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The Time You Were An A-hole in Spec Ops: The Line

Ed Smith | 4 Apr 2013 21:00
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And then we get to the end of the game which is where, as promised, this all starts to makes sense. There are four ways to end Spec Ops: The Line. The first sees Walker commit suicide by shooting himself in the head. Don't do it. You'll get a post-credits sequence where, weeks after the events of the game proper, the US military arrives looking for Walker and finds him slumped over a machine-gun, half crazed, wearing Konrad's jacket. If you like, you can open fire on the Americans and see where that goes. Kill them all, and Walker retreats back into the city, totally off his nut. Die (and you probably will) and it's pretty much the same as if you'd just shot yourself.

The Line tells us that, though the shooting and killing we do in FPS games might seem beneficial insofar at it unlocks the next level, it has repercussions; it's hideous.

So instead, do this right, and surrender your gun to the troops. As far as I'm concerned, this is where the entire miserable story of Spec Ops: The Line will click rightly into place.

The game is a treatise on war shooters like Call of Duty. It tells us that, though the shooting and killing we do in FPS games might seem beneficial insofar at it unlocks the next level, it has repercussions; it's hideous. The Line challenges our lazy and unquestioning attitude to violence in games. It gives us red herrings, false targets and vague objectives and watches us kill, kill and kill again regardless. The game says we need to blow these people up and we do it; who'd have thought they might be unarmed civilians with children?

And this is why you need to be a total bastard when you play it. You need to behave like a war shooter does. When I say you need to get out there and start killing and killing, it's because that's what Battlefield expects you to do. When I say you need to smash heads in with your rifle, it's because war shooters award bonuses for flair - kill three people in a row on CoD online and the game gives you a power up.

War shooters are also racist and jingoistic. Not only do games like Medal of Honor denigrate brown people into caricatures and targets, they elevate the white American - and all of his exceptionalist conceits - up and up until he's a hero regardless of what he's done. And that's why you need to shoot the water thief. He's the lesser criminal but he's also non-white. The American murderer on the other hand is Caucasian and Yankee; as far as the war shooters that Spec Ops is out to deconstruct are concerned, this man can do no wrong.

You need to drop the phosphorous with gusto because war games expect you to kill complacently and with fervor; you need to let the civilians and the CIA guy die because what most shooters lust after is high bodycount. So many war games are just kill, gouge, kill, gouge and the only way they have of measuring your performance is by how many corpses you've racked up. In Spec Ops, you need to be a good little war game and make as many bodies as you can.

And then you need to carry all of this away with you. When I spoke to Brendan Keogh, author of Killing Is Harmless, he said that a lot of people he knew who'd played The Line just shot Walker at the end and walked away. I can understand why that might seem the right thing to do. On the surface, it's a kind of penance - it's a visually striking way that we can accept punishment for what we've done. But it's really just a false absolution. Suicide might give some redemption, but it's not like we die - killing Walker just gives us an excuse to wash our hands of the whole thing. That's not allowed.

We need to see the war game fucking suffer. I want to see Call of Duty, Battlefield and the rest of them carried off like Walker at the end of Spec Ops - head down, eyes wet, barely speaking: irretrievably changed and forced to live with what's been done.

I also feel the same about myself. Playing The Line, I want to bring out and accentuate the very worst impulses I've felt while playing FPS games, impulses to be violent without cause, or racist, knowingly. And then I want to be permanently changed by it. When I finished playing The Line, it changed my perspective of war games forever - it only feels right that Walker should end the game with his own perspective also irreparably changed.

And all of this is just so, so much more powerful if you play the game like an asshole. If you make a genuine, concerted effort to condense all that negative war shooter behavior into Spec Ops: The Line, the lessons you learn come much harder and stay with you much longer. Trying to get there can make you feel a bit sick, but this is something everyone needs to be told.

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