Consequences in Video Games

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December 14, 2012 by Devin

Video games are, inherently, a medium of no consequences. In many games, the player is allowed to steal, kill, and destroy with no actual consequences. Some game series, like Grand Theft Auto and The Elder Scrolls, rely on this consequence-free nature to give the player a strong sense of freedom. People enjoy these games because they allow the player to do whatever he or she wants without punishing them.

In addition, most games are only palpable because they have no consequences. Games like Call of Duty make war fun by not showing the player the results of their actions. It reduces its bad guys to stereotypes and foreigners so that the player is able to gun them down without a second thought. I pick on Call of Duty, but the truth is that it is only the most apparent example. How many people did I gun down without thought in Uncharted? Borderlands? Even Ratchet and Clank?

I recently finished Spec Ops: The Line, and it is the first game I’ve played that made me seriously question my own motivation for killing. The game is a critique of modern military shooters. Unlike Call of Duty, Spec Ops shows you the consequences of your actions and makes you consider that you might just be an awful person. The game does not try and build the player to be a hero, but rather tears down the player and makes the player realize that what they are doing may not be right.

This is one of the most unnerving loading screens in any video game I've played.

Spec Ops: The Line is a mature game in every sense of the word. The violence in it is serious just like violence in other games, but more importantly the context is serious. It seems that everyone in the game is trying to do the right thing, but somehow this results in a huge number of deaths. It is a game where the player can have good intentions, can make all the right decisions, and can know all the outcomes, but it is not a game where the player can win.

I feel that I really cannot get more into discussing this game without spoiling it, but I will say this. There is a turning point in the game where everything goes south. It is not a big action sequence. It is not a huge boss. It is not even a betrayal. It is simply the game looking at you and going, “What have you done?”

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