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More than a war game, Spec Ops is a game about war that questions its heroic figures,
military and civilian. It also covers a broad spectrum of representations of war with the
fighting, the rules of engagement, the collateral damage, and the chemical weapons. In
addition, it calls out the player on the gamification of war, multiplying critical speeches
to excrete a radical form of awareness. If you want peace, prepare for war, said the Romans.
Perhaps should we rather face it?


pec Ops offers a wide enough range of factions and characters to

bring out the complexity of war, capturing its nuances. Soldiers
and refugees, journalists and rebels, intelligence officers and mutineers
all coexist. Above all, these figures convey their share of ideas and
symbols. For example, the members of the Delta Unit and 33rd reflect
the racial evolution of the US military: whites, blacks, Latinos. We
can only regret the absence of links pointing to the proletarianization
of the armed forces. Indeed, it would have been nice to challenge
the player on the commitment of young people, which few are able
to challenge due to the positive image developed by the media. We
might have reminded the player of the recruitment of foreign holders
of a green card or, since 2009, a mere temporary visa (plan already
activated during the Vietnam War). What did they get in return?
Easy access to naturalization (thanks to sections 328 and 329 of the
Immigration and Nationality Act). Obviously, the martial contract
replaces the social contract ... We understand better, then, the reasons
of this proletarianization. On a deeper level, the game tries to cover a
wide range of psychologies, situations and thoughts. The infiltration
phases and the discovery of documents (the intel) highlight the
lifestyle, views, doubts, sometimes the intimacy of soldiers. Even the
vulgarity of the characters reflects the language of the troops.
Naturally, refugees are also subject to special attention. Their
vulnerability is discovered by crossing the camps, walking along
hospital beds seeing infusion devices, lingering in the markets. The
result is a mixture of abandonment and resourcefulness, crimes and
plunder. Under this harsh light, no figure is spared: neither soldiers
nor refugees, men nor women, young nor old. War dirties and spoils
everything it touches (the sooner I get home and become myself again).
Nevertheless, it lacks a final figure, that of the humanitarian. Too briefly
mentioned in intel (perhaps discussed with the execution of the young
hostage), it could have brought another sensibility, developing the
question of the opportunity of the conflict, the issue of humanitarian


intervention, supporting the pacifist ideal and attempting to alert the

Delta unit of its drift.

Reality without realism

If it was interesting to note the importance of staging, it should not

overshadow a discourse anchored in reality. It is more by avoiding
showmanship that Spec Ops denounces war, and by the refusal of
realism that it opens itself to reality. Entertainment becomes a way
to bring the player to critical positions, to open his eyes. Thats why
the title seeks to embrace all kinds of situations: from war crimes to
chemical weapons, mass graves to collateral damage, torture to the
survival of refugees. Spec Ops tries literally to embody war, raise it to its
most horrible register: deaf to its horror, blind to its madness. We could
almost call the process meta-realism in this desire to go beyond realism
to pinpoint the reality, its complexity. So the game does not hesitate
to challenge the soothing rhetoric of confrontation without civilian
casualties, surgical strikes and combat respectful of international
conventions. Its speech is probably more consistent with reality than
that of the armys communicators, their propaganda and lies imposed
by the simulacrum of the show, the mirror of horrors. Gradually, its
the image of clean war that becomes dirty, covered with mud drawn
from reality. War goes back to its natural state where everything is ugly,
harder, more raw. But this undressing is interspersed with moments
of bravery, passages of introspection, gestures of attention or even a
search for order and justice. For war is in the image of man. It wreaks
havoc, desolation, but cannot kill all conscience.
The absence of Manichaeism helps to comprehend the games
landscape. Here, the war does not represent the eternal battle between
Good and Evil. No, the sides are gradually reversed. War creates
antagonisms, makes difficult any moral judgment, inevitably leading
to error. The chronology is clear: the insurgents appear first as the
enemies, and then it will be the 33rd and ultimately the CIA. The
33rd itself is full of various opinions on the origins of the internal war.
These nuances are used to remove the prejudices of the player, allowing
the humanity of each side to be revealed. Looking at the pain on their
faces, the fighters disappear. Only men remain.

Full Metal Jacket


Critic of heroism

lthough Spec Ops slams war, it does not spare the figure of
America, criticized in watermark. This allows it to kill two birds
with one stone and weaken the idea of heroism. Indeed, the role of
the CIA, the desertion of the 33rd, the various arrests, sometimes
sarcastic (the US military has a strict policy against torturing), push
the United States off their pedestal. Isnt a modern hero the one who,
through his country, defends a just cause? A noble ideal? The scathing
answers given by the game in some way reflect the American decline.
Moreover, we note with astonishment the presence of a cooperative
mode that allows players, in its first level, to embody rebels from
Dubai and to confront the 33rd. We further notice how the refugees
address us with insults: American dogs. Beyond that, its the hero
concept that gets beaten into a breach. First by the idea that most of the
characters want to be one (the truth, Walker, is that youre here because
you wanted to feel like something youre not: A hero) and then because
this raises the question of the definition of heroism. Lugo draws its
outline: orders aint worth following if it means leaving people to die. It
would thus be to save people. Walker agrees. Konrad also, because
the grounds for the intervention are humanitarian. But by these good
intentions opposing their consequences, making the ego the resort of
the characters, sometimes even using irony (the trophy Too Late the
Hero), Spec Ops explodes the myth of the good cause. The more men
try to help, the worse it becomes: both because they are only helping
to promote themselves (vanity) and also because it is not so much the
help that matters as the nature of this help. Specifically, these men act
only by fighting, killing. One of the lessons rests then on the idea that
such nature is not heroic, its not to help at any price, to follow orders
or even disobeying.Above all, one wonders how the notion of hero
could become central in the mind of a soldier. By encouraging them
to follow fabricated models, disconnected from reality, information
and entertainment media are in the crosshairs (its the video games).
And disconnection leads to tragedies. Thats why Walker sinks into
horror, denial, unable to leave the image of a manufactured Good
Camp, of a good man. However, it is less a criticism of heroism than
an opposition to the warlike vision that underpins it. Without justice,
without humanism, without humility, the concept is only an empty
shell, allowing butchers to be raised to the pinnacle. So the picture
of the hero should not be pressed against this kind of behavior, nor
accept it. As such, the character of Konrad is eminently interesting.
Here is a deserving soldier, having earned medals, who fails! Either
his valor was only an illusion, rewards massed for acts expected of
him, or he has lost what made him valuable. More symbolically,
one might wonder if the complacency against violence (quite raw
staging, especially the consequences of white phosphorus) is not there
to compensate heroism developed by the media. Mythical heroism
would answer a horror or in the same register, a compensatory horror.
Finally, the dramatic maelstrom of anguish, camaraderie, betrayal and
good feelings would not only underline the complexity of reality but,
ultimately, the lack of relevance of the concept. What is it worth to be
that kind of hero? Why cross the line?


Calling out to the player

he US military does not condone the killing of unarmed combatants.

But this isnt real, so why should you care? Thats one of the most
significant callouts of Spec Ops. Indeed, although the question
of heroism and war are at the heart of the discourse, it remains
inseparable from the position of the player: what he is, what he does.
Through the issue, there is the question of the difference between his
virtual behavior and that which could be his in reality. By inference,
the speech focuses on how the virtual helps to get rid of the most basic
moral rules: thou shalt not kill. There is an awareness.
We return again to the concept of materialism. Spec Ops shows how
the logic is deadly: there is no difference between what is right and what
is necessary. This reasoning removes any limit. And ironically shows
exactly what caused the tragedy, the sequence that the player should
have refused. Subtly, Spec Ops calls out the gamification of war, its
use as an interactive entertainment, a spectacular enjoyment of this
fight, this conformism. Thats why it brings reflection on the rules of
engagement, the opposition between the real and the virtual, war and
its representation. It questions the players morals (youre still a good
person), underlines his guilt (this is all your fault), criticizes his habits.
Paradoxically, it also questions the understanding of its mechanics
as the player is accustomed to consume his games, only waiting for
But Spec Ops does not doubt, or so it pretends. As a provocation
to guide every conscience (you cannot understand) to question each
position (Kill a man, you are a murderer. Kill everyone, youre a God).
One cannot miss the irony of the assimilation of the player to God.
Especially that the parallel with the savior or messiah is done several
times: youre not a savior. Walker proves it with his massacres. Is this
not the time to merge the bloated ego of the hero and the player who
handles him? God of War and God of Wargame? The fact is that the
reflection will be pushed to the point of suggesting to the player to
stop. All the talk about the heroism (references to the comic book
Watchmen), the horror, lead only to this single conclusion: we have
to know to put down the controller, to refuse these endless circles
of violence, barbarism and terror. Just like putting down weapons.
The double meaning of the dialogues will guide not without some
bitterness: Im done playing games, John.
Yet everything is done for the player and the hero to remain prisoners of
their visions. There is no escape. No, there is none. At least not without
escaping the warrior and entertainment logic. Unless you stop. Unless
you turn off the console. Nevertheless, the error (probably the fault)
of Spec Ops is to not reward the player who stops, puts his pad down,
refuses to keep the gears turning, accepting this false heroism. None
of this would have happened if youd stopped, says Konrad. Certainly.
But the way to mark the occasion would have been the possibility to
go back to the first level, to respect the Stop sign at the entrance of
Dubai. It would then have been masterful, even grandiose, to offer a
specific conclusion. This would have given an incredible force to the
adventure, allowing it to be better understood, making it a legend,
further marking the player and the community.

- White Phosphorus Le phosphore blanc est llment

essentiel de Spec Ops la fois par la
beaut visuelle des scnes qui lemploient
mais aussi par les dgts horribles quil
provoque. L est le crime de guerre. L
aussi est le dommage collatral puisque
des civils sont tus, souills, dfigurs.
Ici les terribles brlures donnent une
ide juste des dgts provoqus par le
phosphore. Dans une mise en scne trs
appuye, le jeu dnonce lutilisation des
armes chimiques. Ici, le phosphore blanc
na rien de neutre. Sur un plan militaire,
il sert aussi bien de fumigne
que dengin clairant, dobus
fragmentation et de bombe
incendiaire. Il a bien sr t
employ dans lHistoire, souvent
loccasion de vritables crimes
de guerre : durant la Seconde
Guerre mondiale pour annihiler
Dresde et ses habitants, au Vit
Nam o les bombes taient
surnommes Willy Pete en
rfrence aux initiales de White
Phosphorus (voir premire image
en haut gauche). Rcemment,
larme isralienne sen est servi
en Palestine, en particulier
pour clairer ses cible. Avec les
dommages collatraux que lon

En vrit, son utilisation a

toujours t trs conteste.
protocole III additionnel
la Convention sur
certaines armes classiques
de lONU, sign en
1980 et ratifi en 1983
par de trs nombreux
pays, condamne son
utilisation. Enfin, il faut
noter que lon le retrouve
le phosphore blanc dans
dautres jeux : dans Call of
Duty : Black Ops I et II par
exemple, o la grenade
fumigne se nomme Willy
Pete. Il ny a pas de hasard.