The Hidden Politics Of Counter-Strike 1.6

Special to Game Losers by The Class Conscious Gamer

“Remember, terrorism is the surgical strike capability of the oppressed. Keep on keepin’ on!”

–Man selling T-shirts, Slacker, 1991

As an Anarcho-Foyeurist and political radical in general, I thoroughly believe politics penetrates every corner of the mind and every facet of society. As such, I do not believe there to be a single work of art or creation of man untouched by some form of ideology, no matter how small or how big. To this end, today I’ll be writing about what I have analyzed to be an underlying ideology in the 1999 video game “modification”-cum-retail product Counter-Strike, colloquially referred to among gamers as Counter-Strike 1.6.

Counter-Strike Box

To give a sort of context of the meta-game surrounding the particulars (the scenarios or game avatars players are given to choose from), it seems necessary to explain the available modes of play (each revolving around a different facet of terrorism). In the retail version of Counter-Strike, three different modes are included.

  • Demolition scenarios revolve around the “terrorist” side having to plant a bomb at one of two objectives that they then must ensure detonates by protecting it for a period of time after it is set to explode.
  • The hostage rescue scenarios require the Counter-Terrorist team to lead non-player controlled hostage characters to an “escape” zone after rescuing them from the terrorists to win the round.
  • The rarely-played assassination mode only has one included scenario in the unmodified game, the objective of which is for the Counter-Terrorists to lead a player controlled character known as the “VIP” to an escape zone while the terrorists attempt to kill him.

The scenarios (referred to by gamers as “levels” or “maps”) that players are allowed to choose from in Counter-Strike include the aforementioned assassination of a VIP aboard an oil rig, Counter-Terrorists raiding an airport to rescue hostages aboard a landed jet, terrorists bombing all manner of nondescript buildings, bombing Aztec ruins, bombing a tourist attraction, taking hostages in nondescript buildings, and so on. Some of these scenarios have no narrative at all, and the narrative framing of those that do generally paint the terrorist side as comically evil and wanting to destroy things and hurt people for no concrete reason. By juxtaposing a thoroughly childish idea of what causes terrorism (if any cause is given at all besides wanton destruction) with the realistic aesthetic of terrorists striking an area and killing people easily reveals the prejudices of the designers. To think that an organized group of people would set out to do large amounts of material or physical harm for no meaningful reason to a population or government is pure Western fallacy. To craft a work based on these ignorant ideas is tantamount to creating propaganda.

Even more telling than some of these scenarios, and indeed probably the entire game’s most tacit approval of racist Western imperialism, are the characters of each team in the game (known as “terrorists” and “counter-terrorists”). On the side of the “counter-terrorists” we have the much lauded Seal Team 6, the German GSG-9, the famous British SAS, and France’s GIGN. These require no real further explanation as you can read about the real-life forces these are based on, and the deeds they have done, and draw your own conclusions from there.

On the all-fictional “terrorist” team, you can choose to play as the “Phoenix Connexion” described as operating out of Eastern Europe, the “Elite Crew” described by the game as a “Middle Eastern fundamentalist group bent on world domination and various other evil deeds,” the “Arctic Avengers” from Sweden, and “Guerilla Warfare”, which the game describes using the following: “A terrorist faction founded in the Middle East, this group has a reputation for ruthlessness. Their disgust for the American lifestyle was demonstrated in their 1982 bombing of a school bus full of Rock and Roll musicians.”

Quite telling how the only terrorists from Western areas are completely drawn from the makers’ imagination and the rest are…from the Middle East. And are “Fundamentalists” who hate “Freedom”. Combine this with the fact that these terrorists—at least in Counter-Strike‘s designer’s understanding—never strike for any real reason and are just out to kill and destroy, and you start to put together the designer’s milquetoast and neo-liberal understanding of geopolitics and the oppressed people of the planet.

Opposite of the terrorist team are Orwell’s “rough men who stand ready to fight” and the de-facto “good guys”—various Western military and police groups.

Though Counter-Strike was created in the late 90s, it still describes the modern game industry’s general line of politics regarding anything but the latest small surge of liberal feminism, with its tacit and unthinking approval of imperialist force and liberal-approved Bill Maher-style casual racism. What I’ve written here easily applies to many politically generic and mechanically boring shooters that are being designed as we speak or have recently been released, making this not just a “critiquing nostalgia” thinkpiece, but also showing that the game industry—specifically shooters—has barely moved one iota into any critical arena and is still, by and large, masturbatory military pornography and a reflection of the boring ideas of the people who both design and play them.

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