Counter Spy Video Game

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.

Counter Spy David Nottingham

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.

Counter Spy America
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.

Counter Spy Russia

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.

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

16 comments

  1. Yeesh. I love video games, but I wouldn’t play this. I’m sick of moral relativism. Sounds like they’re trying to cater to the liberal gamers who praise communism and demonize the United States and capitalism. I’m not surprised they’d pull a stunt like that….. people conveniently forget all the people who were killed by communism. 12-20 million people were butchered by the Soviet Union, for example.

  2. Everybody knows that Hitler killed about 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. This is appropriate, since the Holocaust should never be forgotten. Much fewer, however, would know that Stalin’s regime caused about 20 million deaths.

    Doug, how do you feel about the recent game Wolfenstein: New Order? It’s basically set in an alternate world in the 1960s in which the Nazis won WWII and rule the world. You fight against the regime as a U.S. Spec Ops operative. Pretty different concept; and one from a much larger developer and publisher, but the degree to which it distorts reality is comparable to Counter Spy.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Zach. To tell you the truth, I’ve never been too into Wolfenstein. I think I was too young for the original, although I believe when “Doom” came out there was a secret level where you could play Wolfenstein. I’m not opposed to warping reality per se. I think my last line sort of sums up my feelings.

      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 … was accurately depicted.

      So in a game like Wolfenstein, if the Nazis are the bad guys the U.S. and its allies are the good guys, I’m fine with it. If they changed the game so you had to kill the Nazi and the Americans because they were both evil (one just a bit hairier than the other), then I’d be annoyed.

      The same thing goes with the Cold War. The U.S. was clearly — clearly — the side that needed to come out on top if freedom and individual liberty are at the top of your priority list. That’s not to say the U.S. is perfect — but it is night and day when compared to the U.S.S.R. Want to make Counter Spy? Cool. Just don’t make a moral equivalence between the U.S. and the nation that was sending people off to gulags to die horrible rotten deaths, etc.

  3. This poses an interesting question. Is it a liberal bend on history, or just plain ignorance of history?

    In some sense towards the end of the cold war we were making mockery of it here in the west; Rocky vs Drago for example. I’d imagine most people younger than I know there was contention between the ussr and us, from movies like miracle and whatnot; but it seems lost on how ruthless those iron curtain regimes were.

    Almost all that comment here (if not everyone) are pretty astute when it comes to history, but many are not, games like this don’t help.

    1. This poses an interesting question. Is it a liberal bend on history, or just plain ignorance of history?

      I think much of the time it’s an ignorance of history. That is because either a.) they didn’t learn about it in school, or b.) they didn’t learn about it properly.

      When I was in high school one might conclude history went as follows: 1. Revolutionary War. 2. Slavery 3. Civil Rights Movement 4. Vietnam 5. What do you guys think about Clinton? He’s cool, right? He plays the saxophone.

      I think I benefited not so much from attending school, but by having a house filled with books and parents who encouraged me to read. I think high school taught me a lot about navigating difficult social situations, but the education I received on many levels was somewhat embarrassing. I think I had some very nice people trying to teach me — yes, there were amazing teachers — but I think the education system was well into the unraveling process at that point.

      I think the makers of Counter Spy have a cursory knowledge of the Cold War, but it probably has more to do with watching movies than reading actual history books. Even the creative director said it was partially influenced by Dr. Strangelove. Why read an 800 page book by a former Communist when you can just watch Dr. Strangelove? Sigh…

    2. I guess when I went thru they were a little better about teaching the beginnings of the cold war, the Marshall Plan, and where the iron curtain was drawn. But I wholeheartedly agree self study and a love of reading built much of my knowledge.

      Like Andrew, I also read the Turtledove books, I found them enjoyable.

      I remember a highschool student at my store a few years back had to write something on the fall of the Berlin wall. I saw the articles she had over her shoulder in the break room, and we got to talking about it. She didn’t really have a concept of the cold war and how the east German regime was so corrupt and cutthroat, and why that wall falling was a joyous celebration. She was a good student too, that’s why I figure it’s more an ignorance of history. She knew it was a big deal, but was having a hard time filling in the gaps from her textbook.

    3. In some sense towards the end of the cold war we were making mockery of it here in the west; Rocky vs Drago for example. I’d imagine most people younger than I know there was contention between the ussr and us, from movies like miracle and whatnot; but it seems lost on how ruthless those iron curtain regimes were.

      The thing with Rock IV was that even with the cartoonish nature of the match-up, it still was a celebration of American ideals. Think about the scene where Rocky breaks free of the Soviet secret police and literally runs up a mountain until he reaches top. Awesome! The symbolism is amazing… Stallone isn’t perfect, but his understanding of what makes a person heroic is pretty spot-on.

  4. In my late teens and early twenties I enjoyed reading Alternate History Fiction, mainly by Harry Turtledove. I had been studying World War 2 in history and his World War series basically asked the question “what would have happened in World War 2 if an alien species invaded.” Was it classic literature? No, but it merged my love of history and Sci-Fi into one.

    I still enjoy history and I love spy fiction, but this leaves me flat. Its another case of “America is the bad guy” that your liberal entertainment industry seems to love to produce because its too afraid to label any other country as the bad guy. Recent films Non-Stop and Olympus has fallen featured Americans with a military or intelligence background becoming terrorists and as a Non-American I believe this does an injustice to the real people who put their lives on the line.

    Not only that but the agency you work for in the game is “if SPECTRE were the good guys.” I wonder of Dan Slott of Geoff Johns had a hand I it as they love villains more than heroes.

    1. Recent films Non-Stop and Olympus has fallen featured Americans with a military or intelligence background becoming terrorists and as a Non-American I believe this does an injustice to the real people who put their lives on the line.

      That’s the other thing: we’re sending this stuff out all over the world. The message is that we’re the bad guys! Huh? Thanks a lot, Hollywood.

      Not only that but the agency you work for in the game is “if SPECTRE were the good guys.” I wonder of Dan Slott of Geoff Johns had a hand I it as they love villains more than heroes.

      Zing!

  5. “I think much of the time it’s an ignorance of history. That is because either a.) they didn’t learn about it in school, or b.) they didn’t learn about it properly.

    When I was in high school one might conclude history went as follows: 1. Revolutionary War. 2. Slavery 3. Civil Rights Movement 4. Vietnam 5. What do you guys think about Clinton? He’s cool, right? He plays the saxophone.”

    I was in the same boat, Doug. Except when I was in high school from 2004 to 2008, it went a bit like this: 1. Revolutionary War. 2. Slavery. 3. Civil Rights Movement. 4. Vietnam. 5. Bush is an “evil war criminal and the American Hitler.” 6. “Barack Obama and/or Hillary Clinton will save us and lead us into a new Golden Age, so vote for them in 2008!”

    Luckily, my parents were a lot like yours in that they encouraged me to read. Although being in school no doubt helped me with social situations, I’ve always maintained that I learned more reading outside school than I did in the classroom. Not that I didn’t have good teachers, because I did, but a lot of them seemed to leave stuff that actually mattered out. I mean, in school I was taught how FDR was basically Jesus for creating the New Deal and leading us to WW2. Outside of school I learned the New Deal set us on the path to become the welfare state we are today, FDR imprisoned Japanese-Americans and that when the Supreme Court struck down bits of the New Deal as unconstitutional, he tried to stack the court with justices who agree with him. That’s just one example.

    “I think the makers of Counter Spy have a cursory knowledge of the Cold War, but it probably has more to do with watching movies than reading actual history books. Even the creative director said it was partially influenced by Dr. Strangelove. Why read an 800 page book by a former Communist when you can just watch Dr. Strangelove? Sigh…”

    It wouldn’t surprise me. A lot of Hollywood screenwriters seem to get their history from other movies as opposed to actually reading history books.

    “I still enjoy history and I love spy fiction, but this leaves me flat. Its another case of “America is the bad guy” that your liberal entertainment industry seems to love to produce because its too afraid to label any other country as the bad guy. Recent films Non-Stop and Olympus has fallen featured Americans with a military or intelligence background becoming terrorists and as a Non-American I believe this does an injustice to the real people who put their lives on the line.”

    I get sick of that, too, Andrew. It’s as though those are the only types of villains they can come up with, and that’s pathetic. Not to mention, as you said, insulting toward those who put their lives on the line to protect this country’s freedoms.

    A lot of anti-war movies from the 2000s tanked because Americans were simply fed up with Hollywood telling them how awful they supposedly were. Instead of wising up, Hollywood went to back to disguising political movies as sci-fi movies, such as Avatar, which had an American corporation as the bad guys, battling the “innocent natives” of a faraway planet. It did well because most people saw a sci-fi movie with great special effects, even though I saw right through and it’s easy to see that’s nothing more than “Dances with Wolves” in space. And James Cameron admitted it was an anti-American flick.

    “Not only that but the agency you work for in the game is “if SPECTRE were the good guys.” I wonder of Dan Slott of Geoff Johns had a hand I it as they love villains more than heroes.

    LOL! Will Blofeld switch bodies with James Bond and become the superior 007? Or will Blofeld join MI6? In all seriousness, I think there’s a real problem when two writers like villains more than heroes. I mean, I will never understand why the comics review media sugarcoated Inferior Spider-Man and acted as though it was more “interesting” than regular Spider-Man. In Johns’ case, he’s the Chief Creative Officer of DC (I use the term “creative” very loosely). Do you really want someone with a morally relativistic worldview running your company, DC?

    1. Your history class timeline definitely seems like a liberal twist on history!

      Oddly enough, both you and Doug mentioned Vietnam, yet we pretty much glossed over that; and I went through school much closer to the Vietnam era than you guys! I suppose there’s individual teacher bias also.

    2. “Your history class timeline definitely seems like a liberal twist on history!”

      It definitely was. A few of my teachers didn’t even try to hide their liberal beliefs. Thankfully I read a lot outside school and learned things they deliberately left out of the lessons.

      “Oddly enough, both you and Doug mentioned Vietnam, yet we pretty much glossed over that; and I went through school much closer to the Vietnam era than you guys! I suppose there’s individual teacher bias also.”

      Really? That’s weird. As for my classes, the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars were completely glossed over unless the teacher wanted to make the aforementioned “Bush is a war criminal and the American Hitler’ statement.

    3. That’s what I found to be an interesting question, I’m leaning towards a general ignorance of history; and you paint a strong case for liberal bias. We all agree reading on one’s own is the way to go. As I said initially, everyone here is knowledgeable in history; and the common denominator often seems our individual drive to learn.

      Hopefully someone reading the post will be inspired to read up on history, there’s a lot of cool stuff there that is missing from school classrooms.

    4. “Hopefully someone reading the post will be inspired to read up on history, there’s a lot of cool stuff there that is missing from school classrooms.”

      I would hope that people would be inspired to read up on things you don’t hear about in classrooms. I may have mentioned it before, but I started reading a far younger age than most people: two or three. My reading level was well above anyone else in my age group and I started getting into non-fiction (especially history) at a young age. Perhaps as a means of “balancing things out,” I was bad at math and needed to have special tutors to help me with that. Or “help” me, because a lot of them spent more time yelling at me for not doing it the “correct way.”

      “That’s what I found to be an interesting question, I’m leaning towards a general ignorance of history; and you paint a strong case for liberal bias. We all agree reading on one’s own is the way to go. As I said initially, everyone here is knowledgeable in history; and the common denominator often seems our individual drive to learn.”

      I think if my parents hadn’t encouraged me to read outside the classroom, I’d be a brainless sheep like many people in my generation are. In high school in particular, I was always a bit appalled that most people my age were more interested in partying and drinking than anything else. Yeah, I didn’t party in high school, nor did I consume my first drink until I was at the legal age to do so. I avoided trouble as much as possible in high school and managed to avoid getting into fights or anything, although there were several times where that COULD have happened, like at the Veteran’s Day pep fest my senior year. So I was a bit “boring” and my so-called “friends” criticized me for it, but being boring kept me out of trouble.

    5. I wasn’t afraid to speak my mind in the classroom, though, as you know, even from a young age. That got my grades docked frequently because the teachers in question didn’t like that I wasn’t a drone, such as when I criticized “An Inconvenient Truth” in eleventh grade and an anti-Fox News documentary in twelfth grade, but I will never apologize for speaking my mind.

    6. When I was in high school one might conclude history went as follows: 1. Revolutionary War. 2. Slavery 3. Civil Rights Movement 4. Vietnam 5. What do you guys think or George H. W. Bush …..man am I getting old?

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