Cognitive Dissonance and Spec Ops: The Line

Saturday, 6 May 2017

SOURCE: 2K Games / Yager Development

It's been a wild month of big changes for me, with moving to a different city high on the list of priorities. So unfortunately I haven't been able to post much on here and even getting stuck into a game has been a challenge. But now that things have settled down a bit, I got the chance to blast my way through a game I've heard praised highly, and has been burning a hole into my backlog for a while. 

Spec Ops: The Line by Yager Development is a 2012 third-person, cover based shooter, that I played on PC but is also out on PS3 and Xbox 360. The reputation of this game is what initially got me interested in playing it, with many critiques calling it an underrated gem. You play Delta Force's Captain Walker who has been tasked with heading a rescue operation in Dubai after the city has been struck by catastrophic sandstorms. The goal is to rendezvous with the 33rd battalion who have been trapped in the stormlocked Dubai after trying a rescue mission themselves. You soon discover a war going on within the city that you've just been thrown into.

SOURCE: 2K Games / Yager Development [via. YouTube]

The game-play is similar to any other cover based shooter. You run, you duck, you shoot. It's something that anyone familiar with these games will have done many times. It does have some frustrating issues, for example when you try to snap to cover it's very easy to end up on the wrong side, this is especially obvious with cover at a slight angle. The shooting is satisfying but at some points certain fights can become utter chaos. With your other two AI teammates being little help, except in some portions where your ability to command them is basically a guaranteed way to get past certain fights easily. At the end of the day however while the mechanics aren't anything particularly special, this isn't the noteworthy part of the game.

SOURCE: 2K Games / Yager Development

The very broad genre of military shooter games tends not to stray too far from a select path, generally favouring a gung-ho, righteous, power trip as you fight against the objectively evil enemy. This is done for the reason that the escapism of mainstream games is based around this empowerment of the player. What The Line does is turn that on its head forcing the player to confront the complex and unintended consequences to their actions. This ends up being sort of critique on a genre that uses war for entertainment, and what the players actions could really mean.

In order for me to explore and give examples to this I will have to go into the spoiler zone so you have been warned.

SOURCE: 2K Games / Yager Development


The opening few hours of the game are about you trying to get your bearings in this world and figuring out who the enemy is. You generally end up thinking that the battalion you have been sent to rescue has now become an evil force that is trying to kill both you and the CIA. This causes you to team up against the 33rd battalion with the help of the CIA, who are also trying to take down the 33rd. During a very combat heavy scene the game forces you to use a white phosphorus on an outpost. However after walking through the wreckage you find the corpses of 47 civilians that you've accidentally killed. This misreading of situations that cause you to be the bad guy forces a conflict of contradictory ideas. These choices become more and more pronounced through the game and the stress caused by the character trying to justify his actions cause more and more fractures in the reality he inhabits. 

This one scene also highlights something within us as the player. We have been conditioned to assume that we are right and justified in causing mayhem, the shock of causing pain to innocent people forces a cognitive dissonance and being the cause of these actions gives credence to the major buck passing the main character ends up doing. Letting you feel justified after committing just a few war crimes.

After playing this game it really made me evaluate the shooter genre, forcing you to rethink the violent actions you've taken. It has honestly been one of the few games that has critiqued gaming in such a mature and non judgemental way. Making you ask yourself why should/would I do these things that seem like second nature to anyone that is knowledgeable with the language of the shooter genre.


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