Should Games Reexamine the "Super Soldier?"


Few tropes are as prevalent in the action game as the super-soldier. While early shooters didn’t even bother to explain why the player character could absorb a dozen bullets, the last decade has seen more and more games try to justify the protagonist’s apparent superpowers. From the nano-augmented hero of Deus Ex to Halo’s cyborg protagonist, we’ve seen more and more games use emerging technologies to shape the player’s abilities.

This week, The Atlantic published “More Than Human? The Ethics of Biologically Enhancing Soldiers,” an article on the many sticky questions raised by the creation of more-than-human warriors. The Atlantic only skims the surface of these issues, but the article still contains more depth than pretty much any video game that tackles the subject, save perhaps the aforementioned Deus Ex series.

Not every game should be an in-depth exploration of technological ethics, of course, but the fact that such games are practically nonexistent seems curious. Perhaps game developers are afraid that engaging with the politics of warfare will create sales-damaging controversy, as happened with Six Days in Fallujah.  The brisk sales of Deus Ex: Human Revolution and the Metal Gear Solid series show that games can engage with real-world political issues and still have mass appeal, yet most developers just don’t seem that eager to go beyond a theme park version of warfare. Should games try harder to address the issues raised by the worlds they create? Or does this needlessly complicate a useful explanation for why game protagonists can take down hundreds of enemies all by themselves? As someone who’s spent more time engaging with fictive super-soldiers than the the real deal, I hope some game developers step up to the plate and starts digging a little deeper into this issue.