Would You Kindly

I thought his eyes were blue. But he reminded me they were the color of shit.

Sitting at the corner of my bed, I watched him dress. It was December, and we had argued again. It’s an argument that I have every relationship I’m in. The one when I ask if we could be seen together in public, for once. Hold hands if he’s feeling bold.

It’s a funny thing, dating a man who’s never known oppression in his life. Where he has nothing to prove and no barriers to entry, there are always open wounds on my body from the briars of American society. He was shaken, to the point of an anxiety attack, that someone would think he was gay if spotted with me. That, he said, was a selfish thing for me to demand.

I looked into his eyes as he imagined what discrimination was like. I wonder, as someone who’s experienced it since the moment they were conscious, how life must be to easily sidestep such terrible treatment by our culture. That isn’t an option I will ever have- his reality, assumed to be the template for which all others are based, is actually a niche phenomenon that doesn’t account for the rest of us. It took all of my effort to not call out “boo-hoo” to his retreating back.

Video games are often like my past lover. They live in fantasy realm that can only reference reality, not participate in it. 2012 was a year of trying to become self-aware, employing satire and other forms of trickery in attempt to engage with social issues. Satire, it seems like the panacea for game developers, an avenue to have ‘fun’ while playing a ‘serious’ game.

An acquaintance of mine once said to me, “satire is for the bourgeois.” Often, the social perils they seek to critique turns into torture porn, and the high road they present is to simply look away and forget it all. The minorities involved are sacrificed for the passing interest of the privileged- video game developers and other satirists in the past just wanted to make people uncomfortable, not actually change anything. And it isn’t the oppressed who benefit from the bourgeois squirming in their seats before they go to sleep it off.

Spec Ops: The Line is one of many games to come out last year as an attempt to engage politics. It was the only one of these I could get through, and there are some relevant points friend and colleague Brendan Keogh makes about American interventionism in his book Killing is Harmless. However, much like Far Cry 3, Lollipop Chainsaw, and Hotline Miami, it only serves a particular audience for what it assumes to be a wide-reaching social issue. It is like that past fling of mine who flinched at the first sign of difficulty, and turned away.

I played Spec Ops having already sampled many games thought to make players aware of the violence they were committing in them, and couldn’t help but shrug my shoulders. For me, military shooters are fantastical, so far apart from what I actually experience that they couldn’t comment on my life. Which was when it hit me- the violence in games aren’t at all based on the violence that actually threatens me off-screen. If there was to be such a game, the character wouldn’t have a weapon, wouldn’t be able to do much damage, and would have to get from my house to the grocery store without being assaulted by men. I don’t know how to use a firearm, I don’t have the fortitude to withstand bullets, and I’ve never been in the military.

These games export violence to extreme situations such as war because it is pandering to the bourgeois of video games, people who don’t experience the threat of real life violence and oppression every day. They can’t make a meaningful connection to those who deal with violent oppression because they most likely have no idea what that is. They don’t put players in the shoes of a transgender woman getting cat-called on her way to get coffee. They aren’t there when a car follows her for blocks as she tries to get home from a party. The common retort is needing these games to still be fun; to that, I say “boo-hoo.”

I have to give Spec Ops credit though, as it clued me into why I couldn’t relate at all to what these games were trying to do. It was when I encountered a one-word mission objective: Obey. Do what you are told, and you will be rewarded. This is what the privileged class, men who are white, heterosexual, cisgender among many other things, is told to do. If you play your role, you will have a good life. When your role has you on top of the social food chain, there is little complaint to obey. But times are changing- social justice is pushing against the oppressive system that puts one identity over the other, and this privileged class is at a point of despair. They are doing what they are told, don’t they deserve their just reward?

Being a minority in many transparent ways, that option was never there for me. It was obvious from a young age I had to break out the system because it wasn’t for me. And not on an ideological level, not a taste preference, my literal identity that is often decided by men in bureaucracies and development studios. It’s an obvious choice to not obey, because to obey is to die.

Playing Spec Ops gave me a chance to glimpse at the psychology the privileged class. Design is commonly modeled around a player doing what the developers make them do; if the only option is to beat in a guy’s head with a golf club, we must take it. It is predicated on the plight of the heterosexual white man, moving in a system that favors them as long as they would, kindly, do what’s expected of them. The trick of the game, much like it’s ideological predecessor Bioshock, is the only way to ‘win’ or not do terrible things is to stop playing. Turn off the game. To look away. For some reason, people laud games like Spec Ops and Bioshock for not giving a solution, for not putting in a step forward. That is the appraisal of people whose well-being doesn’t ride on someone finding an answer to oppression. This isn’t to say either experience is solely enjoyed by or relatable to men, but that we’ve accepted that games constantly treat us as such.

This is why the recent public foray about video games and violence is rather laughable. Games are clearly overestimated when it comes to the kinds of topics and play is actually there. American society, at least, has identified guns and violence with boys and men for as long as I’ve been alive, and most likely before the first video game. It reminds me of an anecdote Brendan makes in his book, that cover shooters remind him of playing games of pretend as a child. Video games are currently a translation of that, a reincarnation of stereotypically boys’ activities that do impart cultural values, but do not simulate anything real. We can see this throughout all other media, and can attribute the homogeneity of both the artists and the audiences they target. This is why our Vice President calls a meeting to solve gun violence over the rare attack at a predominately white school and not the frequent, systematic murder of transgender women of color.

I know many developers and players are excited about the avenue of satire. The ‘gotchya!’ is easy to formulate and punctuate an otherwise typical game. But letting business as usual carry on until the final stages serves no one any good- it creates the illusion that these problems are outside of us, easily boxed away when we please. Indeed, challenging the player from the get-go with actual problems might not be fun and require the help of someone who isn’t white, heterosexual, nor a man.



  1. An astutely observed problem with most games. Even ‘edgy’ ones.

    It seems to me that games, though they do have the power to explore cultural ideas of sexuality, violence, gender and oppression they tend to just repeat the same stories and mechanics further cementing the “big (white) boys toys” model for games.

    I agree with you that satire is not an entirely effective way to highlight issues.

    Perhaps we just need to include a wider variety of experiences. I think there’s a cycle where it is believed that only a privileged minority enjoy a certain cultural thing, so that cultural thing is tailored to that minority, which further isolates those that don’t belong to that group, which then supports the belief that only a certain minority enjoys the experience. Experiences which subtly subvert privileged tropes. Things like the Samus Aran being revealed to be a woman at the end of Metroid, or the fact that you can kiss boys in Rockstar’s Bully are baby steps towards treating gamers like the diverse bunch they are without creating exploitations of minorities to shock the perceived privileged audience.

    Dammit. I just totally realised that both my examples are examples of this.

    Bisexuality in the sims then, maybe?

  2. qwallath

    Very sharp points here, Mattie!

    What do you think of games like ‘Amnesia’ and ‘Miasmata’ in which the protagonist essentially has to face a hostile environment without weapons, leaving only wits and evasion at your disposal?

  3. Rage

    “The trick of the game, much like it’s ideological predecessor Bioshock, is the only way to ‘win’ or not do terrible things is to stop playing. Turn off the game. To look away.”

    Well i must disagree here, the trick of the games is more to pause and realize of what you are doing. And to compare virtual to real violence. Than to look away. Basically because it always drive you to continue by feeding your voyeurism. (Well, more in spec ops than Bioshock, for what i recall, because in Bioshock its more of a plot twist “i was working for the bad guy all along” than anything). As you say, what you do is fantastical and barelly comparable to what you would do IRL.
    I don’t think the goal was to culpabilise the player, “look at what you’ve done, you’re a monster”, when basically you just do what the game tells you to do. I think it’s more around an a-moral view of violence, and that theres no true good of bad guys, and for spec ops, the shits that any war, even self righteous, can do, and the problem behind american interventionism. Its a bit an attempt to a 21st century “Apocalypse now” (well, no really as good in the technical realisation).

    (weeell, i see the point of your article is rather to compare in game “fake” violence with the true violence you experience every day so my remark might be a bit irrelevant).

    But i don’t really understand what you say about satire, isn’t anything that pause and tries to make fun of a subject can be called a satire ? Then, Spec ops can’t really be called a satire, can it ?

  4. Chris Remo

    Great post. I do think that “satire” as it tends to be expressed in violent video games is a pretty narrow (and rarely effective) band of satire. I don’t think it’s inherently tied to these themes, and I think it could be employed in a much more honest way than it currently is in games, which is–as you say–to basically provide the broadest possible case of existing core gamers having their cake and eating it too.

  5. Rina

    White heterosexual men might need more help than you think. Sure, it hardly is the biggest issue in the universe, but that’s the “there are starving children in africa why are we talking about this”-type argument. Men play their role expected of them, often without reflection or even the thought that an alternative might be viable. To shine that back on them can only ever be beneficial for all of us, even when it does not supply a solution.

    But you are right of course, the violence in games is a violence rarely relevant to our own lives. In a way, I give Spec Ops a pass for working within the already defined shooter genre but if a year or two from now I see a load of shooters criticizing shooters they are no more than the very thing they are a reaction to. Does Spec Ops really deserve that pass? Maybe, most likely not.

    In the end, while it is nice to see a game tackle its own subject and setting with relative seriousness, it is when we can start taking on subjects other than those traditionally prevalent in games we are actually going somewhere.

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  7. Bill Clinton

    >If there was to be such a game, the character wouldn’t have a weapon, wouldn’t be able to do much damage, and would have to get from my house to the grocery store without being assaulted by men.

    So you’d have to play the game a few thousand times before the random number generator spawned assaulty mcweirdo?

  8. This may just be me being uncreative, but it seems like games that seek to express the idea of oppression in a manner that isn’t limited to minor art-house type release would have to draw heavily on allegory to get their message across. The seemingly mundane and casual way that people express their biases doesn’t exactly make for compelling gameplay. One game that came to mind when thinking about it was Papo & Yo, which is all about child abuse, but it leans heavily on the magical garden trope.

    As a supposed member of that privileged class of middle class heterosexual white males, the most interesting part of this whole idea of obeying is the simple assumed expectation that I will indeed wish to obey. The unquestioning nature of the video game narrator that essentially represents me, that what he’s doing is probably what I would want to do, right? In this way Spec Ops excited me because it was one of the first times a game actually acknowledged what I had been thinking the entire time, that what I was doing was awful. Just the single head nod was enough for me. Somebody out there was at least fumbling in the right direction.

    Despite its best attempts to don the trappings of the jingoist military shooter though, Spec Ops was still a commercial failure. The message, as misguided as it might have been, failed to reach the wider audience of gaming. You can have the greatest and most amazing theme driving your game, but if nobody plays it, what’s the point? It’s the problem I encounter every day as a high school teacher: you can talk at your students all you want, but the hard part is making them listen.

    I guess the question I’m left with is: how do you create a game that captures the idea of oppression but in a way that’s approachable enough to get people to actually play it? A horror game filled with creeping dread and subtle paranoia? An allegorical third person platformer? The worlds deepest tower defense game? An endless runner where, no matter how good you are, something always catches you?

  9. ethangach

    Mattie, this is a terrific piece overall. I know it was hard to write, but I’m glad you did, and know we are all the better for having had the opportunity to read it.

    I think the following is a weaker point, “This is why our Vice President calls a meeting to solve gun violence over the rare attack at a predominately white school and not the frequent, systematic murder of transgender women of color.” Without addressing that argument at greater length, or supporting it with clear evidence, you paint the situation as a zero-sum game rather than commanding that the same amount of attention be focused on disproportionate murders of transgender women of color.

    Approximately 13 transgender Americans were killed last year. 26 children were killed during the Sandy Hook shooting. The problem isn’t that too much attention is placed on the latter, but that not enough is placed on the former.

    • 13 transgender Americans out of …
      26 school-age children out of …

      Being transgender is (statistically) more dangerous than, say, living in a state with/without any particular type of gun regulation. Sandy Hook is a tragedy that we “all feel,” but that doesn’t make it more pressing than an tragedy we choose to ignore.

      • No Joel, it’s not. 13 people per year is nothing.

        • Oh OK, cool. Thanks for clearing that up!

          • Lord Gold

            Come on dude, I know you’re a fan of that high that comes with feeling morally superior but you know that’s not how he meant it. It’s just a straight up fact that comparatively all the recent killings from gun violence vs. the statistical thirteen a year the gun violence is just more pressing. I know I know, “But you’re putting the lives of cisgendered white privileged (insert other buzzwords here) children most of whom are probably boys over the lives of transgendered women of color!” but if you’ll come to your senses you’ll realize that although yes I am doing that, it’s not because I don’t consider a transgender person a, well, person. That’s not even considering the fact that gun violence is something that can be (in theory anyway) quelled with rules and regulations and doesn’t involve radically changing a culture at it’s core.

        • Wow

          Systematic oppression that leads to the murder of people? NAH IT’S NOTHING

          • 13 people per year…. I can not find anything with as low of a number of deaths per year than that. More people die from lighting strikes.

          • Devin Raposo

            Amazing. What you are saying is, hey, 13 people’s lives could have been spared, but it doesn’t really matter, natural phenomena kill more people!

          • What I’m saying is it isn’t a big deal. I’m for sure not going to lose any sleep over a whooping 13 deaths per year. Nether should you.

          • StranaMente

            I’m a white heterosexual male and I find your line of reasoning profoundly disturbing. Those people didn’t die because of an accident, or by misfortune.
            They weren’t “accidentally” killed.
            You are belittling the death of 13 human beings who had being killed because of the fear and the hatred that still lies in our society.
            The life and the wellbeing of every human being is important and that you can’t relate to this simple fact is distressing.
            Stalin once said “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.” I refuse to fall for this assumption.

          • More pizza delivery people are murdered each year for their pizza and money. Most of the transgendered where killed while prostituting, or looking at it this way, involved in a crime, or illegal trade. They are a small percent of the prostitutes killed each year, about 10% (124 are killed each year roughly). So it wasn’t fear or hatred that killed them, it was what is called a crossover effect. Was that person killed because they where a prostitute, or where they killed for being transgendered? Or both? Or wrong place, wrong time? I’m not going to worry about the well being or life of every human being on this planet, I’m rooted in the real world and do what I can to help people that I know, I’m going to worry about things outside my realm of control and act like a child believing I can change the world with hopes and dreams.

          • StranaMente

            Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto. (I am human, nothing human is alien to me.)

          • Utinam logica falsa tuam philosophiam totam suffodiant!

          • Guest

            According to the williams institute 0.03% of the U.S. population is transgendered. 21% of the U.S. population are children.

            26 in 21% of the same population is 1 per 2.4 million.
            13 in 0.03% of a population of 300 million is 1 per 69,000

          • Children covers what age again? From 0-19?? The thing is, there are transgendered children now. And you are also comparing one act with a yearly total.

            Yes, for some reason the stats include 19 year olds as children.

            Try figuring for approx 3500 kids murdered each year and get back to me.

          • But the lightening strikes arent happening because of who the people are.

          • Seriously?

            Lightning strikes are a natural occurrence. Murder is a product of human hatred.

        • 13 people per year is not a statistically significant amount, that much is true. The systematic prejudice shown towards trans* identified people, particularly trans women of color, however, kills in much more subtle ways. It makes it incredibly difficult to find employment and housing, which adversely affects a person’s ability to care for themselves. This limits access to medications that are often necessary to abate the depression caused by facing such vitriolic levels of discrimination and/or apathy, which then continues a cyclical pattern of abuse, which forces many trans women, particular trans WoC to engage in sex work to simply feed themselves.

          So, as for your comment about trans women being prostitutes, are you suggesting that these people starve and simply disappear? Or are you going to make the laughable suggestion that they should “just get a McJob” of some variety. You may not see that this suggestion is laughable, but if you were to understand that it is legal to not hire a trans person in 38 states. Perhaps they should move? To which I ask, with what resources can they relocate? Many trans people don’t even have familial connections because their own families ostracize them.

          While 13 murdered per year may not seem like much, and it’s not in the grand scheme of things, the oppression faced by trans women of color, which leaves a staggering percentage of them homeless or, at the very least, WELL below the poverty line ( < $10,000/year ) is a very serious issue.

          This can apply to children (< 18 years old ) too, as an estimated 20-40% of the 1.8 Million homeless children in the US are LGBT, with a statistically inconsistent amount being transgender specifically. Doing some soft math, you're looking at approximately 90,000 homeless trans children, which is roughly .03% of the entire US population. And those calculations are using the lower figures.

          So it's really not "nothing" when you start accounting for other causes of death beyond proven homicide.

      • ethangach

        “Sandy Hook is a tragedy that we ‘all feel,’ but that doesn’t make it more pressing than an tragedy we choose to ignore.”

        Nor does it make it less pressing, as I said above. So I’m not sure what your point is.

  10. I’m not sure it’s a super charitable reading of the game to say that it’s all about violence and then call it out for failing to accurately capture the kind of violence that’s relevant to your life. If Spec Ops isn’t about “violence” as broadly considered, a lot of your points fail to hit the mark, I think. I can see how it’s for the bourgeois if it’s supposed to be about what it means to experience threats, or something, but that’s not really what I got from the game.

    (We could launch into a big discussion about what I think Spec Ops WAS about, stuff like video game narratives about war and male power fantasies and so on, but I’m not sure that’s super relevant – as long as Spec Ops can be about anything other than what you read it as being about, I think it comes our relatively unscathed.)

    This isn’t to discount your reading – I think it works fine and that it makes good criticisms. It just seems to me to be somewhat unfair to the game – you score some extremely well made points against it with the assumption that the game is trying to say something that I think we should perhaps decline to see the game as commenting on, for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is that if the game actually does try to do what you say it tries to do, it fails in exactly the way you think it fails.

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  12. Devin Raposo

    I think what you said about not many games being made about violence towards people going about their everyday business just because they are a minority is an excellent point, but I disagree on what you say about games like Spec-Ops and Hotline Miami. Those games are worth noting in a different sense; sure, they may be less about the violence itself in a specific sense, but they are about violence that is portrayed so often in the medium of video games that it’s belittled as trivial. I specifically a remember a point halfway through Hotline Miami where I caught myself getting WAY too into the game; games have historically taught us to be incredibly cunning and cutthroat in order to play them, but the difficulty in this game really puts it in the spotlight. When I finished a particularly difficult level, and realized what I’d just done, all the quick-decision making I had to make to prevail through the game, it was a very jarring few minutes, and I felt disturbed at myself. I guess I can’t really speak for Spec-Ops per se , as I haven’t played it (and Far Cry just looks dumb), but I do feel like those games actually contribute in a way to the point you are trying to make; if games are so constantly violent, and very much pandering to a certain type of person, then a game that highlights and subtly attacks this way of thinking needs to be put in the spotlight, ALONGSIDE games like Lim. But this is just my opinion.

  13. Yeah, fuck self-awareness. That bird has flown, that horse is flogged, whatever, we can do better now.

    I do think you misread ‘obedience’ in games, though – and, perhaps, the ‘privileged’ experience. It seems to me privilege means precisely that you don’t have to obey, indeed that you may never have to obey. The myth of privilege is “get what you want, your way”. You can accomplish anything! Look at the UK’s leaders, for example, and you see people with no clear talent at leadership, politics, economics or anything else that might be useful for their job. What they DO have is a steadfast belief instilled from birth that they are on top of the world and that everything belongs to them. It kind of does parents were rich enough to send them to the best schools and get them the best jobs and give them every possible advantage in life. The freedom this confers is tremendous.

    In linear shooters, we like to think that we’re not simply obeying instructions. Indeed, we are supposed to think this (or at least to suspend our disbelief), because they go to great lengths to mask their instructions. Sometimes they do it badly (“Shoot the Hinges”) and sometimes they do it well (see: everything Valve ever).

    So the ‘obey’ instruction is designed to chafe. It’s designed to make you go “fuck the police!” You’re supposed to be pissed as hell with Kurtz for making you do what he says etc. But you’re also supposed to buy Walker’s resigned belief that this is ‘the only way’, that obeying is necessary in the situation. A second purpose is to lampshade the instructions given by shooters; an objective that reads ‘Obey’ is a kind of formalistic joke at the expense of other games. Finally, given THE TWIST (dun dun dun dun spoilers if anyone is reading this who hasn’t played look sorry you can’t read any more of this comment just leave it there and stop reading go do something else there is no point at which you will be safe to return), it serves to make the point that (in games and I guess maybe in war) obedience is a choice, and that ‘I had to do it’ is a myth we invent so we aren’t culpable for the consequences. Whether you agree with that is another matter.

  14. BakerJS

    Hold on, I need a second to string together a coherent response. I can see that the connective thread throughout this piece is the fact that the privileged classes of America are not familiar with the realities of oppression and violence that less privileged citizens deal with constantly and therefore try to avoid those uncomfortable feelings whenever possible. As I happen to be a member of many of those privileged classes, I agree with this underlying point, but I still feel that there’s something here that I disagree with. If I’ve misread anything, please correct me.

    Yes, I see your point that satire is an ineffective means of making social commentary. It is so popular simply because it dulls the bite of its message to a point where mainstream audiences won’t immediately back away. Satire enables its audience members to feel “sophisticated” for understanding the “edgy” subject matter being discussed, but then move on with their lives because satire doesn’t convey any immediacy through it’s commentary. So, overall, I get the feeling that you’re saying that satire isn’t bad, just not effective enough.

    When you mention Spec Ops: The Line and games you found similar might be where I start to find bits that I disagree with. You seem to be criticizing these games because they aren’t challenging all of their players as much as you believe that they should. I don’t think that this is a fair criticism at all. Most of these games can proudly stand head and shoulders above most other games because the goal they set was only to get players to actively think about the actions they are taking while playing the game. You might say that this is setting the bar too low, but these are some of the first times that games have moved beyond the goal of letting players have fun. The more challenging material will hopefully be coming soon, but, at this point, games that are just able to create a rational dialogue with the player about more than just their gameplay deserve to be lauded.

    Similarly, when you say that these games pander to the privileged classes by separating the game world from reality, I can’t help but feel that you’ve missed the point somewhere. I really feel bad for saying that because the article is so well written, but I think that the experiences that Spec Ops: The Line, Bioshock, and Hotline Miami were trying to convey required the player to start out in that fantastical mindset. Far Cry 3, admittedly, could have made a few changes to express itself better and I don’t even know why you mentioned Lollipop Chainsaw in your article because it seemed to me to be only a spectacle game. As for the first three, the main point of the games, to me, was never to give any substantial social commentary. Sure, Rapture’s ideology was based on Objectivism and, sure, Spec Ops had a slight subtext about American interventionism, but the narrative of the games never made these subjects the main focus. Bioshock is only a deconstruction of a linear shooter that lets the player question what free will means to them within a video game. Spec Ops is only deconstruction of a military shooter that highlights the unreality of the genre and lets the player question why they might find committing virtual violence fun. Hotline Miami (I’m going to agree with Errant Signal’s interpretation from his blog) is an argument in the form of a game in which its developers make the claim that the narrative of a game has little to no bearing on your experiences of playing a game. I don’t think games are going to be able to fully address large social issues, like how we, as a society, treat people we find different from us, until we have first taken a deeper look into the medium that we’re working in. Because so many games DO, as you say, pander to the privileged classes by separating the game world from reality, the games that are made to comment on the nature of the medium of games have to do the same to create the proper context.

    After that, you end the article by mentioning that most games are seen through the straight/white/male gaze, which I agree with and also think should be changed, so I don’t think there’s anything else that I take issue with. I guess that the only parts I find disagreeable are where you dismiss the significance of the games you listed because they don’t challenge their audience to the extent that you would prefer. I hope that this makes sense to anyone besides me, because I would hate to have dismissed your opinions without making my reasoning coherent.

  15. I don’t think a game based on trans violence would actually sell in an industry formulated as creating entertainment products first, art fifth, and I think that is the theme throughout here. The satire you’re describing are games that are designed to be bought well before they’re designed to make a statement. Their satire is just a marketing twist that gives them greater selling power. That white males are so heavily involved in the creation and consumption of games is really the source of the perspective of games more so than any overt social conditioning. Similarly black het males are really well represented in mainstream hip-hop as the primary creators (but ironically secondary consumers) of hip-hop.

    This is why the independent movement is so important. If you’re not busy creating an entertainment product, you don’t have to worry about whether or not it’s actually fun to play or if it’s within the perspective of your biggest audience.

  16. Good piece. One thing I would note: members of the military are pretty notoriously *not* drawn from the privileged class. They tend to be the children of poor- to middle-class households in rural areas with little economic opportunity.

    That does add a bit of an odd twist to the discussion. While the players of military shooters might be economically privileged, the characters they’re *playing* probably wouldn’t be.

  17. ...

    as someone who has long privately considered themselves pansexual without ever having a non-heterosexual relationship, the personal experience in this article has really forced me to confront my privilege and cowardice

    i don’t know what i’m going to do with that information, but thanks, i guess

    • No one can tell you what to do with your genitals. Don’t date people out of guilt. Don’t stay away from them out of fear either. You have no one to prove yourself to but yourself.

  18. Mygaffer Nunya

    Are people REALLY arguing about which murders are worse? What a bunch of drivel you all are typing out here in the comments.

  19. Sfphilli

    I think you’re a bit blinded by your experiences — which is entirely understandable. It is a problem that we don’t have mainstream games exploring the everyday violence facing real-life groups of people, whether that be transgender people or particular ethnicities or anything else, but that doesn’t negate what games like Spec Ops are doing. These games are tackling the also very real issue of glorification of violence in a grander, broader scale. That is a perfectly valid topic, and I think Spec Ops and Hotline Miami among others have been very successful in making many people think about this topic, especially considering how new the AAA scene is at making anything other than pure entertainment.

  20. Wong

    *Spoilerish Alert*
    I can’t comment on Spec Ops, but you must have not actually played Bioshock all the way through, otherwise you would know that the entire motif of the game is “A man chooses, a slave obeys.” Which is the same plight that you face. Both you and the player in Bioshock are rejected and people try to hurt you for not doing what you are told. If you had finished the game, you would also know that, in the long run, the act of standing for yourself is a reward in and of itself, much like it will be for you when the transgendered are finally accepted.

    The player finds out that he is not who he thought he was, and that he was also not who the world though he was (not unlike the effects of admitting to your sexual orientation). He also finds out that his life was not his own because of his origins, making him feel worthless and inhuman. (like people wanting to hurt you because of your origins). At the end of the game, the player has the option to free himself from what is essentially slavery, and free the splicers from the manipulation and oppression of those who were corrupted by power. Or he may fall into the same trap that those who fought and defeated did (which is something you face everyday).

    Why you would criticize game developers for trying to be sympathetic to suffering they haven’t experienced themselves is beyond me. Players reactions to the game, and how they play it, is not the fault of the developers. Some will hear the message, and think deeply about what the game says to them. For some when the game gets difficult their resolve to win only intensifies. Some hear nothing, and some will just put the game away.

    I think part of your problem, and all of society for that matter, is that you have trouble drawing the parallels from one kind of suffering to another. If we realized what makes us the same, we wouldn’t be so inclined to hate what is different.

  21. Pingback: Brice, Kyratzes and me « psepho

  22. Azrael

    Are you really trying to equate Spec Ops: The Line with some tumblr social justice bullshit?

    Wow, get the fuck out. You missed Yager’s entire point of making the game. You just Karl Rove’d the whole fucking point…just to fit your narrow sphere and a very lame jab at the “cis” shit postmodernists try to spew every day to make people like me and others feel bad for things they never did or had any intention of doing (and refuse to feel bad for). The game, and Yager by extension, was meant to actually tackle the bro mentality of Call of Duty or Medal of Honor (non-WW2 ones) games, making the protagonist a silent killer of unnamed foreigners all in the name of peace and democracy and Tom Clancy/Michael Bay crap. They made no intention of race, class, or anything else and if anything you missed the point entirely that Dubai was the jewel of opulence in the Middle East brought down by Mother Nature. No white folks here, but actually Arab oligarchs who were exposed trying to cover it up. I see no allusion to white heterosexuals but thanks a bunch for trying to force a guilt trip where it isn’t wanting. John Konrad wasn’t meant as a bastion of white privilege. He was meant to portray a broken man who simply wanted to do the right thing and maintain his legacy as a commander and hero to his men and women. You can even see it in the poem to his wife and letter to his son…a man who just broke down from everything. Walker is the same way. He’s not an idol of the upper class white man. He’s supposed to be a frightening parody of the faceless/voiceless killing protagonist of the popular games we see played by ALL RACES AND ALL GENDERS.

    Seriously, this crap argument belongs in the bin.

  23. (TW: probably not a big deal; I’m not going to be explicit but I WILL be discussing violence and sexual violence)

    First off: fuck you, Jim Dandy.

    You’re failing to take proportion into account. Depending on the statistics you are using, anywhere from 2% of the American population identifies as “transgender”.

    More importantly, murder is only part of the violence we live in fear of every day, only part of our systemic oppression as a whole. One of the most glaring examples of this — but by no means the only one — is suicide. According to the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) 64% of trans people experience suicidal ideation, with studies finding suicide attempts in the total trans population ranging from 16% to 37%. In my personal opinion, speaking as someone who has struggled with depression and suicide for a very long time in myself and in others close to me, these statistics are almost certainly reported to be lower than they actually are, because suicide is incredibly difficult to speak openly about even in settings specifically designed for people to feel safe doing so.

    I could go on to list facts and statistics about rape, assault, harassment, drug use, prostitution, and on and on, but my point is already made.

    Jim Dandy, you sicken me. You and everyone like you. “13 people per year is nothing” — this sort of mindset is exactly what Mattie Brice talked about in the article. To you, it’s just some people who happen to be part of a pretty small group who died. To me, and to trans people everywhere, at best it’s an ice-cold worm of terror wriggling around in the back of our minds reminding us that we’re never truly safe, and at worst it’s a knife in our throat. People are HURT for being trans, and to trans people this is our REALITY — our everyday lived experience, not some figure we can coldly brush aside because it doesn’t concern us.

    Mattie Brice was absolutely right to make the comparison between the attention given to the Sandy Hook shooting vs violence against trans women of color. I’m not sure why commentor ethangash says this makes things a zero-sum game. The point isn’t that we should care LESS about the murder of children, the point is that we should care MORE about systemic oppression and bigoted violence.

    Why is a case about 26 children all over the news for days, violence that causes more children to die in poor urban communities of color is ignored? Why isn’t there more public outcry over the deaths of the hundreds of Yemeni, Libyan, Syrian, Pakistani, and Afghan children the US military has murdered with drone strikes? These are perfectly valid questions to ask, and if your first reaction is to think that these questions somehow seek to diminish the importance of the Sandy Hook shooting, you need to seriously examine yourself.

    In the end, the game Spec-Ops is a game created by the privileged, told from a privileged perspective, and created with a privileged intended audience in mind. It seeks to criticize other games of its genre, but it does so in a way that amounts only to pathetic navel-gazing. It uses all the same tropes and mechanics that Call of Duty does, adds a level of self-awareness to the narrative, points to the lack of player agency and to other shooter games like Call of Duty, and shouts, “Look, we’re doing the same thing those other games are doing, but we’re SELF-AWARE while doing it!! Aren’t I amazing and brilliant?!” No, Spec-Ops, you’re not amazing. You’re a self-aware version of Call of Duty.


    • Meluxe

      Provide evidence of US drone strikes in Syria please. If you can’t, shut up.

      Despite Jim Dandy’s distasteful statements, you’re just on a soapbox spewing bullshit as well. Really it’s like the shit tumblr bangs on about. You too also missed the point of Spec Ops. It was a scathing critique of escapist fantasy by any gamer of any gender of any color. Get the fuck out with your white-guilt tripping shit.

      • It does not affect my point in the slightest even if the US had never had any contact with Syria at all, ever, because there is overwhelming evidence, including video footage and photos, that US drone strikes in other countries have killed children. I’m not here to debate specifics about drone strikes. I’ll do you the favor of assuming that you’re not being disingenuous — haha just kidding, but let’s pretend anyway — so here’s a place you can start doing your own research on drone strikes: the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

        The rest of your reply is boilerplate dismissive bullshit. Alright, I’m a tumblr soapbox bullshit-spewing white-guilt-tripper. Oh dear, you’re really tearing apart my argument with that incisive analysis!

        Provide some real content in your next reply, please. If you can’t, shut up.

        • Meluxe

          You don’t list a country without providing evidence. It’s hearsay. I know internet celebs are phenomenal with this. But the burden of proof is on you since I invoked it upon you. You need to prove to me Syria’s current situation is also being afflicted by Predator strikes. If you argued just Yemen or Pakistan then I’d not object. But you mentioned Syria without an ounce of information. If you cannot provide the concrete, shut up.

          “I’m not here to debate specifics about drone strikes.” – Fuck you, unwarranted self-important idealist. You mention accusations you better be prepared to discuss specifics.

          You’re going hook, line, and sinker with the crap argument that Mattie is going with Spec Ops. Look bang on and on about the transgender violence which is sad but things that happen. I’d not equate it to Sandy Hook as they’re isolated incidents, it wasn’t en masse from one lone gunman, and they weren’t kids. Yeah believe it or not idealism doesn’t work here in the real world. Shocker I know since a life is a life but this notion of equal coverage is a farce on an international scale.

          And yes you are spewing bullshit because again you along with Mattie just inserted your own personal crusade of “cisgender” bullshit into something Yager had zero intention to involve with. It’s the same old song and dance. Oh apparently Yager specifically wanted to have this paraded with the white, privileged mentality. You stupid fuck. That wasn’t at all the point. It was attacking the escapist fantasy of shooter gamers. IIRC, gamers can be male, female, gay, lesbian, straight, black, white, Asian, Arab, etc. You two just wanted to try to pinpoint it on a specific group that Yager and Walt Williams had zero intention of showing. There is no bogeyman of white, privileged, “cisgender” (say straight you motherfuckers) that this game is invoking. You’re both pathetic for creating an issue that isn’t even there with this game.

          • Again, arguing with me about Syria is meaningless in the context of my original point. This is the second time you have ignored my argument in favor of petty nitpicking. It was disingenuous then, and it’s disingenuous now.

            Again, the rest of your reply is boilerplate dismissive bullshit.

            1) I’m missing the point of Spec-Ops. No, I’m not (and for that matter I don’t think Mattie Brice is either, but I won’t pretend to speak for her). I literally don’t care what Yager intended, nor do I care what you think they intended. Cultural bigotries make their way into cultural works _regardless of the intent of their creator_. I realize that suggesting this will sound pretentious, so I apologize in advance (to others reading this, not you Meluxe, because you have been a smarmy asshole to me so far), but I earnestly suggest that you read an essay titled “The Death of the Author”, info about and links to which can be found at Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_the_author. Spec-Ops is easiest to relate to for those who are white, cis, male, and familiar with the presentation of military culture in gaming. This is a simple fact of reality that remains true no matter what its creators think.

            Furthermore, my point about navel-gazing still stands. Spec-Ops raises questions about player agency in other games, specifically other shooters. But that’s all it does. It still uses many of the gameplay mechanics and storytelling tropes that the games it criticizes use, and it doesn’t create a constructive example of an alternative to such military-esque escapist fantasy type shooters. In short, it’s a weak criticism and largely undeserving of the high praise it gets.

            2) Stop projecting your weird shit onto me and others. I’m not an idealist. I don’t care what you think the real world is like. I’m not on a “crusade”. Honestly I’m kind of baffled by all of this. Stop flinging accusations at me, it comes off as incredibly childish.

          • Meluxe

            “It still uses many of the gameplay mechanics and storytelling tropes that the games it criticizes use, and it doesn’t create a constructive example of an alternative to such military-esque escapist fantasy type shooters.”

            What do you suggest then? Peaceful dialogue video games?

          • Is it really that hard to think of alternatives to military escapist fantasies? All you’d need to do is change the setting and the narrative; if you wanted to you could keep the shooter elements and the high level of graphic violence. There’s tons of examples of games with shooter gameplay that don’t involve oorah-USA militarist fantasies. The main thing to remember, if you really want to critique something, is to _not make the entirety of your critique a copy of the thing you’re critiquing_.

            Think of it like this: I’m trying to tell you roaming your town hurting random people is bad. If you were a child, I might flick you on the forehead and ask how you’d like it if anyone was allowed to just hit you like that or even harder any time they wanted to. But it’s all about degrees — is going out onto the street and shooting people to death while yelling “SEE WHAT I’M DOING HERE, THIS IS AN EXAMPLE OF SOMETHING BAD” going to help me illustrate my point, or is it going to detract from my overall message?

            This is the problem with Spec-Ops: it holds itself up in comparison to other games and says, “Look! This is what’s wrong with shooter games today!” Okay, congratulations on making a casual observation anyone who has played Call of Duty could tell you. That’s all the game has to offer; it’s criticism of the status quo without stepping outside of the status quo itself, and it tries to make its criticism seem profound when it’s really a simple observation everyone already understands if they bother to think about it. Navel-gazing.

          • Meluxe

            So yeah you missed the point and tried to have your cake and eat it too. Jesus…but at least it’s a modicum better than the awful soapbox argument of the OP’s white, male, cis (this is fucking internet bullshit by the way get off your high horse Mattie) “privileged” (because God forbid the urban minority afford $20 to play this). Tell you what, go develop an Amnesty International game and maybe we can talk.

            Oh no your life is so miserable so those awful people playing Spec Ops are white male cisprivileged and DON’T FEEL MAH PAIN. I think I’d appreciate the article more if it wasn’t such an awful rant on Spec Ops in an attempt for unwarranted self-importance. Lots of people have lots of problems. Line up.

          • what were your political views like before twitter? i started as a neo-conservative in highschool (the American kind, which, from my understanding, somehow has even less self-awareness than their counterparts in other countries) because that’s what my dad was and i sort of automatically believed everything he told me. by the time i was old enough to cast my first vote, i was an obama-liberal. after that a bunch of stuff happened and i became a communist in the space of about a year. i registered on twitter some time after becoming solidly marxist

            Holy shit you’re a fucking idiot ghost in a dim glow.

        • You need to shut your idiot-hole up.

          • ToruKun1

            What a great retort, you sure showed them.

    • ghost in a dim glow, you sicken me. You and everyone like you. People who think 13 deaths a year is a large sum. Sorry skippy, but if you are suiciding at 40% and you are being murdered at .00002% guess what the bigger fucking issue is. The issue that you are mentally unstable at 2500 times the normal rate.

      • I did ToruKun1, I sure did.

  24. A.T.AK

    I think you’re in love with the idea of being oppressed so you work it into every facet of your life.

    • ToruKun1

      Why does every privileged person think this?

      • Because it’s true ToruKun1? Maybe that’s why.

  25. Pingback: After the Dust Settles: Ethics Revisited « Electron Dance

  26. Robofish

    Going to ignore the silly comments and address the argument in the blog above.

    It’s an interesting argument, and I certainly agree that as far as social criticism in video games goes the likes of Spec Ops don’t get as very far. I have a hard time, though, imagining what a more successful example might look like.

    The fundamental problem, as others have mentioned, is that video games are meant to be fun – to entertain the player and let them temporarily escape from their life. That’s why almost all games share a handful of similar characteristics – e.g. the player character is more powerful than those around him, the player can do many things, the player will achieve goals and get rewarded for his actions. It’s easy to imagine a game which diverts from those norms: for example where the player character is an oppressed minority with little power struggling under an unjust system, which ultimately crushes them no matter what they do. But while such a game might be effective as criticism, and might even be very good, it’s hard to imagine it being *fun* or many people wanting to play it beyond the indie/art game crowd.

    Games like Spec Ops try to have their cake and eat it, as you say, by criticising the system from within the system – continuing to fulfil all the clichés and expectations of the genre, but criticising the player as they do it. The ‘plot twist’ of ‘it turns out the player is really working for the bad guy!’ is also horribly played out at this point, but the basic idea of having the player come to the realisation that they’re on ‘the wrong side’ is a promising one. Perhaps there is the potential for a genuinely subversive and fun game there, but it would have to be a damn sight more subtle and complex than Spec Ops.

    Previous games that have done that ‘heel realization’ trick have usually been laughably obvious and morally simplistic (see Haze for one example), and have usually then just given the player the chance to ‘switch sides’, which means nothing really changes for the player but now they’re killing the guys they used to be fighting alongside, and they end up having to kill the guy who was giving them orders (or something). A more subversive approach would require the player, if they want to join the ‘good guys’, to permanently give up most of their power and accept a weaker position. Or, better yet, give them the option of breaking the paradigm entirely, and going from a violent approach to a non-violent one. How many players would make such choices then?

    I’m just speculating here, but it seems to me there are interesting possibilities for a game which really challenges the player about power and privilege, while hopefully still being fun to play. That game has yet to be made, but at least video games do seem to be developing in the right direction, even if they’ve only taken baby steps so far.

  27. ToruKun1

    You seriously need to screen your comments. 90% of the people here have either completely missed the point or are just hateful transphobic bigots…and their comments are being voted up! What the hell. Nightmare Mode is the most insightful vidya gaem site I’ve seen in years and you white, cis*, hetero male dude-bros don’t even deserve to read it.

    (*BTW, “cis” isn’t some ~OMG TUMBLR SOSHUL JUSTICE POST-MODERN BULLSHIT STAWP GUILT-TRIPPING MEEEEE~, it’s Latin for “on the same side of” and is the opposite of trans, which means “across from”. Maybe you could educate yourself instead of being so fucking defensive of your intellectual laziness and all-around bigotry)

    • Racist and Sexist in one post ToruKun1! I’m impressed! Seems that the only bigot in support of thought police is you.

      • The -isms cannot be applied to the oppressed class. A woman or minority can show prejudice against a cis, white, hetero male, but it cannot be considered racism/sexism etc. Race and sex form the basis of the prejudice displayed, but the behavior lacks the social power structures and paradigms necessary to consider it oppression, which is one of the defining characteristics of the -isms.

        To wit, someone can be an asshole towards you for being a SAWCSM, but that doesn’t make them racist/sexist/etc, it just makes them an ass.

        Also, your reliance on flipping terminology to point a finger is woefully blasé. Try to formulate more concrete criticisms of flawed thought next time Jim Dandy.

        • You are both bigots for assuming that I’m white or male. That is what makes you both racists and sexists in one posts, and Lauren, you know that isn’t true, a -ism doesn’t stop being a -ism because you pee sitting down or standing up, or are from any race on this planet.

    • Maybe if you left your hugbox more ToruKun1 and harden up, life would be better. You self centered bigot.

  28. Pingback: Can We Kindly? by Samantha Allen | this cage is worms

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  30. Pingback: On Citation in Video Games Criticism, or Lighting Someone Else’s Candle | this cage is worms

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  37. Great piece.

  38. Pingback: The Select Few

  39. This is still shit, from a shit writer, on a shit forum.

  40. Pingback: Oh No! Video Games! - Nontent

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  42. Pingback: The Great Expectations of Spec-Ops: The Line | bigtallwords