I enjoyed it not because of how it cuts up space, though I did like that aspect. But film already does that–I like to wander around in a game world, and we have a collective desire for that; why else would “open world” be such an attractive feature for us? I didn’t enjoy it because it is a manifesto, partially because I don’t think it is as politically charged as a manifesto has to be.
I enjoyed Thirty Flights of Loving because it doesn’t pander to the audience. Mark Brown sort of gets at it in his Wired review: “it trusts you to put all the loose ends back together.” And I love that, not because the player is forced to participate, but because we are forced to think through “how do all these pieces fit together?”
I especially like this because I think that it is impossible.
Of course, we can play the “Dear Esther game” all day long. We can put pieces together. We can try to make sense of the marriage plot, the dancing, the drinking, the three-member relationship, the heist, the plane, the accident, the gun, the saving of the male member of the team, the car crash, and every other plot point. We can try to render it explicit and solid; we can turn it into something else. We can translate Thirty Flights of Loving into something we can understand.
That’s sort of bullshit, though. It actively resists interpretation, and I have a feeling that if there was a solid meaning to the text, it would have come to me by now. I’ve played it five times since it came out. The plot makes no more sense to me than it did the first time. I’ve come upon some interesting questions, though. Like, why does Anita change into another woman when you flash back to the bed? Why is that other woman at the wedding?
For a linear game, Thirty Flights of Loving goes out of its way to maximize its horizontal theoretical potential. By that, I mean that each time period, each moment between a cut, has many, many questions that can never be answered with any depth. Each plateau is shallow but wide. Why are there so many cats? Why oranges? What was the heist about?
I don’t have any answers. I respect Thirty Flights of Loving‘s opacity. It merely is.
Also, the last few minutes of the game are brilliant. It actively makes fun of those of us who are overanalyzing games, as if there are pieces and theories that, when understood completely, fill in all the blanks. Wonderful stuff.