In this lengthy treatise, game journalist Brendan Keogh offers an in-depth reading of Yager’s polarizing modern warfare-themed video game, Spec Ops: The Line.
It would be easy to dismiss Killing Is Harmless as a silly thing. Who would bother writing a 50,000 word essay on a video game? Someone with a thing or two to say about one of the most surprising, gripping and horrific war-themed video games ever to grace a console, that’s who. Brendan Keogh (of Critical Damage) guides the reader through an in-depth summary and interpretation of the events that take place in Spec Ops: The Line, detailing the subtle (and not so subtle) madness of the game’s protagonist, Captain Walker, as he leads a two man team of Delta operatives on a mission to search for survivors among the wreckage of Dubai after it was hit by a massive, crippling sandstorm. Very much inspired by Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Walker searches for Lt. Col. John Conrad and bears witness to the chaos that engulfed the region as insurgents, the CIA, Konrad’s own Damned 33rd and innocent bystanders are caught up in a hellish nightmare.
Divided into the same number of chapters as the game, Keogh breaks down the events that take place in each and acts as a tour guide of the sights and sounds Walker, and the player, experiences. One of his core arguments, which is one I’ve made in the past, is that Spec Ops subverts gameplay elements and themes often taken for granted or simply ignored in favor of shooting virtual dudes in the face. Player choice, the driving force behind many a modern game, is twisted and warped in Spec Ops, in that the ability to affect some outcome both tangible and an illusion. The game also questions the player’s role in committing virtual violence in a biting critique of modern warfare shooters. Koeng’s arguments fall in line with the greater message of Spec Ops posing a moral quandary to an audience of gamers that grew up blasting away hundreds of digital insurgents, soldiers and each other using digitally recreated weapons of war.
Spec Ops: The Line was my Game of the Year for 2012 because of how it found a way to maturely criticize an industry obsessed with war games and the player’s role in those games. It was also the first to express a profound and physically disturbing presentation on the mental and physical effects war has on those involved, be they high ranking military brass or victims caught in the crossfire. Having just finished re-playing the game, Killing Is Harmless serves as a great companion piece to such a disturbing and thought provoking video game.