Man, Brendan Keogh’s missive on Spec Ops: the Line is really something else. Pete, you may not see directly eye-to-eye with this guy but I have to say that as far as his take on the game goes he and I are very much on the same wavelength.
For my money it’s an extremely compelling read — that is, if if you find being walked moment-to-moment throughout an entire videogame while analyzing every little single detail and nuance a compelling experience. In tone, I guess it’s something akin to the first segment of our usual squadcast in purely text form. Really deep dive stuff with lots of cultural studies and citations thrown in the margins for that academic flavor. I’m discovering tons of little details that I’d missed in my 2 playthroughs by watching vicariously over the author’s shoulder.
I guess the best praise I could give for it would be to say that this is probably very similar to the 150 pages that *I* would have dedicated to analyzing The Line if I’d felt like sitting down and writing for several weeks on the subject. It’s a very challenging game intellectually, and while it’s is never stated openly in the text, I think that The Line’s ability to affect its audience is basically directly related to how strongly You the Player have a historical habit of reading meaning and subtext into your video game experiences. If you’re a player like me, with a particular thirst for overlaying this kind of meta-stuff into every facet of your game, Spec Ops will be your crack – satisfying on a level rarely seen in this industry.
Personally speaking, it definitely helps that in my case specifically the game leans its elbow firmly on all my Mark-specific pleasure points: feelings of guilt, horror, hard-boiled microwave tunnel brutality and film noir style chewing up and spitting out its protagonists in uncompromising fashion in service to a Truth your really don’t want to know but really kinda do want to know. This is me talking though – I’m a huge fan of stories that hold a big fat mirror up to the amorality and emotional brutality of the human condition. Feel bad movies of the year, they’re my thing.
If you’ve already played the game — or I suppose more importantly if you have NOT played the game and have no intention of actually playing it then you should probably take a spin through this piece of work. It’s a long PDF, but a short book, and reading the entire thing will certainly take far less time than playing Spec Ops. Moreover, the process will definitely convey to you exactly why people like myself consider the game to be such a remarkable achievement. I agree 100% with the author’s statement in the introduction that The Line may not be “the best” games of all time but it’s certainly one of the most significant games.
It’s the damndest thing for a piece of game journalism — 150 or so pages of prose and fairly wordy… but it’s a fast read full of screenshots and annotations that flies by quickly despite all that. Having someone who is NOT a videogamer editing for readability and approachability was definitely a good idea on the author’s part. I can definitely see forwarding this to some of my academic nongaming friends who are confused about why I spend so much time with these here whatchamacallits and saying “if your read only one thing on the subject of videogames this year, read this.”
Trying hard and failing to think of very many games where dedicating this kind of time on analysis wouldn’t be pure wankery. In this case, it feels entirely justified.