Payne, Matthew T. “War Bytes: The Critique of Militainment in Spec Ops: The Line.” Critical Studies in Media Communication 31(4) (2014): 265-282.
The vast majority of commercial military-themed video games produced after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks celebrate America’s War on Terror as a grave but necessary and patriotic undertaking. This essay argues that the multi-platform Spec Ops: The Line (2012) runs counter to this tradition in recent military entertainment (or militainment) by engendering a host of gameplay displeasures that critique the interactive attractions of mainstream first- and third-person shooters. In particular, the game’s brutal mise-en-scène, its intertextual references to popular war media, and its real and imagined opportunities for player choice create a discordant feeling that lays bare the problematic ease with which most video war games indulge in their nationalistic power fantasies. The result is a game that wields its affective distance as a critique of the necessary illusion that all military shooters trade in, but one that so few acknowledge.