Ever since it became public a few days ago, I cannot stop watching the trailer for Metal Gear Solid V. Every time, I search for the new clue that will unlock what’s going on. Are the super natural beings helping or hunting Big Boss? The first thing we see out of place in the gameplay trailer is someone who looks suspiciously like Psycho Mantis. Are the super natural things, all of which resemble things from Big Boss’ past, merely the result of Psycho Mantis digging into his subconsciousness? My good friend Nick and I have been discussing this trailer at length, pausing at moments and analyzing what we see. The scarred face man doesn’t have a tattoo on the back on his head, so he likely isn’t Hot Coldman. If Ground Zeroes opens with the infiltration of the Cuban base, and Mother Base gets raided while Big Boss is infiltrating the Cuban Base, then you likely play someone other than Big Boss during Ground Zeroes. I wondered why I couldn’t stop watching this trailer and dissecting it, then I remembered the last time Nick and I did something like this.
About a year ago, Nick recommended that I play the video game short story 30 Flights of Loving, by Blendo Games’ virtuoso Brendon Chung. After finishing it in a paltry 20 minutes and almost no input on my part, I sat in awe of what I had just experienced. My role as a player was minimal, effectively moving the character from one place to another with no chance of failure. But by the time I was done I was more engaged than possibly any game before it. Why was Anita trying to shoot me? Why did I save Borges? What went wrong in that Airport? Why did I see another woman flash before my eyes during the shootout? Isn’t that the woman from the party? Isn’t that the same woman from Gravity Bone, the game’s prequel? Like the MGS V trailer, TFOL(Thirty Flights of Loving) had an excellent soundtrack and wonderful aesthetic design. I played TFOL again(and again), stopping meticulously along the way to inspect every detail. But why?
I never got into Lost. Like Alias before it, I enjoyed a well crafted first season with a solid premise, before becoming annoyed with the conspiratorial direction the show went almost immediately following the first season finale. I’ve enjoyed a few mysterious thrillers now and again. Some of them I’ve greatly enjoyed(Memento is my 2nd favourite movie of all time). But in most of these shows, movies and stories, there has been an investigator character; someone with whom the audience can relate, and who knows everything the audience does. Sometimes, the investigator character will shift, usually following a dramatic revelation about the character with whom the audience was very recently relating. In the (excellent) movie Hero, the investigator character(though the characters are telling stories, these stories are the result of their own conclusions) shifts places 3 times. But that character is usually there, and so we can be confident that any information that the writer wants us to know, we will know. Though it is possible through careful examination and critical watching to figure out who Tyler Durden is before the dramatic reveal, I can safely say it was Fincher’s intent to blow the audience’s mind when he chose to, just as it was Nolan’s intention to do so in Memento.
Now, I know that it is only a trailer, but I feel as though the MGS V GDC trailer and Thirty Flights of Loving share something that is lacking in our popular culture(or, at least my consumption of it); A gap of knowledge between the characters and the audience. Maybe this is why I love trailers so much. When done right, they demand active engagement by the audience.
In any event, that is certainly what Thirty Flights of Loving does. In a way, despite it hardly requiring any input from the player, Thirty Flights of Loving is the hardest game I’ve ever played. I’m becoming more and more confident that it is, in fact, literally impossible. This is because the goal of the game is not to reach the end credits, it’s to figure out what’s going on. It’s a puzzle game. I have played it plenty of times, discussed it at length with others, and read every theory out there about it, and I still feel no closer to a firm conclusion than I did when I started. And yet I still want to keep looking. Running the risk of turning this post into a review, Chung walks the line between too much information and not enough perfectly. Each piece of the puzzle feels unique, and seems as though there should be another piece for it to fit into. And yet after playing it a couple dozen times, I’m not sure any of the pieces fit anything.
I hope to expand on my thoughts of Thirty Flights of Loving in a later blog post, but the point I’m trying to make presently is that the media I consume needs more mystery in it. Good, proper mystery, where you’re the investigator. Books that have you asking questions past the ending. Movies that demand a second watching. There’s few times I feel better about watching or playing something that when my mind is fully engaged in it.
By all means, if you know of any such things, please comment.