This article contains minor spoilers for Spec Ops: The Line
Never before has a game made me put the controller down and walk away. Not out of frustration or boredom, but because I couldn't handle the intensity. Spec Ops: The line was that game.
In fact this happened several times. I could only handle about an hour or two of game play in one sitting. It wasn't because of the particular decisions that the game forces upon you, but it was the overall intensity of the narrative. Each battle wore me down, and eventually I would have to quit and go do something relaxing.
I enjoyed Spec Ops: The Line, the story was great and it is a refreshing title in an industry filled with cookie cutter military shooters. This experience with Spec Ops got me thinking -- is making the player walk away from the game a good thing? I'm sure the developers behind Spec Ops (Yager) didn't intend for players like myself to put the controller down. But this is a consequence of such an intense experience.
The word "game" suggests that the players should be having fun, and enjoying their time with the product. While Spec Ops was an overall enjoyable experience it almost crossed a line. On one side is enjoyment, the other side, exhaustion. Its much like horror movies; you want the movie to be scary enough to entertain a crowd but not too scary where the movie truly terrifies the viewers. I have played numerous Call of Duty campaigns in one sitting with no problem, and there is just as much slaughter in the those games as there is in Spec Ops. So the issue is with the narrative. Spec Ops is an intense personal story which aims to make the players question the glories of war. But at times Spec Ops went a little too far.
Seeing rows of U.S. soldiers lined up next to a wall filled with bullet holes, or innocent civilians who were accidently burned to ashes by your own hands. These images are shocking. Each gun fight leads to another scene of desperation and violence. While some people may get "combat fatigue" from shooters, Spec Ops can supply plenty of fatigue just from its immersion alone, the situations presented in the game are more than enough to make the player feel exhausted.
With budgets for Triple-A titles expanding more and more every year I believe we will see more games likes Spec Ops. Video games that are extremely immersive, which forces the players to question their actions, not based on the rules of the game but by actual ethics. Fable 2 is a great example of the former.
There are certain actions in Fable 2 where if you choose the "good deed" you get experience points taken away from you, while if you choose the "evil deed" you keep your XP. This is an example of decisions based on a game's rules, while in Spec Ops you make decisions based on ethics. Who do you kill? The solider following orders or the criminal who is trying to feed his family? When you give game-based rewards to players on the choices they make the decisions themselves lose their power. But if you make them question the reality within the choices you can reach the player at a whole new level.
Spec Ops has started something amazing in video games. And hopefully other developers will follow suit, however, they need to be careful. Developers cannot forget that video games need to be inherently fun, and to not cross the line into an experience that is no longer entertaining
(Would have posted this in the Spec Ops game forum, but considering there is almost nothing there I just posted it here in hopes for a larger discussion.)