Spies Like Us

So where does Splinter Cell's Sam Fisher fit in the pantheon of spy icons? Which J.B. is he? According to Richard Dansky, he's "none of the above" or "all of them" depending on whom you ask.

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"I give a lot of credit to JT Petty (writer for the original Splinter Cell) and Clint Hocking (Ubisoft Creative Director) for being ahead of the curve when it came to the spy genre," he says. "When Splinter Cell was created, the old-style uber-smoothie James Bond spy felt like it was about played out. Once you go to invisible cars, all you can really do is jump the invisible shark. But from the beginning, there was always a brutality about Sam, a sense that style points didn't matter. And now you look around at the fictional landscape and see Jason Bourne killing a Spetsnaz assassin with a spork, or James Bond drowning a guy in a men's room sink, and you have to think that Sam was really at the start of that trend."

Dansky, like the designers of Alpha Protocol, says that ultimately what drives a fictional spy is not really about the spying, but about us. Our fictional spies are really extensions of our own sense of powerlessness in the face of global upheaval and chaos.

"I think the niche that [spy fiction] fills is that it provides the possibility of one person being able to create tremendous change," he says. "You can't just look at the spy genre for the spies - you have to look at it for the enemies as well, and those are always massive, massive organizations. We're talking conspiracies, we're talking governments, we're talking all the giant, faceless, unstoppable entities that seem to run amok over our lives in the real world. So slipping into Sam Fisher's shoes is a way to hit back. It's a way to flex some power against these seemingly all-powerful forces. It's a way to remind ourselves that we can make a difference and that we do matter."

Who'd Win in a Fight

Which brings us full circle back to real-world spies like Ken Taylor. His story might not make good fodder for videogames, but his actions are at the heart of what makes spy stories such good yarns and why we keep coming back for more, no matter which spy is in the starring role. Ken Taylor was one man who wanted to do something - anything - to make a difference. While you and I may never be in the right place at the right time to follow his example, we can at least pretend through videogames.

As for the really important issue, I asked Dansky who would win in a fight: Sam Fisher or Jason Bourne? His answer: "Well, the point is to avoid fighting, after all, or at least to avoid a fair fight. And I'll put Sam's ability to get the drop on someone up against anyone's."

Russ Pitts is a spy in the house of love. Also, the Editor-in-Chief of The Escapist. He blogs at www.falsegravity.com, and tweets as @russpitts.

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