Not to long ago I saw a preview for the upcoming video game Counter Spy. I was excited because of the Cold War look and feel, which seemingly promised users they would go toe-to-toe with the old Soviet Union. On Thursday, Gamtrailers.com released an interview with the Counter Spy’s creative director David Nottingham, and all the anticipation disappeared.
While speaking at the E3 2014, he said:
Counter Spy is a side-scrolling action-stealth game set during the Cold War. It’s kind of our absurdist take on Cold War history. In our game the super villains of our piece are kind of the superpowers. The superpowers are facing off in this space race where they’re trying to be the first to blow up the moon. You’re an agent for a spy agency called COUNTER. If you’re familiar with your Bond mythology, COUNTER is if SPECTRE were the good guys. So you’re trying to prevent both of the superpowers from doing this crazy thing — blow up the moon. And how you do that is sneak into levels — you’re going into these military sites on both sides, creating mayhem, sabotage, stealing the launch plans all geared towards getting to that final level — the big rocket — and stopping it from launching.
Got that message? During the Cold War the United States was basically a “bad” guy. It was no different than the Soviet Union. That isn’t just an “absurdist” take — it’s painfully ignorant. Creating a moral equivalence between the United States and the U.S.S.R. for a video game and then dumbing down the Cold War into a pissing match between two petulant children is, on many levels, intellectually criminal.
Why is it that so many artistic geniuses are historical nincompoops? Yes, it’s a game — and yes, it looks like a lot of fun — but it makes a mockery out of a pivotal point in world history.
Perhaps if Mr. Nottingham had taken some time to read the memoirs of former Communist Whittaker Chambers — the man who proved to the world that Communist espionage rings had penetrated the highest reaches of the U.S. government and who ultimately brought down Alger Hiss — Counter Spy would have played a lot differently.
In 1952, Mr. Chambers wrote in ‘Witness’:
The Communist Party, despite occasional pious statement to the contrary, is a terrorist organization. Its disclaimers are for the record. But its record of kidnappings, assassinations, and murders make the actions of the old Terror Brigade of the Socialist Revolutionary Party look merely romantic. …
Since the Purge, millions of men, women and children in the world have died violently. The 20th Century has put that out of its mind, because it can no longer cope with the enormity of this statistic, the millions it has exterminated in its first fifty years. …
The human horror of the Purge was too close for me to grasp clearly its historical meaning. I could not have said then, what I knew shortly afterwards, that, as Communists, Stalin and the Stalinists were absolutely justified in making the Purge. From the Communist viewpoint, Stalin could have taken no other course, so long as he believed he was right. The Purge, like the Communist-Nazi pact later on, was the true measure of Stalin as a revolutionary statesman. That was the horror of the Purge — that acting as a Communist, Stalin had acted rightly. In that fact lay the evidence that Communism is absolutely evil.
If you have never read ‘Witness,’ you should. It is one of those books that a man must read before he dies. It is soul-stirring and, quite honestly, one of the best defenses of freedom ever written. And, again, it was written by a former Communist.
As a American, I don’t want to play a game where my own country is seen as the “bad” guy. I don’t want to run around American military installations “creating mayhem” and “sabotage,” as Mr. Nottingham so gleefully puts it. I find the idea rather repugnant, even if the video game graphics just-so-happen to be inspired by the classic movie ‘The Incredibles.’
A video game that harkens back to the Cold War should not portray the U.S. as a “bad” guy. Again, Mr. Chambers came to understand quite well the stakes that were being played, even if many Americans at the time were clueless. Some things never change…
“As I stepped down into the dark hall, I found myself stopped, not by a constraint, but by a hush of my whole being. In this organic hush, a voice said with perfect distinctness: “If you will fight for freedom, all will be well with you.” The words are nothing. Perhaps there were no words, only an uttered meaning to which my mind supplied the words. What was there was the sense that, like me, time and the world stood still, an awareness of God as an envelopment, holding me in silent assurances and untroubled peace. There was a sense that in that moment I gave my promise, not with the mind, but with my whole being, and that this was a covenant that I might not break,” (Whittaker Chambers).
Mr. Chambers fled the Communist Party. He literally ran for his life. He contacted the FBI and worked with patriots in the nation’s capital to expose a far-reaching Communist infiltration into the upper echelons of the U.S. government. For that, powerful people tried to destroy his life and drove him to the brink of suicide — but he prevailed.
And now, years later, his struggle and the very real ideological winner-take-all war that he and millions of other Americans fought is a punch line in a video game, which wouldn’t be so bad if the real threat to the world — the former Soviet Union and the Communist Party — was accurately depicted.
I really wanted to play Counter Spy. Now? I think I’ll just re-read chapters of Whittaker Chambers’ ‘Witness.’
Editor’s Note for regular readers: A good portion of the book I’m working on is inspired by ‘Witness.’ My recent move out of Washington, D.C. has slightly sidetracked my writing schedule, but now that things are settling down I plan on getting back on track by next week. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.