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Thirty Flights of Loving shows how little we still know about the language of games


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It can be difficult to find time to finish a video game, especially if you only have a few hours a week to play. In our biweekly column Short Play we suggest video games that can be started and finished in a weekend.

It’s easy to forget how young video games are. In a lot of ways, we’re still learning what the best practices and techniques are for telling a story in a game; there can be conflicts when you try to weave together a specific authored narrative with an audience that expects to have agency in the experience. As such, a lot of games pull techniques from film, another visual medium that shares a lot of similarities in how a story can be conveyed. Two prime examples of this are Gravity Bone and Thirty Flights of Loving, which also might be two of the most important games for first person storytelling. You can see their techniques adopted by games Paratopic and Virginia, and as virtual reality stories become more prominent, Thirty Flights and its predecessor could well prove prescient.

Both 2008’s Gravity Bone and 2012’s Thirty Flights of Loving were created by Brendon Chung. In Gravity Bone you control an unnamed spy who is first tasked with planting a tracking bug (as in a literal insect that is trackable) on a VIP. After that you have to break into a weapon design facility to photograph black birds (not the secret military plane, actual black birds). Thirty Flights of Loving, meanwhile, has you controlling an unnamed thief in a three-person crew before their next big heist, and then after it goes terribly wrong. While both games take place in the same world, share the same blocky art style, and are best described as slightly absurd first person adventure games, they also both effectively introduce an old film technique into first person storytelling: cross-cutting.

In 1903, film director Edwin S. Porter released two movies, Life of an American Fireman and The Great Train Robbery. These two films were the first to effectively employ cross-cutting, which is when you cut back and forth between multiple events that are happening separately, potentially at different times or in different locations. Even though there isn’t anything explicitly connecting the events, the viewer is able to understand that these events are happening in parallel. Like how Avengers: Infinity War constantly jumps around its huge cast of characters, letting you see what’s happening to Spider-Man, Thor, or the Hulk, while still understanding these are all parts of the same story.

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