The Cultural Gutter

going through pop culture's trash since 2003

"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 The Gutter

  • The Book!

  • Of Note Elsewhere

    We have been bereft since GWAR lost Oderus Ungerus. But lift up your heads and rejoice, fans of GWAR, there is a new member. She is Vulvatron! (via @saladinahmed)

    ~

    Throne of the Crescent Moon author Saladin Ahmed has posted “a micro-mini Crescent Moon Kingdoms world guide that had previously only been available as part of a UK-exclusive ebook” for people to use in their roleplaying games. But even if you aren’t a gamemaster, it’s pretty sweet.

    ~

    At We Are Respectable Negroes, Chauncey Devega interviews friend of the Gutter Mark D. White about the virtues of Captain America. “In this, the ninth episode, of the second season of WARN’s podcast series, we talk about what comic books and superheroes can tell us about philosophy and politics, work through what makes someone ‘heroic,’ the ways that the general public often misunderstands and misreads the Captain America character, as well as how American exceptionalism, race, and identity relate to superhero and other types of comic books and graphic novels.”

    ~

    Alexander Chee writes about difficulty some have in evaluating comics or even in taking them seriously. “As a frequent juror on prizes, colonies and fellowships, I am, it could be said, so tired of this, that in fact, I will fight you for Roz Chast’s right to be on this list. I will fight you for the right for Bechdel to get that MacArthur. In a ring, covered in grease, MMA style. That is how sick of it I am.”

    And Dylan Meconis has some suggestions on how to improve writing about comics. “This leaves all the critics who are just beginning their journey into comics reading, or who have yet to be entirely won over to the medium but want to keep an open mind (perhaps due to peer pressure: I remember a literati cocktail party where somebody near me anxiously muttered ‘I guess we’re all supposed to read graphic novels now.’) These brave souls are willing to give it a try, but they tend to make a lot of mistakes when they first start out.” (Thanks, Gareth!)

    ~

    At Black Girl Nerds, Jamie Broadnax writes a powerful piece about racism, cosplaying, police violence and the homicide of Darrien Hunt. “The first thing we need to do is NOT let this story scare us nor intimidate us into believing that we should be fearful of cosplaying.  We should still encourage others who may not yet have participated in cosplay to know that there are several communities for people of color to have safe spaces where they can be embrace and be their nerdy selves. If there is little to no news about this incident on other mainstream geek sites that feature cosplayers, then framing this around race is pertinent and they should be called out on their silence.  Even IF this is not an incident where Darrien Hunt was actively cosplaying, the tone has already been set and anyone who is a part of the cosplay community should address this matter.  Many Black cosplayers are concerned about this, and still wonder if they would be viewed as ‘suspicious’ walking down the street.”

    ~

    Nerds of Color announces that their own David Walker will be writing Dynamite’s Shaft comic. Denys Cowan shares the cover for Shaft #1 drawn by Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz. Sanford Greene shares some his cover work here and here. Black Comix posts Ulises Farinas’ cover.  Comics Wow has more and previews covers. (Via Black Comix and World of Hurt)

    ~

  • 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: