Conventions of the Genre

I picked up Spec Ops: The Line on a sale while people were celebrating it as one of the best games of the year, particularly for its message about escapist violence and moral ambiguity. I have the problem that I have never played a military shooter game, so the deconstruction is wasted on me. The characters start doing things that are morally problematic and I immediately recognize it as such, from the first fight in the helicopters where no one seems to care that those are potentially occupied buildings you are shooting around/through. Bioshock’s “would you kindly” is not quite the same if you are not inured to obeying quest givers just because they are quest givers. Funny Games and Natural Born Killers do not fully work if you are not familiar with what they are critiquing.

On a different level, not having played a military shooter game, there is gameplay for me to get used to that the game takes as a given. All those bars and dials and buttons and mechanics we are so used to in MMOs can be bafflingly complex for a first-time player. Starting my first game, I’m not 100% sure where I should be looking for those, while this game obviously assumes some familiarity. Maybe I need to play it on newbie difficulty so I can figure out the buttons while people are shooting at me. Conversely, I have the opposite problem in games where I already know all the genre conventions: the introduction is ridiculously tedious as it walks new players through everything while I just want to know the three things that differ in this game, and they might not even cover that because the few differences are “advanced features” that will be explained well after the tutorial. It is hard to find a good middle ground between “you don’t need to tell me everything” and “hey, the game never explained that!” particularly with wide diversity in player knowledge. (Advantage: WoW for being the first MMO for the vast majority of its players.)

: Zubon

9 thoughts on “Conventions of the Genre”

  1. Heh. I had a similar reaction with those buildings in the opening sequence. “Eeek, these are potentially occupied buildings… maybe I better not fire at the enemy choppers while those windows are in my way…”

    Not to give anything substantial away, but in a later sequence, some of that moral hesitancy completely wore out for me.

    As for tutorials, I’m a fan of as comprehensive as possible, because there may always be someone new to the entire genre. Just give those who don’t care about them the option to skip ‘em.

  2. The real problem with tutorials in MMOs is exactly that – for a long while we don’t seem to have been given the option to skip them at all. Not even on our tenth alt. Off the top of my head Rift, GW2, DCUO, The Secret World and Allods all require that you run through the same extended story-driven tutorial on every character, lasting anything from 15 minutes to over an hour. It really takes some doing to put me off making a new character in any MMO but that’ll do it.

    I personally would prefer to skip any tutorial even on my first character. I like to start in a safe place and be given unlimited time to open the Options and Key Binding windows, read everything and change what I want to change. Then I like to have a starting area that’s part of the open world to practice the new controls at my own pace. By all means have a more detailed tutorial as an option, but the key word there is “option”.

    By all means make the Tutorial the default option, too. I understand the problem with the highest number of game abandonments coming in the first few minutes of play. Just let those of us who don’t need to be grabbed by the scruff of the neck opt out.

  3. To be honest “The Line” is too tied to its shooting game roots to count as a work of great cultural significance despite its homage to Conrad and Ford Copolla. Nevertheless it was very refreshing to see a modern shooter that at least makes you think about the violence and brutality. It is a depressing fact that it seems to have become mandatory for AAA shooters these days to include a token “brutality scene” involving torture and/or the killing of innocent civilians. This has become so endemic that I suspect it is just a cynical attempt to get free publicity from the Daily Mail or Fox News.

    I am also intrigued to hear more about your struggles to get to grips with an unfamiliar genre of game. I love watching Youtube videos of non gamers playing games. I find it opens my eyes to lots of things that i normally take for granted. Conan O’Brien’s clueless gamer series is kind of interesting but unfortunately O’Brien plays it entirely for laughs which reduces the value of the series for me.

    1. One of the more basic questions once a fight broke out was how to tell if I was being shot. IRL, the UI for that is rather intuitive. I did not even know where to look for the indicator.

  4. Lol for some reason when I see the acronym IRL I automatically think “In Real Life” but in the case of your comment above that fits too.

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