The Let's Play Archive

Spec Ops: The Line

by OatmealRaisin

Part 9: Appendix I - "In conclusion, fuck this game."

Appendix I: "In conclusion, fuck the CIA this game."

Throughout this thread, I've offered my interpretation of what I think are some of the deeper messages and themes behind this game. I think it's fair to say that the sheer weight of words I've written about this game makes my opinion of the game pretty obvious. I've never expected anyone to take my arguments as fact, and I'm pleased at the amount of argument and discussion the thread's generated. And while there has been a lot of discussion over the motives of the characters and speculation over the story, the majority of effort has been expended in one main direction: when all is said and done, who is the game critiquing anyway? The game clearly has an agenda - some would almost call it a grudge - against the military shooter genre, but does it also have one towards the player? Is it really as hateful towards us as some have claimed?

Full disclosure: I don't entirely agree with this line of thinking. My personal opinion is that the game and the messages are meant to shock the player out of their complacency and get you thinking about what you're doing. Several people in the thread brought up the ending of Wanted, and that's actually an apt comparison, although not in the way people probably intended. Wanted is a comic book that ends with the main character (who has been directly addressing the reader this whole time) telling you that you're a worthless sack of shit and that nothing you do will ever be of consequence. Understandably, people were a touch upset at this: I paid for the privilege of being told my existence is worthless? Oh no, fuck you, Mister Comic Writer Man!

But here's the thing. Regardless of the fact it's a story about horrible people doing terrible things to each other (and I know someone will immediately jump in to remind me of this), Wanted is, at its heart a tale about a young man with an unhappy life, resigned to the fact that this is all he'll ever be, until he receives a major upset to his status quo, the encounter propelling him out of his miserable existence. In essence, the ending of Wanted is trying to do the same thing to the reader. It wants to shock you into looking at your life and deciding if you're happy with the way things are, of if you really want to change things for the better. Spec Ops, to coin a phrase, works the same way. It wants you to stop and think about what you're doing, think about the games you play on a regular basis. It holds a mirror up to the player and asks if you really understand what you're doing.

Let's face it, the military shooter genre is kinda fucked up. On the one hand, it wants to pretend it portrays The True Face Of The Horrors of War. On the other, the devs go on at great length to talk about how much fun the multiplayer modes are and how it's all a big shooty whiz-bang adventure! And any time the media - rightly or wrongly - stands up to decry this as irresponsible, we, as gamers, immediately go into knee-jerk defensive mode. We're so used to our hobby being under attack from the news, we're almost blinded to how messed up things are. I mean, we've got game companies getting into bed with gun makers for a tie-in with a game, officially the most insane tie-in since Acclaim went under. To see a game actually come out and say 'uhh, no, this isn't actually fun, no matter what your K/D Ratio says'... it's almost unheard of. Whenever devs comment on someone else's game, its usually to say 'no, we would've done it this way', never 'you're perpetuating the idea that war is a happily sanitized adventure for anyone able to sign up at their local army recruitment centre'. Having this argument come from inside the industry is an important step forward for gaming as a whole, and it will be interesting to see how other franchises follow on from this, assuming they're not too busy enjoying their daily money enemas.

However, while it is a big step for the industry to have this dialogue opened from within, in some ways, the argument put forth could stand to be stronger. Repeatedly, Walker is reminded that he could, at any time, have stopped and walked away. His inability to know when to quit is solely responsible for the suffering he has brought to Dubai. Indeed, they've extended this to the player, saying that, when you get down to it, the only 'right' outcome to moments such as the WP strike is to turn the game off and walk away. That's a daring thing for any creative-type to say. That takes serious balls.

It's also complete bullshit.

Okay, so lets assume we take up this challenge. We put the controller down and we walk away. And? Does that magically make us the moral victors somehow? Are we miraculously absolved of our sins and transformed into good people because we stopped playing a game? Lets go a step further: we saw the game on the shelves, maybe glanced at it and moved on. Doesn't that mean we just aced the challenge by default? Better yet, we bypassed it entirely and picked up the latest military shooter. Now where does that place us on the scale? It's a weak argument and one that can be completely obliterated without a second thought. And if we do continue, what does that mean? By wanting to discover the outcome of a story we're already well-invested in, are we, by definition, monsters? No, of course we aren't. Suggesting so veers uncomfortably close to the oft-debunked idea that bad media breeds bad people. A game is not a guidebook to self-destruction. A movie is not a roadmap to damnation. And you don't get to point the finger because I wanted to find out what happened next in a work of goddamn fiction.

I honestly believe that Spec Ops wants to awaken the player to the idea that the modern-day military shooter genre is inherently destructive. It's not the great adventure Call of Duty or Modern Warfare wants us to believe it is. However, the way it does this is every bit as flawed. It's amazing how, on the one hand, it offers a fantastically subtle story showing the utter destruction of a single man's mind, while screaming MODERN SHOOTERS ARE BAD YOU GUYS, just in case you missed the underlying message. Arguably, it needs to do that - the stereotypical CoD player isn't the sharpest crayon in the box, is he - but it just feels like someone along the way wasn't as confident in the strength of the delivery and wanted to make sure we were all following along properly. The difficulty of delivering any kind of statement relies on making sure its understood properly. It's a question that needed to be asked from within, but "Hey, you're kind of a bastard, why do you think this is? Let's go chat about it" probably isn't the best way to go about it. As a game, Spec Ops is acceptable. As a work of fiction, it's impeccable. But as a statement on current gaming trends and the depiction of war in the media... it needs work.