Spec Ops: The Line Writer Says Violence is “Too Easy”

Walt Williams, the writer of last year’s phenomenally intelligent third-person shooter, Spec Ops: The Line, gave a talk at GDC (via Polygon) in which he lamented the abundance of violent games, stating that he would like to see far less of them as they’re “too easy”.

He refers to”ease” not in the sense that they’re unchallenging play, but that they’re too easy to digest by providing players with fodder that they can unthinkingly kill.

“Nazis are basically human demons, killing them is no big deal,” commented Williams, who added that he considers his own game Spec Ops: The Line, as an experiment in which the characters you kill have personalities and how killing them matters.

“It was a hard game to get out the door but [the] reaction to it has been quite wonderful. When you sit down to play a shooter, you’re signing up to hunt hundreds or thousands of people,” Williams noted. “In a game, we’ve allowed hunting to become, not merely mundane, but run of the mill.”

Williams explains that his goal with the game was to make kills memorable by integrating the player’s acts of violence with the narrative—adding a ‘human cost’ to the player’s actions.

“You have to view your enemies not as obstacles, but as characters. [They are] The victims of your players’ violence. When they see you they see a force of nature: They see death, and they are frightened.”

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2 Comments on Spec Ops: The Line Writer Says Violence is “Too Easy”


On March 27, 2013 at 3:08 pm

I think we are beginning to move past the point where “mature” means nothing but gore and boobs, and to where “mature” means a compelling storyline dealing with real grown up issues and real consequences of your actions.


On March 27, 2013 at 7:23 pm

An interesting point. Sort of reminds me of an old XKCD strip but that’s neither here nor there.

The question then is how can games as an artistic medium explore topics other than violence, or how can they at least explore violence in a meaningful way? Spec Ops the line was good, if flawed, start in my opinion.

Now you can’t just have the enemies drop tear stained letters to their fiance when you kill them, that kind guilt tripping is ham handed and makes me more violent in the game world out of spite.

Instead, I recall one of the few games where I intentionally tried to avoid murdering tons of dudes, No One Lives Forever 2, in which the mooks managed to have enough personality that I went out of my way not to just gun them down like animals. Personality goes a long way towards making memorable characters, and making mooks into characters is a good way to avoid the ham fisted “look what you’ve done!” crap that most supposedly important games pull, where they rub our noses in the dead guys guts like we’ve been a bad dog.

Another useful method, especially combined with the above, is to program the AI for fear. Make it so, after a player has taken apart half of an army, the mooks take one look at you and run screaming for their lives from the horrifying monster, although that has a pretty significant chance of just stroking people’s murder boners.

That said, childish violence will always have a treasured place in my heart, so I hope that as gaming matures as a medium (which it inevitably will) it doesn’t forget the simple joy of being a one man army mowing down nazis by the thousand.