The Only Winning Move

This article contains spoilers for Spec Ops: The Line and early spoilers for Undertale

In my previous article I compare the actions-with-consequences that are forced upon you by two games: the excellent Spec Ops: The Line and the amusing Accounting. These are actions that garner much criticism from the games’ characters but are outside the control of the player – they are the only options presented and the game doesn’t proceed until you take them. I tried to argue that being criticised for such forced decisions in Accounting is annoying but it is tolerable (and maybe laudable) in Spec Ops because it fully embraces this theme as a means to empathise with the protagonist. In Spec Ops you play the tunnel-visioned Captain Walker who sees no alternatives to his actions and stubbornly forges onward without considering the bigger picture. The game’s story introduces tragedies that are then the result of this obstinance and openly blames Captain Walker for them. Spec Ops then goes further by telling Walker (and perhaps also the player) that these hideous consequences could have been avoided if only he “just stopped”. But what does this mean in gameplay terms?

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The Language of Puzzles

Hello. This is my first post on the site and unlike other posts that are funny and readable and interesting, I’m going to write long-winded garbage that have titles like “The Language of Puzzles”. In fact, I’m unafraid to be so pretentious that I start this post with a quote from Douglas R. Hofstadter’s Godel Escher Bach, as follows:

Next, one opens the bottle and examines the marks on the paper. Perhaps they are in Japanese; this can be discovered without any of the inner message being understood – it merely comes from a recognition of the characters. The outer message can be stated as an English sentence: “I am in Japanese.” Once this has been discovered, then one can proceed to the inner message, which may be a call for help, a haiku poem, a lover’s lament…

What Hofstadter is saying is that every message is really two messages. The inner message has the content the writer was trying to convey, but then there is an outer message that tells the observer “Hey, there is a message here!”. That there is some meaningful information in the message, not just random noise. These marks on the wall was someone keeping a tally, not just scratchings. These modem signals serve a meaningful purpose, not just annoying screechings. Maybe you encounter a message and you can’t decipher what it means, but at the very least you are sure that it is, in fact, a message. Let’s make this post about games before I forget why I’m here and start reading Wikipedia articles about linguistics.

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