Spec Ops: The Line – a reading/viewing list

Getting the most out of this fantastic game.

2K published Spec Ops: The Line over a month ago now, but for me it is one of the most breathtaking releases of this year. This is mainly down to the amazing job that Yager Development did with the storyline in the singleplayer mode. But if you thought this was just an anti-war war game, then I’m here to give you a reading/viewing list that will change your mind – because the context I enjoyed the game in allowed me to go beyond the idea that it is just a simple anti-war war game that points a finger at shooters.

The reading list

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Already marked out as a key influence on the game’s story, this novella is a seminal piece that has numerous interpretations surrounding the European colonialism projects and the nature of man. Relevant how? It’s the starting point in Spec Ops‘ literary background.

Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance by Noam Chomsky. There are many writers and theorists that have written on American imperialism, however this takes a good hard look at American interventionism and imperialism. Relevant how? None of the Americans in the game had to be in Dubai in the first place.

A Short Organum for the Theatre by Bertolt Brecht. Usually found lurking in collected essays on literature and theatre, Brecht’s essay (basically) argued that plays should constantly remind the audience that they are watching a play, so that they don’t get sucked in to the fiction and are thus enbaled to think about the themes and issues in the text. Relevant how? The alienation effect (Verfremdungseffekt) that Brecht writes about is clearly demonstrated by the in-game messages in Spec Ops that seek to distance the player from the game and lead them to question the nature of its genre. I’ll add that from a story perspective, Walker is brilliant as an unreliable narrator, and it adds to the game’s alienation effect.

The viewing list

Apocalypse Now is essentially Heart of Darkness the film, it actually deviated a great deal from the novella. However, there are many similar themes and the interventionist nature with the Vietnam War backdrop makes it highly relevant. Relevant how? If you find that you can’t bring yourself to read Heart of Darkness then at least watch this.

Good Morning, Vietnam is in this list because of the musical similarities between it and the game, plus it’s in Vietnam. It may often be classed as a comedy, but again investigates American interventionist policies. Relevant how? Mainly because of the music and Robin Williams playing a disc jockey.

What about other games?

In theory, in order to feel the full alienation effects that the game puts forward you would have had to have played at least one of the recent Call of Duty games or other popular combat series. There are perhaps too many first and third person shooting games that have glorified war in the recent past and Spec Ops: The Line really does remove itself from the idea of war, of conflict, ever being a good thing. You may still have to shoot people in the game, but you’ll soon be questioning whether or not you should spend each bullet you fire.


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