The Cultural Gutter

taking the dumb out of fandom

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." -- Oscar Wilde

Teaching the Value of Human Life

Andrew Smale
Posted April 13, 2006

Handcuffs or hand grenades?When you’re put behind the crosshairs of a gun, do you assume you have to shoot to kill? Better still, do you have to shoot to win? For the majority of First Person Shooters, that is certainly the case. What if you were given the choice to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, but still be able to complete your objectives? It sounds like the trend of stealth action games starring super-spies in skin-tight bodysuits. But it’s not. It’s a law enforcement simulation.

SWAT 4 Gold Edition (Irrational Games, 2006) packages the original SWAT 4 tactical first-person shooter and its story-based expansion campaign from earlier this year, The Stetchkov Syndicate. Adding a meager seven new missions, a collection of new gadgets to use, and new multiplayer options, the expansion does its best to extend the life of the original game. Though I think its biggest strength is in the way it handles the choices that could be made in the original game by increasing their significance.

SWAT 4 rewards players for neutralizing threats, rescuing any innocents, and securing evidence (mostly dropped weapons) with a numerical score at the end of each mission. Suspects are explicitly asked to comply by you or a member of your squad. Killing a suspect that has already dropped his weapon will lose you points, as will failure to report a downed squadmate. Depending on the difficulty level, you won’t be able to proceed to the next mission unless you get the required score. So aside from making sure the suspects on each level are taken care of, and the innocents have all been accounted for, there are a number of details that must also be considered. Have all the dropped weapons been located? Did a fellow officer die after you foolishly ordered Red Team to clear out a room full of armed suspects? The game is methodical and deliberate. There are choices to be made.

On harder difficulties you’re given a more challenging objective: subdue all of your adversaries, not just the ones that happened to drop their guns the first time you asked them to. When killing isn’t an option anymore, it causes you to second-guess yourself. Did that guy have a gun? Was he a threat? Sometimes an itchy trigger finger takes out a hostile that’s about to lay down his weapon – and that’s an unauthorized kill. This is why The Stetchkov Syndicate presents a whole host of taser-like weapons to help subdue the perpetrators. But it doesn’t make the game any easier.

Handcuffs or hand grenades?The Stetchkov Syndicate also increases the unpredictability of the enemy AI. Even if you’ve gassed a room and the perpetrators (or even innocents) have complied, they will occasionally pick up the gun they just dropped and start firing, or simply run out of a room. It requires quick thinking on the part of the player: do you have your team zipcuff the perpetrators immediately, running the risk of additional armed enemies filing into the room while you’re at it, or do you lock down the entire room before apprehending the suspects, wasting valuable time? It’s a careful balance that must be observed for every task in the mission. Because in SWAT 4 you can’t ever memorize the locations of your adversaries – they are always randomly placed throughout each map, for each attempt of the mission.

It’s easy to think that the stealth action genre allows you to make a similar choice of not killing to win, but I think it’s a misconception. Games like Splinter Cell (UbiSoft, 2003) and Thief (Looking Glass, 1998) don’t teach you to respect your fellow man; they teach you how to survive. In Splinter Cell, you’re a super spy that has a high tech arsenal at his disposal, but is under-equipped to take on a group of well-armed guards. In Thief, you’re a scrawny brigand who makes a living off of the unprotected riches of powerful lords. Getting into a sword fight with even one guard meant instant death; you were better off to snipe from afar or not engage anyone at all. As such, these games don’t really infer that you shouldn’t be killing anyone, but rather that you should simply avoid conflict altogether. There’s a big difference.

SWAT 4 gives you all the equipment you would expect to find in most anti-terrorism units, which would allow you to just as easily tear through a building leaving a trail of bodies in your wake. Instead, the game stays true to its source material that dictates your utmost priority is protecting life at all costs, unless it is absolutely necessary to take it.

By introducing the more challenging – albeit more rewarding – element of subduing your enemies, you are constantly given a choice. Ask for compliance or shoot to kill? As a gamer that grew up with an itchy mousefinger in Doom and Quake, and moving through the thoughtful first-person action of the Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon series, it’s still quite difficult to resist the defensive urge to pull the trigger when threatened. In the interest of preserving a criminal’s life a new strategy evolves, one that will often get you killed for assuming your assailant will give up his weapon in the face of five SWAT officers. As we all know this isn’t always the case, and the unpredictable outcomes that result are more reflective of real life than the most complex damage modeling or photorealistic graphics. It means questions must be asked, where the answers may never require you to shoot at all.

Comments

One Response to “Teaching the Value of Human Life”

  1. James Schellenberg
    April 20th, 2006 @ 10:17 pm

    Thanks for the great article, Andrew!
    I played SWAT 4 and I thought it was neat. But I also felt all those years of first-person shooter training, and it was hard to unlearn that trigger-happy behaviour. I’d be curious to play the expansion, since it sounds like it makes the SWAT-style play more interesting.

Leave a Reply





  • Support Gutterthon 2015!

  • The Book!

  • Of Note Elsewhere

    The Projection Booth watches Night Moves (1975) with special guest host the Gutter’s own Carol. “Arthur Penn’s Night Moves (1975) stars Gene Hackman as Harry Moseby, a private eye trying to find himself in a post-Watergate America. We’re joined by Nat Segaloff, author of Arthur Penn: American Director and Carol Borden of the Cultural Gutter.”

    ~

    At Graveyard Shift Sisters, Ashlee Blackwell considers love in Ganja & Hess. ” It is up to the viewer to map a path that suits their understanding. What writer/director Bill Gunn (who plays Dr. Hess’ assistant) wanted was a disruption of mainstream fare. Gunn didn’t seem too interested in what Hollywood desired, and like many writers, wrote a screenplay that felt personal and needed to be written. It tackles so many themes, it’s almost difficult to begin. While most rely on it being vampiric and about addiction, it’s important to note the journey that Hess and Ganja embark on together. Their romantic entanglement may by one of the most fascinating aspects of the film that is commonly overlooked because it is challenging to simplify.”

    ~

    Friend of the Gutter Less Lee Moore interviews friend of the Gutter Colin Geddes about his work on the new horror streaming service, Shudder.

    ~

    The Bowery Boys Podcast dedicates an episode to New York City in the history of comic books. “In the 1890s a newspaper rivalry between William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer helped bring about the birth of the comic strip and, a few decades later, the comic book.  Today, comic book superheroes are bigger than ever — in blockbuster summer movies and television shows — and most of them still have an inseparable bond with New York City.”

    ~

    Pornokitsch’s One Comic Podcast looks at Red Sonja #10: “To everyone’s surprise, despite some of the covers and the character’s reputation, this isn’t the exploitative boobs’n’swordplay production it could have been. How did it achieve that? Listen and find out.”

    ~

    Los Angeles Magazine has a gallery of self-portraits of Bunny Yeager and a bit about the career of a model and photographer most famous for her pin-up photographs of Bettie Page. “Having dedicated her life to photography and modeling, not to mention publishing 30 books on the subject (one of which shares a name with the Gavlak exhibition), Yeager had an influence on a generation of artist-photographers including Diane Arbus and Cindy Sherman. Arbus even went as far to call her ‘The world’s greatest pin-up photographer.'” (Thanks, Stephanie!)

    ~

  • Spilling into Twitter

  • Obsessive?

    Then you might be interested in knowing you can subscribe to our RSS feed, find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter or Tumblr.

    -------

  • Weekly Notifications

  • What We’re Talking About

  • Thanks To

    No Media Kings hosts this site, and Wordpress autoconstructs it.

  • %d bloggers like this: