The Spy Who Fragged Me

The Spy Who Fragged Me
Griefing in Black and White

Peter Parrish | 16 Feb 2010 13:11
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More often than not, players of Spy vs. Spy would completely ignore their mission and enter into an endless cycle of revenge. Waving at your hapless opponent as your Spy took to the skies with the briefcase in hand was certainly sweet, but sweeter still was to lull your foe into the mistaken belief that he had a slim chance of success, only to cruelly crush his dream at the last possible second. The tactic of letting your adversary do all the hard work while you lay in wait just outside the airport was so commonplace as to be almost cliché. Naturally, once you'd fallen foul of this mean trick, it became necessary to get even. As fresh wounds mingled with old scores, the definition of "victory" shifted from the simple act of stealing a briefcase to the total psychological humiliation of your opponent.

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It's testament to the exceptional design of Spy vs. Spy that it's emergent gameplay so closely mirrored the ongoing narrative of the original comic strips. The game's designers were well aware that the method of victory would almost always rankle with the loser and therefore made it as fun as possible to win in a manner that left your adversary seething with rage. In deftly drawing players' attention away from the bigger picture and focusing it on their own meaningless rivalry, Spy vs. Spy was able to go even further than its pen-and-ink inspiration. Whereas the comic strip could only use imagery to suggest the arrogance and nearsightedness that fuelled the "conflict within a conflict" between the CIA and the KGB, the videogame actually let players experience it for themselves. Spy vs. Spy demonstrated the effects that wounded pride and the subsequent desire for revenge could have on moral decision making. Screw the mission: What matters is the prestige and satisfaction of crushing the other guy.

Personal Space

Spy vs. Spy's early foray into two-player gaming meant that players were only able to compete against one other in the same room and on the same gaming system. Inevitably, this meant they would sit side by side as they battled it out. Thanks to both this close proximity and the many ways in which the game fanned the flames of hatred between combatants, the concept of violence spawning violence would often manifest as real-world player versus player combat.

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