by pixnlove as well. Great works.

Think what you will about cost. Just because its cheap doesn't mean I must throw my money at it. I just find it a bit of a "New games journalism" cash in on a game with faux high ambition in the first place.
Last edited by Nihilistic Monk; 11-11-2012 at 04:06 PM.
Myriadis
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(11-11-2012, 03:56 PM)
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I didn't know anything about Spec Ops until now. I don't like most shooters, especially the ones with war themes. But what I hear about questioning Shooter standards and all that it sounds interesting.
flabberghastly
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(11-11-2012, 04:01 PM)
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As someone who follows Brendan's blog, I'll certainly be looking out for this. I remember him also mentioning earlier that he wanted to do a compilation/survey of all the other blog literature produced around Spec Ops: The Line for Critical Distance.

And for everyone decrying Tim Rogers, I think you all should at least give his Earthbound review a chance. It's written in his typical style of digressions, allusions, and tangents, but it's also one of the best pieces I've ever read about a video game.
lefantome
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(11-11-2012, 04:01 PM)
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That game was great, the only problem was that in the demo it loooked like a mediocre shooter
Clunker
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(11-11-2012, 04:03 PM)
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I'm all for longform games writing, and particularly a deep dive on one specific game as a text; will definitely check this out. I find it a little off-putting that part of the writer's intent seems to be to use this as a sort of tip of the spear for "proving" that critical analysis of a game can be as valid as critical readings of other media, but I do think The Line has enough depth and complexity in its layers to hold up to some close reading. Not to say it's the best candidate for such writing, but it seems to be a good entry point.

The Gamespot podcast interview with the game's lead writer was really illuminating. I don't remember the exact name of the cast, but it went up maybe a week after the game's release. The writer was asked why he chose to use a modern-military shooter to make a point about modern-military shooters -- wouldn't you be better served by not forcing players to go through all of the flimsy gameplay? -- and in essence, the writer said that the decisions about gameplay, genre, milieu, etc., were all predestined beforehand. He was brought in and told to write a story to fit a game about a small squad of soldiers in Dubai, so it was sort of a "cart before the horse" scenario. It makes the decision to frame the game as social commentary even more interested, IMO, because it was sort of subversive -- not just to players, but to the publisher and industry. Actively writing a shooter that makes you question yourself or feel bad about playing shooters is pretty ballsy.

I know that there's a growing sense of backlash about games that have done this whole "meta story twists make you question the nature of player choice/interaction" thing, but The Line really stuck out to me because it was so committed to the angle. And I think a lot of things that weren't inherently intended by the writers -- e.g., the casting of Nolan North in the lead, which adds its own spin on industry commentary -- can be examined for interesting effect.
EVOL 100%
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(11-11-2012, 04:05 PM)
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Well, this thread certainly got me interested in this game.
Amagon
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(11-11-2012, 04:05 PM)
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Hmm, count me interested.
Persona86
Banned
(11-11-2012, 04:06 PM)
I've never even heard of this game, and I read a little too much about games. Weird.

But you've got my attention now.
Last edited by Persona86; 11-11-2012 at 04:09 PM.
KissVibes
Why yes, I am on Xbox LIVE. How did you know?
(11-11-2012, 04:09 PM)
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Originally Posted by Haunted

I wish.

The impact you're talking about hasn't occurred. Most of the people who played it appreciate it as an excellent adaptation of Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now with some meta-commentary on the gaming industry and the shooter genre - but the decision-makers at publishers look at the sales numbers as well as the mixed critical reception ranging from lukewarm to excited (settling for an unimpressive <80 on Metacritic) and will disregard it as an influence, looking towards CoD for guidance instead.

If you think developers aren't looking towards Spec Ops and it's reception from gamers and the press, then you're incorrect. They might not be screaming it from the rooftops but it's something many look at for an example of how far you can take a narrative and what kind of experience you can present the player (and that's the good part of Spec Ops impact). The impact within the development communities is a big deal.

You talk about the decision-makers at publishers but ignore one key aspect that is very easy for a developer to point out: Spec Ops: The Line had little marketing and was sold to consumers and media as a generic cover-based shooter. It was a hot topic for many reviewers that were keen to mention just how awful they thought the game was a preview events. 2K intentionally hid everything that made the game interesting, perhaps because they saw the punch it would have instead. This was largely a mistake and one future games that'll take inspiration from Spec Ops wont need to suffer through.

CoD is a very fleeting thing. It clearly hasn't been as successful for any other game and gamers are adamant that they don't want me-too games when they can get the real thing. You'll see those changes strongly reflected in the next-generation.
aeolist
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(11-11-2012, 04:16 PM)
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I really wish I'd been able to play further into this game

CoD-like military shooter campaigns are basically just off-limits to me at this point
RedNumberFive
Banned
(11-11-2012, 04:17 PM)
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Look at Tim Rogerís must-read 12,000 word analysis of Earthbound, for instance.

This sounds like a horrible idea.
Eidan
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(11-11-2012, 04:19 PM)
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Originally Posted by Nihilistic Monk

I take points about good journos charging money for in depth looks at parts of game culture/history/interesting games. Edges "making of" series was fantastic & I did buy the collected edition of that they out out.

The history of Nintendo put out by pixnlove as well. Great works.

Think what you will about cost. Just because its cheap doesn't mean I must throw my money at it. I just find it a bit of a "New games journalism" cash in on a game with faux high ambition in the first place.

If you don't want to buy it because you don't think the game is worthy of such an in-depth analysis, then don't buy it. I wouldn't begrudge you. But don't bring the cost of the project into the discussion. Because at $3, doing so just makes you look petty/cheap.
syko de4d
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(11-11-2012, 04:23 PM)
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ok, next steam sale Spec Ops is on my list xD
Riposte
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(11-11-2012, 04:23 PM)
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Originally Posted by Zia

Brendan Keogh is a very bright guy and a good writer. And, yeah, the three bucks: for those that like to constantly moan about the state of games writing, "it" would greatly improve if more good writers would charge for their writing instead of throwing it up on blogs in their spare time.

People already get paid for writing about games.

I find it funny that you are taking that side in the comparison of people writing for money vs people writing out of passion.
Clear
This post contains disingenuous arguments meant to disguise my fanboyism. Reader beware!
(11-11-2012, 04:31 PM)
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Sorry to harp on about this, but although I quite enjoyed that video and roundly agreed with the sentiments it raises most of the larger issues it mentions should be self-evident to anyone with any sort of social conscience or understanding of history.

Militarism is not good. For anyone but the evil fucks who make vast profits from the sale of arms and spoils of war. Its an industry of death.

War-porn shooters are obviously operating in some deeply suspect moral areas especially when they deal with contemporary situations and locales. Its making light disposable entertainment out of inhuman atrocities, and whichever side of the political divide your conscience places you, you simply cannot discount the fact that its celebrating human sacrifice. Not to abuse the meme, but this really, really, is serious business.

Beyond that obvious socio-political dimension, what the game is doing is, as I mentioned in my previous post, pretty much exactly the same things that Nier did two years ago.

The framework that game worked in was the classical hero's journey mythology of the JRPG genre, whereas The Line works within the tropes of the military shooter. Cultural and presentational issues aside, the aspects of the human condition being addressed are the same.

Nier's fantastical milieu grants it license to go even deeper down the rabbit-hole and play even further with the "face of the enemy" motif that is absolutely central to the point these games are making.

What concerns me, and why this post is absolutely not about criticism of SO:TL as a work in itself, is that the way this title is being highlighted whereas Nier was roundly ignored, seems like yet another case of cultural imperialism at work.

You want to elevate discourse, you need to be able to look past superficial aspects of presentation to what these "texts" are actually saying.
Zia
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(11-11-2012, 04:32 PM)
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Originally Posted by Riposte

People already get paid for writing about games.

I find it funny that you are taking that side in the comparison of people writing for money vs people writing out of passion.

A lot of people get paid very little to write about games (well or poorly), and a lot of people write very well about games for nothing, not purely because they are passionate about what they are doing, but because nobody is willing to pay them for that writing. Proper criticism as a whole has been on the decline, and the quality of that criticism has declined, and what is of quality is less visible than it ever was. Some of the best film critics and essayists on the planet have been laid of in the past few years because some kid on the Internet is willing to do a poor man's version of their job for $10 a piece. I see value in a guy who can write saying, "I value my work and so should you, so I'm charging for it."
I should be doing hw
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(11-11-2012, 04:33 PM)
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Originally Posted by xXxDudeBro420xXx

If you think developers aren't looking towards Spec Ops and it's reception from gamers and the press, then you're incorrect. They might not be screaming it from the rooftops but it's something many look at for an example of how far you can take a narrative and what kind of experience you can present the player (and that's the good part of Spec Ops impact). The impact within the development communities is a big deal.

What is your evidence for this?
Eidan
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(11-11-2012, 04:39 PM)
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Originally Posted by Clear

Sorry to harp on about this, but although I quite enjoyed that video and roundly agreed with the sentiments it raises most of the larger issues it mentions should be self-evident to anyone with any sort of social conscience or understanding of history.

Militarism is not good. For anyone but the evil fucks who make vast profits from the sale of arms and spoils of war. Its an industry of death.

War-porn shooters are obviously operating in some deeply suspect moral areas especially when they deal with contemporary situations and locales. Its making light disposable entertainment out of inhuman atrocities, and whichever side of the political divide your conscience places you, you simply cannot discount the fact that its celebrating human sacrifice. Not to abuse the meme, but this really, really, is serious business.

Beyond that obvious socio-political dimension, what the game is doing is, as I mentioned in my previous post, pretty much exactly the same things that Nier did two years ago.

The framework that game worked in was the classical hero's journey mythology of the JRPG genre, whereas The Line works within the tropes of the military shooter. Cultural and presentational issues aside, the aspects of the human condition being addressed are the same.

Nier's fantastical milieu grants it license to go even deeper down the rabbit-hole and play even further with the "face of the enemy" motif that is absolutely central to the point these games are making.

What concerns me, and why this post is absolutely not about criticism of SO:TL as a work in itself, is that the way this title is being highlighted whereas Nier was roundly ignored, seems like yet another case of cultural imperialism at work.

You want to elevate discourse, you need to be able to look past superficial aspects of presentation to what these "texts" are actually saying.

I'd say it's mostly because of the modern shooter's greater relevance in the industry and American culture as a whole, and its possible effects on people's perceptions of violence, the military, war, and diplomacy as a whole, that Spec Ops is getting this kind of attention.

Essentially, would you say Nier's commentary on the hero's journey is anywhere close to as relevant as Spec Ops' commentary on the modern shooter? Serious question, as I've not played Nier.
Foxtastical
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(11-11-2012, 04:45 PM)
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So a textual analysis. Cool.

However, I do disagree with his idea about length in writing. It's easy to write long, but it's testament to a writer's skill to make something concise and engaging.
voodoopanda
Member
(11-11-2012, 04:46 PM)
My favorite part of Spec Ops is how it tries to trick the player. Setting up standard video game scenarios and then twisting them. An unsuspecting player going into it would see a normal military FPS at first, and have it slowly strip away. All done in a very videogamey way. I find that more interesting than the war story stuff or Heart of Darkness parallels, they just serve as a way to express the tricky bits of the game.
NEOPARADIGM
Banned
(11-11-2012, 04:51 PM)

Originally Posted by 28 Posts Later

You can get a decent introduction here.

Originally Posted by Haunted

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjaBsuXWJJ8

Interesting. Thanks.
snoopeasystreet
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(11-11-2012, 04:57 PM)
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Originally Posted by gurudyne

Wait, what? It takes the player's agency, an element that's iconic of video games to the point of being the definition of their existence, and throws the logical consequences of it in the player's face in one of the most gutwrenching ways to date.

I think it comments on player agency in video games but doesn't do anything outside of that. There are points where the game forces you to do things in order to advance the story and then berates you about it later. While that leads to an interesting narrative piece, it falls flat because the player isn't presented with an out other than turning off the game. I just think that the narrative would have had much more of an impact if the player arrived at that point by their own choices rather than being forced there.

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