"To kill for yourself is murder. To kill for your government is heroic. To kill for entertainment is harmless." Wait, what?
like, an hour into Spec Ops: The Line when this message pops up on a
loading screen. "What a weird thing to say," I think to myself. But I
can't shake it. I keep playing. I keep shooting. I keep killing, and I'm
not sure who for. Myself? I have to defend against those that would do
me harm. Or am I killing for my--rather, Walker's--government? They sent
me to Dubai, after all. But really, I'm doing it for entertainment,
right? That's why I'm playing a video game: So I can be entertained. By
killing over and over and over again. Whatever, that's silly. WHY AM I
EVEN THINKING ABOUT THIS?
hours later, and I'm knee-deep in dead bodies. Some are enemy
combatants; most are innocent civilians. A few are children, charred to
the bone by a mortar strike. Which I orchestrated. Another loading
screen. Do you feel like a hero yet? No, as a matter of fact, I don't. Thanks for asking. Then another: If you were a better person, you wouldn't be here.
all the praise The Line received for making players feel uncomfortable
while playing it, nothing I encountered in that game left as lasting an
impression as its loading screen jabs. Their sole purpose was to break
the fourth wall and call you out for having fun while killing people
(OK, sure, Spec Ops had its issues with "fun"). Which happens a lot in a
game where the driving mechanic is, you know, killing people.
But The Line isn't so much a commentary on war as it is on war games. And while its narrative didn't always make sense, it did frequently make me stop for a second and think to myself, "Hmm, that is pretty messed up." That doesn't happen very often when I'm playing a shooter.
finishing The Line, I thought a lot about my regular diet of big dumb
shooters, with their generic "terrorists" that needed to be shot because
I needed to feel like a hero, damn it. But The Line's self-aware
commentary added a layer of interaction I'd never experienced in a
shooter before, and I continued to see mature themes pop up in games I
hadn't expected them to as the year progressed.
Take Halo 4, for instance. This was a series I knew--I knew--would
be easy to digest. I'd hop in, shoot some aliens, enjoy the banter
between Master Chief and Cortana, and call it a day. But the opening
cinematic introduced an all-grown-up tone that was foreign to the
series. In it, children were being groomed as soldiers. These kids would
later become Spartans, the greatest killing machines mankind would ever
see. I became a Spartan the same way, you know. I spent a hell of a lot
of time playing Doom, Quake, and Half-Life in my formative years.
you believe the Spartans' lack of humanity helped?" asked an
interrogator of Dr. Halsey, the founder of Halo's Spartan-II program.
"Do you believe the Master Chief succeeded because he was, at his core,
broken?" I found these to be extremely self-aware questions. Master
Chief was merely an extension of myself; he was a hero because I was a
hero. And here's this dude, calling Master Chief a sociopath because
he's destroyed thousands of aliens. So what does that say about me? I
couldn't discern if Halo 4 was merely reinforcing its fiction, or if it
was giving a nod to the enjoyment I derive out of shooting anything that