Social Networking & Donations


Like The Brog? Love The Brog? Please Feel Free To Keep This Site Going. Criticism & Donations Are Welcomed. [Brog mentions and things found in the back of my closet will be your reward]



Powered by Squarespace
This form does not yet contain any fields.
    « The Niggering Of Grand Theft Auto V | Main | Write, Because You Aren't Being Represented »

    Spec Ops: The Line's PTSD Commentary And The Power Of Games

    "Do You Feel Like A Hero?" -- A loading screen from Spec Ops: The Line

    I’ve been actively trying to promote the power of games and with that the many conversations they can stir. I’ll never never play Spec Ops: The Line again, but I want you to. This game really accomplished it’s underlying goal of horrifying me. I feel, based on the game’s ‘totally bad ass military shooter cover’, it is almost trying to trick an implied demographic. There are so many games out there telling the player that killing can be without conscience and is often better that way. What happens when a game like Spec Ops: The Line comments on soldiers sent to wars they weren’t mentally equipped to fight? What happens when we acknowledge the long-term, and often -- immediate,  effects of killing in the name of country and how can a game, effectively, pull that off?


    There are so many layers to this thing. I can only hope these words function as a jumping off point. Hoping, in the future these words serve to get us closer to the actual debate we should be having, socially. The lead game writer, Walt Williams, intentionally crafts scenarios where the experienced player is left thinking if giant kill rooms and spawn closets are making fun of the common trope found in first-person shooters, or merely an homage? As the in-game difficulty and enemy A.I. sharpens, there isn’t much mystery left. This game is isolating itself by pointing out the foibles of its more well known contemporaries. The Call of Duty’s and the Battlefields of our current murder-positive gaming zeitgeist serve their purpose. They are “fun” for most people.


    However, there are, mechanically -- unfun aspects of The Line where I struggle to criticize. There is this part of my brain, I like to call it the “Resident Evil 2 -- Tank Controls Segment.” It’s where I rationalize poor mechanics of a game adding to the intent of the crafted experience. In Resident Evil games, the fumbling controls supposedly ‘add’ to the experience of avoiding a mansion of zombies. In Spec Ops: The Line, you occasionally stick to your cover, almost to your soldier’s detriment while a horde of refugees and soldiers lob grenades, sneak around cover, making no place feel THAT safe. There were difficulty ramp ups in Spec Ops where I seriously wanted to stop killing soldiers and just turn my console off.


    But isn’t that the point?


    Well, not the ‘turning off the console part.’ The part where I should “feel” something about killing polygons -- ones and zeros that were given life by a game studio. I’m projecting so many folded edges of hidden notes within the code of this game -- most of it, my own inclinations of what I want this game to be. Some of it I wonder if they knew, even abstractly, would be a reaction from the player. Writers and team leads from Rockstar Vancouver coupled with an eager development team from Berlin. Both dealing with a game franchise that suffered from failing sales and general disinterest from the vast gaming populous. It was an uphill battle that only bore fruit critically, instead of financially.


    This divisive game, that, on face value looks like a standard “shoot dudes” game. When in reality, it’s an experience filled with just as much game design turmoil as it has intentional player punishment. Spec Ops: The Line wants you to feel absolutely awful for what you are doing and why you are doing it. It’s just that you have to get to those moments by slaughtering and shooting the standard wave of bad guys. It’s kinda worth it. I promise.


    Post-traumatic stress syndrome. Beyond being a black man in America, I don’t get to experience what active soldiers experience. And I do find it quite odd that Yager and 2K took on the task of educating a generally male audience to the immediate effects of PTSD. These games we play are pale imitations. Multiplayer games where one mistake results in reading a quote by Donald Rumsfield while waiting to respawn anew -- ready to kill again. The wise men and women of Yager constructed this sandstorm laden world of Dubai to deconstruct the senses and obstruct the ideal vision I’d cultivated over years of Call of Duty and Battlefield play.


    The result? Horror.

     "It's Not Your Fault." -- a loading screen from Spec Ops: The Line


    An abrupt scene of citizens in Dubai exposed to white phosphorus while a radio far off in your auditory periphery blares music fit for a heroic Vietnam War film highlight reel. Nolan North’s voice frames the evolution of a character going from the typical soldier to a battle-worn monster. I dread to say, but I liked what happened here. Up until this moment, you have hints and inclinations that the people who have sent you here to do these things -- it’s their fault, not yours.


    I tussled over putting this image in this piece. I still have issues with how this scene in particular was executed. The game is still a linear shooter that forces you to kill droves of soldiers and citizens in order to make it to the next pivotal cut scene. Well then, why not just give us the cut scene? Why not have the player provide water, food, build a community center over what we have destroyed here? I still fight with myself about how much better this game could have been -- but it realizes that there are more people [than myself] playing.


    We don’t talk about the meaning of “fun” in games, because we want games to remain in boundaries we understand. PTSD is very much something we don’t understand. Even while playing the game I cynically thought that this is a valiant attempt at making me feel the abhorrent effects of being a soldier, who has experienced war. But I’ll never know if this is a respectful depiction of what soldiers experience.


    Scenes where my dead squad mates appear through enemy doors as bazooka-toting heavies. Scenarios where trapped commanders beg me to kill them before the fire burns them alive. Both cases I failed to kill when the time was right, the game moved on without me, making the decision for me. This helped. It’s rare I’m given a game where it touts “making decisions that effect the outcome.” When in the reality of the game, all your decisions are binary and there is a “good” answer and a “bad” answer. I appreciate Spec Ops: The Line for not insulting my intelligence, but man does this game not give a damn that I exist in this world.


    There was one decision, where a soldier was trapped under debris and there was a gas leak moving the fire closer to him. He told me to take my gun and shoot him. It was the “right thing to do,” he said. I waited. I let my character go further with dialogue, explaining to him that “we can figure this out.” By that time the fire had begun creeping up his legs. BANG! I decided to shoot him in his head to stop his suffering. There is a moment later in the game that shows the scenes based off the decisions I’d made. It shows me killing the soldier prior to any fire touching him. I felt almost betrayed. I found myself shouting at the screen, “that’s not how it happened!”


    The main character, Captain Martin Walker becomes physically disfigured to further emphasize the metaphorical change a soldier goes through after their war experience. Spec Ops: The Line may be the first game I recommend to people who, I feel, may need a brief reminder of the tragic effects of war and the millions of dollars made from the bloody outcome.


    By all means, have “fun.”


    Recommended Readings about Spec Ops: The Line:


    Don’t Be A Hero -- The Full Story Behind Spec Ops: The Line

    Kris Ligman Has A Friend Whose A Marine Gave His Views

    This RPS Piece Brings Up The Obvious Apocalypse Now Overtones

    Killing Is Harmless by Brendan Keogh (I was just thinking I could write a book about this game and darned if Brendan beat me to it)




    PrintView Printer Friendly Version

    EmailEmail Article to Friend

    Reader Comments

    There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

    PostPost a New Comment

    Enter your information below to add a new comment.

    My response is on my own website »
    Author Email (optional):
    Author URL (optional):
    Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>