Spec Ops, Far Cry 3 and Hating the Player, Not the Game
What I question, however, is vitriol and condemnation sent in the direction of gamers, especially when the games wagging their fingers are just as guilty, if not more so.
Far Cry 3 might want to make a comment about the shooter genre and its audience, but it definitely doesn’t want to give up the money spent by those people on that genre — so it delivers any and all things on which it might be commenting, just in case you miss the point. Spec Ops is a game that duct tapes you into a soldier’s boots and staples the rifle to your hands, and it gives you no possible way of dealing with its scenario except to admit to being the horrible person it claims you are. As a friend put it on Twitter, it’s a game that sets a puppy in front of you, demands you kick it, won’t let you proceed until you kick it, and then calls you a monster for kicking it. That’s not an effective way to make me judge my own decisions, my character, the medium, our entertainment, our fixation on violence, or anything else. All it does is draw attention to how ham-fisted and poor a comment is being made.
Regardless of the message, the whole enterprise — the idea of selling me a game to chastise me for playing games — smacks of hypocrisy. There are games out there that do a wonderful job of calling into question decisions and morality, or that test the edges of questions like “why do we do what we do” by making those things meaningful; Little Inferno, for example, subtly questions the mindless playing of games that aren’t even fun, while also telling a meaningful story in doing so. Games like it achieve their messages by telling real stories, not by hammering us about the heads with metaphors blunter than sledgehammers.
It’s possible to do this sort of genre-subversion well. As Ben Richardson mentioned in his analysis of Far Cry 3, films such as Pulp Fiction and Scream 2 manage to deal with the tropes of their subject matter, displaying issues and making comments. The differences is, those films don’t question things about the stories they’re sending up or analyzing by calling out the people viewing them. They function just as well as stories as they do meta-commentaries, and they’re not aiming their commentary at the audience.
Spec Ops could have given us the chance to accept the surrenders of our enemies. Far Cry could have let us build rather than destroy. Both games ask us why we do the things that we do but they never seem to realize that we can only do what they allow us to do.
And if this is how the creators of Spec Ops and Far Cry 3 and any other of the heavy handed games of 2012 really feel about the people who play their games, they can go ahead and send us our money back. Or maybe donate it to a charity that helps poor people on Pacific islands or refugees in the Middle East. Because while they might want to ask us why we play the games we do, they certainly don’t seem to have any qualms with cashing the checks those games earn them.