The great irony of spy fiction is that spies - the real on-the-ground, in-your-face, bring-home-the-secret-plans guys who are out there right now saving the world while we sleep in our beds - aren't very cinematic. Spies by their very nature are inconspicuous. You could know one for years and never realize they have a secret agenda, let alone what that might be. Spies fade into the background, go unnoticed, slip in and out and are gone before anyone's the wiser. Or at least, that's how it's supposed to work.
Take the example of real-world diplomat-turned-spy Ken Taylor, a Canadian ambassador to Iran during the historic Iranian hostage crisis. Only recently, more than 30 years after the fact, has it come out that Taylor not only sheltered escaped American hostages, but also spied on the Iranian government for the United States by photographing potential helicopter landing sites and communicating with American agents to help rescue the remaining hostages.
Mr. Taylor was, until the hostage-taking, a model diplomat who had never considered acting as a secret agent for a foreign government. And yet, one fine day, he became a spy - and no one noticed for three decades.
What is it, then, that drives a spy? In the case of Taylor, he says he believed the taking of the U.S. hostages, captured during the Iranian invasion of the U.S. Embassy following the 1979 Revolution, was "something that wasn't right," and he pledged to do whatever he could in spite of the risks.
As brave and valorous as Taylor's spying may have been, however, it doesn't exactly spur the imagination. Imagine a videogame in which you file papers, take notes on the size of football fields and pester the American government to come and pick up the people hiding in your basement. Not exactly Game of the Year material. Probably not even a decent movie, to be honest.
This is why spies - our spies, the spies we know and love and dream about becoming - are far more interesting, if entirely unrealistic.
Sam Fisher: An Army of One
Take Sam Fisher, for example, the hero of Ubisoft's Splinter Cell series. He's about as far from Ken Taylor as one spy could possibly be from another. Fisher, decked out with the latest military technology, solo-infiltrates heavily guarded installations, takes what he needs and bails, all the while scaling sheer cliffs, planting bugs, hanging unseen from pipes and performing acrobatic maneuvers that would give Cirque du Soleil cramps just thinking about them.