The Positive Discomfort of Spec Ops: The Line by Kristine Jorgenson delves deep into what it means to have an uncomfortable gameplay experience through the examination of Spec Ops: The Line. Spec Ops: The Line, released by 2k games in 2012, exists as a third-person military shooter. Counter to much of the military shooter genre, the game utilizes strong narrative elements and player choice to subvert the expected dry loop expected of similar games. At a critical point in the gaming experience, the player loses sense of agency in favor of a whirlwind narrative dedicated to showing the less romantic sides of war underplayed in military-based entertainment.
As a significant body of research existed on Spec Ops: The Line, the author selected five players and recorded their responses to the experience of playing the game. The most powerful experience shared by participants seemed to be the overwhelming feeling of weariness or being tired after finishing the game. While they expressed happiness at finishing, that feeling of tiredness seemed to implant the idea in players that war may not be the optimal solution.
Within the military shooter genre, this is a huge leap. The Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises, two of the most successful FPS series published, encouraged war and conflict throughout despite making attempts in more recent games to show the less desirable outcomes of combat. Spec Ops: The Line approaches full subversion in making aspects of PTSD and failure critical elements of the game, sweeping the player up into a situation beyond their control.
As someone who played Spec Ops: The Line without knowing what lay in store, the experiences mentioned in the article resonated with my own memories as a player. For a shooter game, the combat was fun. Using sand as an environmental variable to win fights or change terrain (ex. shooting out windows to allow a sandstorm to blind large groups of enemies) felt like an original mechanic. The turning point of the game really ingrains the feeling of helplessness and, as the situation spirals further from the player’s control, the precision and tactics the shooter genre builds itself on seemed miles away. Aspects of player control turned from commanding a squad of trained killers to losing all of them, and swift executions were replaced by not being able to save anyone no matter how many bullets found their marks.
Article Link: http://gamestudies.org/1602/articles/jorgensenkristine.