PaigeFTW: The Morality of Not Playing

I lost a fantasy football bet with my boyfriend and as penalty had to play a video game of his choosing: Spec Ops: The Line. He touted it as a seemingly generic third-person shooter that was actually an astonishing exercise of morality. I have a lot of thoughts. Spoilers ahead.

            The game essentially condemns you, the player, for mindlessly going along with the game’s narrative and committing atrocities on the people of Dubai. This includes inhumane chemical warfare, outright murder of civilians, untoward brutality and a lot of dead Americans. Your character, Cpt. John Walker, is so horrified by his (your) actions that he literally hallucinates another figure, Col. John Konrad, and places the blame on his shoulders. Walker “had no choice” but to do what he did. The player, too, had “no choice” but to follow the narrative.

            This, the phantom Konrad informs you at the game’s climax, is false. You did have a choice. You could have turned back at any time. But you kept going, and going, and going, until the whole city was dead and burning at your feet.

            In other words, you should’ve stopped playing. Once it got to be too much, you should have said no, that you would not perpetuate these cruelties, that you would not be party to this.

            I suppose there is a moral component to that mindset, yes, but I think this is the incorrect way to try and use interactivity as a rhetorical instrument.

You as a player have no recourse to not follow the game’s set path. If you could actually turn around and leave Dubai and get a different, secret ending, then sure, that would be valid criticism on your actions for not trying to find a way. But you can’t. Walker may have had a choice, but you don’t. There are no other ways, literally.

Without those options, the game essentially tweaks on you for playing it all the way through, which most players will find hard to swallow. Was it a moral lapse on my part? I don’t feel like it was.

It’s a strange but flawed experiment in critiquing the military shooter genre.