Spotlight: September 1999

Every once in a while you come across something you weren’t quite expecting, something that manages to surprise you.  “September 1999” was that something for me.

I stumbled onto this game while browsing the Steam store one day (Steam is a digital service for buying and downloading games).  There isn’t much of a description on the store page.  It simply reads “a free, VHS styled, first-person found footage horror game, which runs exactly for 5 minutes and 30 seconds.”

That last part is intriguing no?  Why exactly five minutes and thirty seconds?  I won’t lie, that’s what really got me interested in playing it.

Now I’m going to go ahead and describe the entirety of the five and a half-minute experience, so if you want to see it for yourself you can download it and play it for yourself before continuing.  It is free to play after all.

But without further ado, let’s get into it.

 

 

 

 

18 September 1999, 03:24

It’s the middle of the night, and the wind howls outside.  The rain is coming down hard, and occasionally the sound of thunder rips through the air.  Cans and bottles of what is presumably alcohol litter the place, some left carelessly lying on the floor.  A single mattress with a leopard-skin blanket lies on the floor along with a small radio.  A tiny lamp sits on the floor, the only light in this dingy little room.

 

 

Outside there is a small hallway with three doors and a window with blinds on it.  There is a door at the end of the hallway with a metal bolt holding it shut.  There is a Bible lying on a small table as well as a picture near the window that might be of some sort of crucifixion.

 

 

After a couple of minutes, the tape ends.

 

19 September 1999, 01:14

The silence is immediately apparent.  No rain, no wind, no thunder.  Again, it is very late into the night.

A moment passes, then a sort of knocking or pounding makes itself known.  It’s coming from the door with the metal bolt.  It only lasts for a few seconds before the silence regains its dominion.  The tape ends.

 

21 September 1999, 04:01

Red and blue lights flash outside the window, which is now boarded up.  The garbled, indistinct sound of a radio dispatcher reaches your ears.  Someone is knocking on the front door.

It is dark.  No lights are on anymore.  Continuing down the hallway, you enter the small bedroom from before.  Scanning around the room, you don’t see much at first, but when you approach the bed, you notice it isn’t empty anymore.

 

 

A figure wrapped in some kind of tarp or bag lies on the bed, motionless.  As you get closer, a chill runs down your spine.  You can hear…

…hear…

……breathing.

 

22 September 1999, 21:11

Someone’s crying behind the bolted door.  Trails of blood are all over the floor in the hallway.  The faint sound of classical music creeps into the hallway.  It’s coming from the bedroom.

As you enter, the room is pitch black.  Continuing forward, the mattress seems to dissolve into existence out of the darkness, this time on its side and covered in blood.  What appears to be body parts wrapped in plastic lie on the floor, and the walls are covered in plastic sheets stained with crimson droplets.  The tape ends.

 

Pictured above: a stock photo of a cute kitten instead of bloody body parts.

 

 

 

30 September 1999, 04:01

The camera lies on the hallway floor, perhaps carelessly left recording.  After a few seconds, the unmistakable sound of a chainsaw revving up comes from somewhere off to the left.  It growls and roars, the sound guttural and intense.  The tape, and the story, end there.

 

Analysis

In a way, “September 1999” reminds me of “Thirty Flights of Loving”.  Both games take a minimalist approach to storytelling.  But whereas the latter bored me with its presumptuous focus on style rather than substance, “September 1999” really intrigued me with its focus on you observing the details in your surroundings and then interpreting their implications.

And there is a strong implication behind the things you see:

The person behind the camera is a serial killer.

A number of things led me to that conclusion.  The blood is the obvious one, but it’s really the second to last tape that cemented it for me.  The bloody body parts are one thing, but then there’s the plastic stuck to the walls.  Clearly this is someone who has done this before.  He/she knows that using plastic on the walls will make the blood easier to clean up afterwards.

And then there’s the bolted door.

Initially, during that second tape, I didn’t know exactly what the pounding was.  But after I finished and my mind was going back over things, I realized something: it wasn’t a person asking to be let in.  It was someone begging to be let out.

“September 1999” really succeeded for me in terms of a short experience in video game storytelling.  It knows its limitations, and doesn’t try too hard to tell a story beyond its reach.  “Thirty Flights of Loving”, on the other hand, seemed to want to tell a complex story but with all the fluff ripped out of it (it worked for some people…I just wasn’t one of them).  “September 1999” doesn’t have any characters, dialogue, or really any sort of game mechanics aside from walking around and observing.

But for what it was, it worked.

I’ve always been a bigger fan of horror that does its job through subtlety and unease, as compared to the usual tactic of things jumping at you and screaming.  I understand why that tactic is so common.  It’s cheap and easy, whereas setting up a tense atmosphere takes time and effort.

“September 1999” doesn’t throw itself in your face.  It doesn’t try to scare you with loud noises or cheap musical cues.  In fact, the nonchalant way it presents what’s happening actually makes it all the more horrifying.  My conclusion was that the person behind the camera was simply recording everything for their own pleasure, to have a record of the atrocity they committed.  And that realization sends a chill down my spine.

“September 1999” won’t resonate with everyone.  Some people will find it boring.  Some will probably see it as pretentious.  But for what it is, it’s an interesting narrative experiment, and one I liked a lot more than “Thirty Flights of Loving” (it might have helped that “September 1999” is free, whereas “Thirty Flights of Loving” you have to pay for).  It’s a sign that games have, can, and will continue to experiment and evolve.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back in a month for my next post, and as always, have a wonderful month.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

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Let’s Talk About What Makes Effective Horror

‘Tis the season of ghosts and ghouls, spooks and scares.  The air carries a chill and the leaves are falling.  Halloween is just around the bend and it’s the time to celebrate all things scary.

I’ve talked a lot about my affinity for everything horror in the past on this blog, but it’s been very scattershot and all over the place.  So this time I’d like to just sit down and focus entirely on it and explain what, in my opinion, makes for effective horror.

If you’ve followed my blog long enough, you know that I’ve made it no secret my disappointment with the state of horror when it comes to Hollywood movies.  So many of them are just loud and annoying, filled to the brim with cheap scares.  When I reviewed “Blair Witch” back in 2016, I mentioned how it seemed to be everything the original movie wasn’t: obnoxious and full of quick, cheap jumpscares.  Instead of the slow-paced, tension focused build up of the original, we got a movie that was so lazy it even has one of the characters mutter “stop doing that” after it pulls a double jumpscare.  There were some genuinely creepy moments, but they weren’t allowed to leave a lasting mark as the next loud, obnoxious thing popping up in front of the camera wasn’t far away.

And when I see trailers for The Conjuring 15 or Insidious Chapter 257, all I see is a lot more of the same: jumpscares and demons.  Ooh you’re really breaking new ground there guys.

To me, for horror to be effective, it needs to be allowed to sit for a while.  There needs to be a kind of atmosphere to it, something that slowly unsettles and winds you up so that when the metaphorical shoe inevitably drops, it has more of an impact.  Most big budget horror movies these days rely on loud, quick scares as a crutch.  And sure, some of them might be scary in the moment, but they’re not memorable.  There’s a reason people still talk about movies like “The Exorcist” and “Halloween” but nobody is going to remember the 2016 “Blair Witch” or any of the “Insidious” movies once enough time passes.

Why do you think they keep producing sequel after sequel?  Because they know that a horror movie’s time is short-lived.  If they can keep pumping out more movies, they can keep it in the public consciousness for longer and make more money.

It’s the same thing with video games.  “Five Nights at Freddy’s” may have been a huge hit, but part of its lasting popularity has to do with the quick turnaround in games.  The first game hit in August of 2014.  The second game hit in November…of 2014.  The third game dropped in March of 2015 and…you get the idea.  Part of the quick turnaround had to do with how the games were designed, but whether intentional or not, this quick turnaround is what led to its staying power.

But while the fans go ape over the deliberately obscure story or make weird fan porn of the characters (don’t go looking for it…seriously…there isn’t enough bleach in the world to wipe your eyes clean after that), no one really talks about the actual gameplay itself anymore, which boils down to a trial and error waiting game.  And if you fail?  BLARG!  Jumpscare.

Compare that then to a game like “Amnesia: The Dark Descent”, which still ranks as one of my top scariest games of all time.  In that game you don’t even see a monster for the first hour or so.  Instead, much of the time is spent wandering around a castle gleaming clues as to why you’re there in the first place.  By the time the game draws back the curtain and sends something shrieking after you, the atmosphere has settled in and you’ve been drawn in enough to make the appearance more startling than it would be if there was a monster right behind the first door you encounter.  Even that developer’s earlier “Penumbra” series of games utilized the power of tension and atmosphere, choosing to build up suspense before throwing something at the player.

 

 

Despite all that I’ve said, jumpscares aren’t a bad thing.  It’s just that, by themselves, jumpscares aren’t necessarily creepy or scary.

I get it, it’s far easier to Google search “scary faces”, grab a stock scream sound effect and crank the decibels up until you’re not certain if that ringing in your ears was always there or not.  But if your intent is to create something that is truly lasting, something that will make someone afraid of the dark for a few days or a week after they’ve finished with it, you need more than just loud noises.  You need ambiance.  You need suspense.  You need lighting.  But most importantly, you need to ground it in some way.  You can have all the jumpscares and mood lighting in the world, but if your audience/player base can’t buy into the scenario you’ve crafted, you’ll have lost them long before you reveal what goes bump in the night.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back on the third Wednesday of next month, and have a great Halloween!

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Spotlight: Southern Reach Trilogy

 

These books are weird.  Like…really weird.

But it’s their weirdness that makes them so fascinating.

The Southern Reach trilogy is a series of books that revolve around a place known as Area X, a patch of now uninhabited wilderness that’s being slowly changed by an unseen force.  The official story to the outside world is that of an ecological disaster, but the reality is far more sinister and unknown.  “Southern Reach” refers to the organization tasked with investigating the mysterious phenomenon.

The first book is called “Annihilation”.  You might recognize the title, as the book was made into a movie that released back in March.  However, the movie diverges from the book quite a bit, so even if you’ve seen the movie you won’t know exactly what to expect.

“Annihilation” opens with four characters standing in front of a strange tower leading underground in Area X.  They are known only by their specialties.  There is the Biologist, the Surveyor, the Psychologist, and the Anthropologist.  Their task is to investigate Area X and see what they can find out about it.  Early on, it is revealed that the Biologist (played by Natalie Portman in the movie) had a husband who was on the expedition prior to hers and died from cancer after returning under mysterious circumstances.  “Annihilation” plays out like you would expect from a science-fiction story about people undertaking an expedition into an unknown area: bad stuff happens, people die, paranoia sets in, and so on.  Unlike the movie, “Annihilation” ends on an uncertain note, leaving things up in the air.

The second book, “Authority”, takes a deeper look at the Southern Reach organization itself.  Our main character is John Rodriguez, who takes to calling himself “Control”.  He is sent into the Southern Reach to become its new director, and he investigates the aftermath of the expedition from the first book as well as the organization itself.  This one reads more akin to a thriller or a spy novel, with subterfuge and secrets abound.  This book is actually a lot more about the character of Control/John rather than Area X itself, although Area X is never far from the forefront for too long.

“Acceptance” is the final book of the trilogy, and is rightfully the most complex one.  Unlike the previous two books, which had a fairly linear chronology (“Authority” does have some flashbacks, but through Control reflecting on past events), “Acceptance” has three major viewpoints taking place over a wide span of time, one of which actually takes place before Area X happens and details events leading up to its creation.  Long-lingering questions are answered and we get a deeper look into some characters that were only referenced from afar in the previous books.  I hesitate to say much more about it for fear of spoilers.

My favorite of the series definitely has to be “Acceptance”.  I’ve always enjoyed disjointed chronologies in stories, and “Acceptance” weaved a non-linear, complex narrative that was a joy to follow.  “Acceptance” also has the tightest pacing of the three books.  The series definitely is a slow burn (especially in “Authority”), which isn’t a bad thing.  But “Acceptance” definitely makes the best use of that burn, with scenes that can go from being perfectly normal to slightly unnerving to downright disturbing in an elegantly smooth fashion.  There’s a particular scene at a bar very late in the book that really sticks out in my mind as just getting progressively more unnerving before everything just goes to hell.

And that’s my favorite thing about this series: the unrelenting weirdness and tension that’s present throughout the books.  There’s a moment in the second book, “Authority”, where things just suddenly hit the fan in such a jarring, unexpected way that it’s actually brilliant.  It makes you question if it’s actually happening or not at first.  And I’ve always been a fan of horror and horror-tinged stories (something readers of this blog undoubtedly know at this point), so this trilogy was right up my alley.

If you like weird sci-fi, then I can’t recommend this series enough.  It’s just so bizarre and unique that I can’t say I’ve ever read anything quite like it.  Some stuff is left open to interpretation in the end, which might bother some people, but to me the ambiguity is what stays with us after the story is done.  It’s what keeps our minds churning over and over, trying to gleam the last elusive details that will give us the answers we want.

So yeah, give the books a shot.  Get weirded out.  It’s a fun time.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back on the third Wednesday of next month for another post, and as always, have a wonderful month.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Spotlight: Incredibles 2

 

In what seems to be becoming more of a trend, movies are getting sequels long after the original’s release, sometimes over a decade after.  The sequel to “Finding Nemo”, “Finding Dory” came out about thirteen years later.  “Independence Day” got a sequel twenty years later.  Hell, “Blade Runner 2049” came out over thirty years after the original (and still somehow managed to be amazing).  And the result of this trend has been fairly hit or miss.  Some sequels managed to succeed despite the distance in time from their predecessors, while others flop for multiple reasons, be it little interest in a sequel this many years later or just a sense of re-treading the same ground without adding anything new.

So with that in mind, “Incredibles 2” is the latest in this trend, coming out fourteen years later.  How does it stack up?

I have only vague memories of seeing the original “Incredibles” in theaters with my dad way back in the day.   And while I don’t remember much about the plot (it was fourteen years ago after all and I only saw it once), I remember liking it.  I remember it being a fun movie.  So when I went to see the sequel all these years later, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect.  Sure, the movie had been receiving pretty much universal acclaim, but I’d been let down by that before.

In the end, I would say that “Incredibles 2” is a decent to good movie.  Nothing amazing or spectacular, but very solid.

I don’t think my reaction to it has all that much to do with the movie itself.  Sure, the plot is very predictable, to the point where I would have figured out the movie’s main plot twist long before I did if I hadn’t turned my brain off.  Sure, it doesn’t really do anything that we haven’t seen before.  But it has a lot of charm, and it’s a movie that can appeal to kids and adults alike without feeling patronizing.

Rather, I think it has more to do with the time it came out in.

One of the movie’s central conceits is this almost meta examination of the role that superheroes play.  After the introductory action sequence, we see them being yelled at by police for causing so much collateral damage, to the point where they argue that it would have been better if the heroes had simply done nothing.  And throughout the movie it’s making an argument about how the world needs superheroes, something which feels strangely dated especially after a decade of Marvel dominating the box office with its superhero movies.  It makes me wonder if the script for the movie was written way back when, shortly after the first film’s release.

And for me personally, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I’m burned out on superhero movies.  There’s just so many of them and most of them feel identical to each other (this is particularly true for Marvel movies).  Part of the original “Incredibles” charm was that it came out at a time when superhero movies weren’t that big.  Sure there might be one every once in a while, but it’s still a far cry from today when it feels like there’s a superhero movie in theaters every other month.  I think if the sequel had come out just a couple of years or so after the first one, I might have been more receptive to it.

Again, it’s not a bad movie.  I just don’t think it’s that remarkable of one either.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back on the third Wednesday of next month for another post, and as always, have a wonderful month.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Let’s Talk About Gaming Addiction

Recently the World Health Organization (WHO) has moved to include gaming disorder as part of the 11th revision of their International Classification of Diseases.  According to their website, gaming disorder is defined as “a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”  It goes on to say that, to be classified as a disorder, the amount of gaming must be severe enough to impair a person’s functioning in daily life for a time period of at least twelve months.

My initial reaction to this, of course, was an instinctual dislike.  Video games are one of my primary hobbies, and have been since I was a kid.  So when I heard that gaming disorder was going to be an officially recognized thing, I immediately thought that it couldn’t be good.  And the interesting thing is that the pushback against the classification didn’t just come from people who play video games.  It also came from medical experts who believe that the WHO’s definition of gaming disorder is too vague and too broad.

However, at the same time, the classification does make sense.  There are people out there who definitely spend far too much time on video games, so much so that it starts to take precedence over everything else.  And we are long overdue for a conversation about mental health in this country.  Because while conservative politicians love to blame mental health issues for mass shooting events, they never seem to actually DO anything about it.

But that’s a rant for another time.

Gaming addiction is not a new issue, especially in places like South Korea where it has become such a problem that they even have gaming addiction rehabilitation clinics.  So it’s definitely something worth talking about.  But on the other hand, there’s the media, who have a long and storied history of being slanted against video games.  For instance, here’s this story from the BBC, which was originally titled “Computer game addiction: ‘I spend 20 plus hours a week gaming”.

Pffft…that’s weak.  Get real kids.  Twenty hours is nothing.  You hear me?  Nothing!

In all seriousness, if you actually watch the video, it at least explains that the kid who plays “20 plus hours” a week is part of a healthy crowd of friends.  But if all you see is the headline, your perception of that “20 plus hours” is going to be much different.

And if we’re really going to criticize video games in this way, I think it’s worth noting how we consume another medium: television.  According to this New York Times article from back in 2016, a Nielsen study found that, on average, American adults watch five hours of television a day.  So per week, that adds up to roughly thirty-five hours of television.  Yet we don’t see the WHO coming out with a classification on television watching disorder, or the BBC making a video about people addicted to television.  And the only major reason I can think of for this is that watching television is a normalized thing, whereas video games are still seen as a kind of weird new thing that people don’t understand.

This is to say nothing about the fact that binge-watching is not only a term, but a socially acceptable one.  When “Stranger Things” season 2 came out, over three hundred thousand people watched the entire season in one day.  But of course we’re not raising a stink about this.  We might scoff and say “get a life”, but our condemnation never goes much beyond that.

I should mention here that even the WHO recognizes that the number of those afflicted with this gaming disorder are a very small percentage of the people who play video games regularly.  And I’m willing to bet that, more often than not, the root cause of the addiction lies not with the games themselves, but with something in that person’s life that has forced them to retreat into their hobby.  Because video games are typically used as a way to cope with the stresses of life, something I can attest to personally.  While there are some games that are designed to entice players to keep playing regularly over months and even years, we need to understand that the extreme form of addiction the WHO is talking about is not the norm, especially in a country where the statistic of watching over thirty hours of television a week is accepted without so much as a second thought.

In the end, it’s possible to have an unhealthy addiction to pretty much anything.  And it’s time we accepted that instead of adhering to this stodgy old idea of “everything was better when I was growing up and anything new in these kid’s lives is clearly bad for them”.

Because the world is going to change, whether we like it or not.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back on the third Wednesday of next month for another post, and as always, have a wonderful day.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Let’s Talk About Millennial Humor

Looks like those dang millennials are at it again!

So recently I stumbled across this opinion article from the Washington Post entitled “Why is millennial humor so weird?”  Let’s just start with the opening paragraph.

The article begins with a strange analysis of this particular meme:

 

 

The author writes that “the wiener is not a socialist icon; in fact, he is a breakdancing sausage from a Snapchat filter. His inclusion in a lineup of the U.S.S.R.’s patron saints doesn’t mean anything. Maybe nothing does.”

Then in the next paragraph she writes “in this weird world of the surreal and bizarre, horror mingles with humor, and young people have space to play with emotions that seem more and more to proceed from ordinary life — the creeping suspicion that the world just doesn’t make sense.”

So apparently us millennials are like the stereotypical goth kids, constantly rambling about how everything is dark and nothing has meaning.

To be fair, the author does acknowledge the reasons behind this perceived fascination with meaninglessness.  She briefly talks about how millennials, as they’re growing up, are constantly told that they should go to college, that they need to go to college.  And then when they do go to college and finish, they discover that they’ve basically been lied to.  They spent all this time getting a fancy degree, and often all that leaves them with is a mountain of debt and a part-time job at a company that couldn’t give less of a crap about them.

But at the same time, her tone occasionally feels a little too judgmental.  She references how “traditional sources of meaning, such as religion and family formation”, aren’t as relevant to millennials as they were to prior generations.  “The moral structure they produced has been vastly loosened,” she writes, “and replaced with a soft, untheorized tendency toward niceness — smarminess, really, as journalist Tom Scocca put it in 2013.”  Because if you aren’t worshipping God and making babies, then you clearly aren’t doing it right.

The article goes on to talk about how millennials put off things like buying houses and lists a whole bunch of surveys that are supposed to show how disenfranchised we are as a generation.  Now, putting aside the fact that the stuff about millennials not buying houses is simply not true, there’s one survey that popped out to me: one where fifty-seven percent of those that responded admitted to being lonely.

And where did this survey come from?  Match.com.

Oh, so you discovered that lonely people might decide to use a dating website?  GEE…NEVER WOULD HAVE FIGURED THAT ONE OUT!

 

 

What’s strangest to me about this whole rambling, presumptuous article is that it was written by a millennial.  Yep, you read that right…she states that fact multiple times in the article.  And yet, despite this display of supposed intellectualism (she even uses the phrase “de rigueur” at one point…because you can’t truly be pretentious unless you’re doing it in a different language), she appears to have only scratched the surface of how bizarre the internet can be.  A hotdog wearing green headphones?  Winnie the Pooh as a 9/11 truther in a fan-created comic?  Is that the best you’ve got?

The internet is a rabbit hole whose depths you have not even begun to fathom.

I think the biggest irony behind this whole examination of millennial humor and memes is that the article itself became a meme.  People were taking a snapshot of the article’s web page and replacing that first image with other surreal and bizarre memes.

It’s true what they say…there is no escape.

All joking and sarcasm aside, the article isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever read, but it does strike me as pointless.  It attempts to pry meaning out of a generation’s brand of humor before concluding that the meaning might be that there IS no meaning and that it’s playing with the general feelings of distress that plague the millennial generation.  But it also backs off on that point, saying that “the weird — even the exceedingly weird — doesn’t have to be purely distressing” before providing examples of more light-hearted memes.  If anything, the fact that it was written by a millennial only makes its existence more confusing.  If this was written by a forty or fifty-year old, I could at least file it under the long establish “old people don’t understand young people” genre.  But as it stands, this article just feels too full of itself to serve any real purpose.

Maybe the hotdog standing with the icons of Communism and Socialism is funny simply because of how ridiculous it is.  It doesn’t have to be some meta-commentary on the feelings of hopelessness that are common with millennials.  It doesn’t have to be part of some grander scheme or greater context.  Maybe it’s there because someone thought it would be funny.

Pro tip: if you have to spend so much time dissecting a certain brand of humor, the chances are you lost the point before you even started.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back on the third Wednesday of next month for another post, and as always, have a wonderful month.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Spotlight: Thirty Flights of Loving

“Thirty Flights of Loving” begins as more games should: with some smooth jazz.  After walking downstairs and encountering these fine gentlemen…

 

Stop looking at meeeee!

 

…we make our way through a secret passageway into the basement where we run into our two comrades, Anita (at least I’m assuming that’s her real name) and…uh…Other Guy.

 

 

 

Clicking on either of them brings up a flashy series of images denoting their skills.  It’s clear that Anita is the muscle of the group, as her skills include demolitions and sharpshooting.  Other Guy has a more utility focus, as he is a forger and a safecracker.

 

Evidently he’s also good at weddings.

 

You make your way downstairs to an airplane and the three of you take off.  The scene quickly cuts and it’s obvious something went horribly wrong.  Anita has a gun pointed at you that’s clicking empty and Other Guy has a bullet wound in his chest.  You pick him up and begin making your way through the crowded airport.  But soon enough the scene shifts again.  This time it’s a flashback, as you and Anita are in an apartment, peeling and eating oranges.

 

Why oranges? Why NOT oranges?

 

As you walk toward the door time jumps forward and Anita is joined by Other Guy.  The three of you make your way up to the building’s rooftop and sit down at a reception.  People start dancing.  You and Anita start drinking…a lot.

 

I’m not sure if this makes me want to drink less…or more.

 

The two of you then make your way downstairs to the apartment, where Anita waits for you on the bed.  Before you get to her, the scene shifts back to the airport, where you use a luggage carrier to help move Other Guy.

 

Oh wait, his name is Winston? Ah screw it, I’m still calling him Other Guy.

 

Making your way into the main entrance for the airport, you suddenly find yourselves trapped and set upon by police cameras floating from balloons.  Other Guy pulls out two guns and begins shooting them down.  Eventually, you are allowed to make your way through the entrance where the cops are waiting.  The scene jumps forward and apparently the two of you were able to steal a cop car.

 

Oh no, they’re chasing us through the highway of love!

 

You have a sudden flashback to you and Anita riding together on a motorcycle.  She turns around to you, love clearly in her eyes.  But the scene is quickly interrupted by an on-rushing semi-truck, snapping you back to the present.  However, it’s too late, as you collide with it head on.

And then, in what is either a self-aware jab or a display of pretentiousness, you are catapulted into a museum scene where people are standing around drinking champagne and marveling at various exhibits related to the game.

 

Mmm yes quite…that is a lovely police vehicle…mmm yes….

 

All in all, the game takes about 10-15 minutes to beat.  It’s not very long, and there’s no dialogue at all.  In fact, whenever someone talks it reminds me of the adults from Charlie Brown.  But the big question is, did I like it?

Honestly…not really.  The game is too short and lacks the detail that would normally get me invested in a story.

Now, before someone says it, I understand that was the point.  “Thirty Flights of Loving” is an experiment in telling a short story with all the context ripped out of it.  So you either have to poke and prod to find the context or make your own.

I get what the game was going for.  It just didn’t resonate with me.

But apparently it did with video game journalists when it came out six years ago.  The site Rock Paper Shotgun praised the game in a recommendation back in 2015, saying that “it’s more thrilling, funny, romantic, and tragic than many games manage in fifteen hours.”  Now, I’m not sure if I missed something, but I didn’t feel that emotional at all when I finished the game my first time through a few years ago.

In fact, my reaction was more “wait…that’s it?

 

There’s also a weird section in the museum about Bernoulli’s principle…because reasons.

 

I understand that many video games can get bogged down by bloated storytelling.  You don’t have to look much further than “Modern Warfare 2” as a good example of this (I did a story analysis of the game way back when too).  In the game the main villain’s motivation is literally “I lost a whole bunch of soldiers when a nuke went off, so I started World War Three to drive up recruitment numbers”.  Because logic.

And yet, the context of a story is what makes it worth it for me.  I like learning a character’s backstory, their motivations, their hopes and dreams.  It’s part of what makes reading books so engaging.  You get to see how the character thinks and feels.  “Thirty Flights of Loving” doesn’t have that.  If anything, stripping out the context only made me understand why I like that context in the first place.  Hell, it’s a big part of the reason why I enjoyed “Cryostasis” the game I talked about last month.  And I couldn’t even explain half of what happened in the game.  To me, “Thirty Flights of Loving” feels more like a hollow shell of a story.  It’s got charm and style on the outside, but the inside is just air.

All of this is going to make my next statement seem very strange:

I’m glad this game exists.

I may not have liked the game, but I still think it’s good that the game is out there.  It’s good that independent game developers are able to experiment and get their creations noticed.  They may not appeal to everyone, but the nature of artistic expression cannot always be held down by what is profitable or what has wide market appeal.  Because sometimes, you don’t know what has wide market appeal.  Something new could come along and drastically reshape things.  It’s kind of like how superhero movies experienced a downturn for a while, then Marvel came along and started their cinematic universe.  Suddenly BAM…it feels like we can’t go more than two or three months without another superhero movie opening in theaters and making hundreds of millions in revenue.

I may not have cared for “Thirty Flights of Loving” in much the same way that I don’t really care for superhero movies anymore, but I can appreciate that it exists.  Experimentation should be encouraged, because even failed experiments can teach us valuable lessons.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back on the third Wednesday of next month for another post, and as always, have a wonderful month.

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