"As a historian I find myself both pleased with the results and revolted we may never know the veracity of our efforts. Regardless of whatever headaches I have, may you enjoy the fruits of our labor.
We may never know who Citizen Abel truly is, but we do have stories about him." -- Brendon Chung, Thirty Flights of Loving
I'm not going to lie: This is a difficult game. It will anger you. It is meant to do so.
But if you pretend it doesn't have a story that is desperately trying to make its way to you, you are deluding yourself. And you are falling for the trap that Chung has so meticulously designed for the average player.
I don't mean that this is a difficult game insofar that it's hard to complete. It's level design is agonizingly linear, and excruciatingly short in length. It's difficult because the most important events in the story don't happen on the screen. It's difficult like a jigsaw puzzle without a picture on the box -- difficult because you don't know what you're putting together, let alone how.
It's short because most of what it's trying to tell you, it tries to communicate by not telling you at all. Just leaving hints, out of order, tucked away in parts that don't seem important. That is not to say that Chung is lazy and expects you to make the story for him, simply that he respects the player enough to understand what's on the table and what that means is likely being dealt under it.
This isn't really much of a game in the usual sense of a game. It is a linear short-story, told in a fragmented non-linear fashion. It is so short a story, in fact, that it is really closer to a poem in that vein: its decided brevity poses more questions than it answers, and that is its main storytelling technique -- in typical crime-mystery fashion.
That is what I love about Thirty Flights of Loving, and what so many people hate: it gives you but a blink of an eye, from a view of limited scope, in a world promised to be much larger than it shows. A world that Chung has obviously given much thought, more thought than a passer-by might think he has given the game itself. And like a poem, agonizingly short, its parts are so few that they have been chosen with such care that they tell more than the pieces themselves ever could. Like in poetry, how sometimes the story resides as much in the silence between the words as the words themselves.
Thirty Flights of Loving isn't really so much a game, as it is a question. A series of questions, posed to the player, answers known by the characters, if they could only speak. And it sparks a rare kind of intense and frustrated curiosity that I have experienced but few times in my entire life.
It does so by being more than what it is: it is incredibly consciously constructed, made for consumption from the very beginning. And if you try to wolf it down and casually digest it like you would a hamburger and fries, it will tear through your gut like a box of nails. It is uncompromising, and it will make you angry.
It is difficult like that, it was made to be. That is what makes it so uniquely wonderful to me. Chung dares to piss you off, and asks you what you're going to do about it.
That part is up to you. That
is the game.