Monday, March 8, 2010

The Evil L-Word: A Look at Linearity in Gaming

My fellow Gamers, as the moon turns and the long foretold coming the Thirteenth of the Fantasies Final draws nigh, one word has been spat like a curse across the Realm. It is spoken of as the black death upon Gaming's soul, festering away at all the good and leaving not but an untouchable rotted corpse. Like the word “witch,” the mere accusation spreads like wildfire and becomes as to truth amongst our community. And lo doth any hapless victim receive this title for they shall forever be burned within the flames and hatred of their once most faithful of supporters. Yet, I stand here today, in the Grand Hall of the Internet and surrounded by this most fickle of counsels, to defend this “greatest of sins:” Linearity.

At the birth of our Kingdom, we were but a simple people, content to bounce our square balls and gather food from ghost riddled caves. Yet with time came complexity and with complexity, the birth of legends. Who here can forget the tales of the great Fixer-of-Pipes and his battles with the Reptile King? What child does not know of the adventures of the Blue Rodent and his Twin-Tailed companion? Do not forget my fellows, that even in that golden time, linearity was there. For both the Fixer-of-Pipes and the Blue Rodent could not move but right; forever right to victory. Lo! I hear you cry, “but what of the Hero of Hyrule and the Masked Hunter of Men?” Indeed, their legends can be told in many different ways. Yet, even their epics must be told in a certain order, lest they have not obtained the items with which to conquer their trials.

It was only after the stories of Crime Lords of Liberty City that linearity turned as to a poison. The people cried out for more open stories. More tales to be told in a thousand different ways. And so it came to pass that our myths became as unto an open desert, devoid of life and full of not but sand. Yet, even as we hungered for more and more of this “freedom,” the oft cursed linearity continued on in the stories from the Islands of the East. These tales drew all who would listen into the stories. We truly became the Time Traveling Youth and the Lost Soldier with his Giant Sword. And for a while, linearity had a haven and was loved again.

But this too changed with time as all things do. Our people adopted the tellings of the east, combined it with our open stories and a new style was born. No longer were we forced to become as the character in the stories. Nay, we forced the characters in the stories to become as of us. We chose their hair and skin, even their very anatomy. They acted as we wished and the story was forced to change around our actions. And with the Twelfth of the Fantasies Final, even the scribes in the fabled lands of the rising sun began to emulate our styles. Truly there was no place left for linearity... Or so we like to believe.

Even today, as this very counsel condemns linearity, they shout the praises of the most linear of legends. The adventures of Nathan Drake and the tales of the Hair-Witch are applauded, yet simply ignored is the fact of their linearity. As many follow the call into imaginary wars across the world and to the very stars, they too ignore the welcoming embrace of linearity as it directs their beloved legends. “Tis not the same!” Some shall cry. Mayhap that may even be true.

Perhaps it is not linearity in and of itself that causes such scorn among us. Perhaps if linearity is disguised well enough we feel it can simply be ignored as opposed to hated. Yet, cloaked or not, linearity is linearity. I charge you all now to rethink your position on our loyal yet hated friend. You hate unjustly. You hate only to mollify the feelings of your peers. Linearity needs not be in every great legend nor need it be shunned from them all. Linearity is neither good nor evil but rather like unto a knife. It can be used to butter ones bread or slit ones throat. It is all in how it is wielded.


Josh H. said...

I admit, I lol'ed. And I completely agree. Every Final Fantasy (except XI) has been linear, some more so than others. I don't see why gaming websites are docking FFXIII 1 or 2 points when the entire series has been linear.

Frankly, if I want an open world game, I'll go play a WRPG. I play JRPG's for the awesome story I know I'm going to get, not for open world exploration.

Jason said...

wow. i can't believe you wrote that whole thing in old tongue. well i think what most people have a problem with is not only the walkways and stuff being linear, but more so with the customization too. i'm in chapter 8 of the game and i have no complaints so far. but i have come to realize that the character development has no real choice at all. i kill every single enemy along the way and i always level up every slot on the "crystal sphere" thing. and the weapon upgrading seems to be more or less unnecessary if you really don't want to bother with it. that's really not a problem, but the game doesn't give you any special attention or teach you about it. so i feel no incentive seeing as i still kill stuff just fine. but maybe i'm wrong and it'll change in the future. the focus this time really is one the story.

mccummhail said...

Nice article.
I don't think we have to worry about Linearity.
It is often a strawman propped up to instead of the real reasons people don't like a game.
Did those same people cry for blood after watching a movie? Unlikely!
I will posit that Pacing, Emotional weight, and Suspension of disbelief are more common dealbreakers, but your average consumer lacks the tools to evaluate these or other complex, nuanced details.

riley said...

This was awesome! I have to admit, I don't understand why FFXIII had to be so BLATANT and LITERAL with its linearity, but I absolutely love the game; its linearity doesn't really detract from its quality. I hate open-worlded games (for the most part) and I'm glad to actually have some good story as opposed to being overloaded with enemies and empty deserts, while loosing what little story the game has in a humongous grind session.

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