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Killing Is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  308 ratings  ·  45 reviews
ebook, 177 pages
Published 2012 by Stolen Projects
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Daniel Swensen
May 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Not only a highly enjoyable critique of video games (and video game violence in particular), but a great story in its own right, and a fascinating look at the limits and frontiers of what storytelling in video games can be. The author does a great job of taking you through his mental journey as he progresses through the game. Provocative without being fearmongering, and critical without being hysterical, this book is a great example how criticisms of video game violence should be done -- with lo ...more
Mar 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Michael Burnam-Fink
Nov 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012, war
Videogames have come into their own as an art form when they can generate criticism like Killing is Harmless. Chapter by chapter, Keogh explores Spec Ops: The Line as a 'high noon' moment, where shooters a genre become aware of themselves, and begin to comment on their tropes. Every inch of the game, and its links to other works (Call of Duty, Apocalypse Now, Bioshock...) are covered in detail. Fortunately, Keogh doesn't pretend to have answers about the causes or consequences of violence in vid ...more
Mar 14, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017-books
I think it’s fantastic the author, Australian critic and academic Brendan Keogh, wrote this book and managed to publish it at all. A critical analysis of a video game in this form represents a heartening step forward for the field, in my view. It’s great that this all came together.

As for the book itself, it starts off feeling like an academic critique, contextualising the video game, detailing its importance and uniqueness, providing interesting analysis, and so on. As it goes on, that sense sh
Dec 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
I'm going to say that what this is is probably more important than what is within it. This is a serious critical analysis of the game Spec Ops: The Line. Not many video games approach the subject matter within Spec Ops: The Line (largely to do with player agency and holding up a mirror to what modern military shooters have become), and even fewer people are writing books about it. Granted, the number of games warranting critical analysis is small, but it's a growing number. The author attributes ...more
Jan 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
First play the game. Then read this book and everything else you can find about it. I've never read 50k words about a single game before, but I hope more of it keeps coming about even better games in the future.

This book is one big spoiler. It assumes you have played the game at least once and are interested in a critical reading of the text. If you are _sure_ you will never play this, it is a very interesting treatment of one of the best video game works of the past 10 years, Though it'll be a
May 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: ebooks
Killing is Harmless is a rather poignant look at a game that attempts something that very few games out there have done before, commenting on the motivations and factors that drive us as games to slaughter countless virtual people and never question ourselves. It's an interesting look at how Spec Ops: The Line attempts to address these issues throughout the course of its plot.

Whether or not you agree with the author it makes for an engrossing read. It's well written and presents some interesting
Adam Hepton
May 26, 2013 rated it liked it
An interesting reading of an interesting game. Certainly thinks about how it all comes to be - perhaps contrived in parts. It's testament to the subject matter that such an in-depth treatment can be undertaken at all, and it's testament to the author that no stone is left unturned. The real criticism I have of the book is that by playing the game for yourself, its themes and intended impact on the player are clear: making much of the book a journey into self-validation territory.

Worth reading if
Sebastian H
Sep 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Right after reading Walt Williams’ “Significant Zero”, I knew I had to revisit his magnum opus, Spec Ops: The Line. But the sorry status of my old laptop would not permit it, so I had to do the next best thing: revisit this excellent in-depth analysis of that singular experience.

It’s a read that I had already done some years ago, but found that still stands on its own to this day, and further re-readings only strengthen that first impression. It is likely a combination of the incredibly powerfu
Feb 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Getting this through an e-book bundle is what finally pushed me to play the game Spec Ops: The Line. After having played it, and read the book, I can say two things:
First, that the game is very good deconstruction of the modern military shooter, strongly inspired by the book Heart of Darkness and its movie adaptation Apocalypse Now, though I regret knowing so much about the story before going in.
And second, that Brendan Keogh's critical reading of the game is excellent; I probably would have g
Apr 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Bit difficult to review this, as you're essentially reviewing a review of a 'review' - Spec Ops: the Line essentially reviews through the computer game medium the tropes and methods of modern shooter games - the Call of Duty/Battlefields/Uncharteds of this console generation. If you've played Spec Ops: The Line, you should read this - I tend to only play a game once and then I'm done, but I now want to play Spec Ops again with this by my side, picking out all the points that I missed (for exampl ...more
May 10, 2015 rated it liked it
Finally finished this one up! I enjoyed it, although I think it structurally suffers from the sheer length of it; filling a whole book on a reading Spec Ops was an interesting challenge but the games' themes are so consistently repeating that a close read dragged a little, mostly in the early goings for the game's set up. Plus, such a focus on Spec Ops left me craving some more analysis on other games, as the book is speaking to how Spec Ops comments on the shooter genre so often.

But I enjoyed i
Filipe Urriça
Sep 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An amazing critique of a video game that went far beyond storytelling clichés. If you have the opportunity, play the game first then read this fantastic book, because it goes deep in the details of every element of this game. A must read, especially if you enjoy this medium.
Good summary of an interesting game, but suffers from being interspersed with the standard journalist PC commentary.
Apr 29, 2021 rated it it was ok
This is not a good book.

It promises to be something unique in the intro - a "reading" of a well-regarded game (though games with anti-war messages, unreliable narrators, and pointing out issues with ludonarrative dissonance are nothing new, even before Spec Ops was released.) The book starts with the author pointing to design elements or foreshadowing - and that is interesting.

At some point, a little over a third into the book, the author starts reciting the plot.

Games can be fun to play. Games
Jul 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you played Spec Ops: The Line and wanted an in-depth look at the themes in it, look no further. This should be required reading if you played the game.
Dec 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
First important thing worth mentioning regarding this book: it contains heavy spoilers of the game Spec Ops: The Line, plus a couple of minor spoilers for the games Bioshock, Bastion and Grand Theft Auto IV. If you are playing any of these games and don't want to know beforehand what happens in them, you might want to avoid this book until you finish them all. If you're thinking of reading this book as you play Spec Ops: The Line, it may also be a bad idea, since the book is not entirely spoiler ...more
May 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Spec Ops: The Line is an underrated and overlooked gem of a game. It's one of those special cases that leave a mark on your psyche and changes how you view videogames as a medium of storytelling, among other things. It's definitely up there with stalwarts such as BioShock and Red Dead Redemption.

Having said that, this game is worthy of tons of discussion of both casual and academic forms. Keogh walks a fine line, discussing the game's narrative in a clear, coherent manner that is easy to read an
"To kill for yourself is murder. To kill for your country is heroic. To kill for entertainment is harmless."
But is it really? Are shooters really conceived and consumed in a vacuum? These are not questions which either the game at hand or the book answer, but ones which they posit and ponder in different ways. All in all, this is a solid analysis, not to mention the first of its kind, and it actually did shine some light on different symbolic and narrative elements and possible interpretations o
Aug 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
If you enjoy close reading or a thorough analysis of video games as thought-provoking literature, get this. Playing "Spec Ops: The Line" first (or a few times) is ideal. You wouldn't get the same thing out of reading a well-written analysis of Shakespeare in isolation compared to reading it after you'd already formed your own impressions of the original work.

The book is not without flaws: erroneous information is (sometimes) presented or things that I saw were missed, but that doesn't mean the
Jun 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
The guy who wrote this I must say is really, really sensible. I wasn't that much drawn into all the conflicts and contradictions as the author was, but it's a good thing since he's really noticing a lot of interesting stuff, and, with that, he even take a step back to his interpretations mentioned it's might be overthinking the elements of the game. Amazing read for anyone interested in Spec Ops The Line, Heart of darkness and Apocalypse now. And anyone interested in the complicated reality of c ...more
Oct 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
While Keogh probably gives Spec Ops: The Line waaaay too much credit and overanalyses it almost to a fault, there's no denying that this critical reading is a good example of how video games can be experienced in a more analytic fashion. Obviously, The Line lends itself to such analysis far more than some other games, but if Keogh's work was is meant to be a starting point for "real commercial criticism", it's a pretty good starting point, all things considered.

That said, this book is worth much
Nov 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Gamers
The value you will find in this book depends in a large part on the value that you would find in the game Spec Ops: The Line. Since the game's narrative depends on the player being familiar with the various tropes of shooter gameplay, so does this book with its reader.
However, being in the correct category, although not having played the game itself, I found this to be a very powerful piece of writing. Easily more affecting than most books I've read this year.
Come to think of it, I'm now reall
Jan 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The idea of 'critical-readings' of video games has always been a compelling idea to me and It's great to find a work that executes on this so well. Spec Ops: The Line is a hell of a game and Killing is Harmless deconstructs exactly why this squad-based shooter is so very unique and important in a 'post-Bioshock world'. The book itself is very well written and while Keogh makes no claim that his is the definitive interpretation of Spec Ops, Killing is Harmless is the most compelling and well expl ...more
Jan 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
One of the most engaging in depth examinations of a video game that is available. Not only does Keogh bring critical analysis to the narrative, mechanics and themes of the game but he does so with a well written and enjoyable style. It's tempting to class it as an academic text but the accessible writing style makes it a good read for anyone.

Hopefully it prompts more writers to look in depth at games, going beyond the usually found couple of thousand words. Well worth while at such a low price
Tyler Colp
Nov 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Aside from a few grammatical errors, Brendan Keogh's analysis of a game so understated in its intelligence is a great entry into games writing at large. His chapter-by-chapter breakdown unearths ideas and comparisons one wouldn't make without reading his thoughts, and its presented in a long-form format that digs much deeper than any online publication would allow. After reading Killing is Harmless, I hope he inspires others to try their hand at longer critical pieces like this. ...more
Dec 28, 2012 rated it it was ok
I read this a few years ago, but i think my thoughts are still applicable:

i appreciated the intent of book - it puts forth some important ideas, ideas that hold a lot of promise in the world of videogames - both in the development of them and the experiencing of them- however the writing does feel like it's struggling with some of the more abstract concepts that are rolling around in the author's head. He probably could've used a more thoughtful editor at the time.
Mar 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Reading this intensified the impact of Spec Ops: The Line. Read it after you play through the game, you'll gain a lot more as far as contemplating what the game is saying.

This was very useful in singling out a lot of the important events and dissecting the lines and symbols that appear throughout. Keogh caught a lot of the things I missed through a quick run through the game, but also didn't pick up (or at least didn't mention) on some of the things that I did.
Kevin Chu
Nov 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I read this after playing "Spec Ops: The Line" and discussing it at length with my friend who also enjoyed the game's themes. It was a hugely satisfying read in a very nerdy way, but with the way that the author talks about the game and details its events, I think that it can even be enjoyed by people who haven't played the game. It has a lot of great commentary on the desensitization of militarized violence via video games, and is a fun read to boot. ...more
Dec 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: completed-2012
4.5, but sadly, that's not an option. I have a lot to say about this book (and it's topic) but i'm not sure any of it would be appropriate, or come out right, or be warranted... If you're looking at this, reading it, read it, or debating reading it; You most likely know what it's about and what to expect. The score is really all that seems to matter for this review. ...more
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Brendan Keogh, Research Fellow in the School of Communication at Queensland University of Technology, is the author of Killing Is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line.

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