Around the same time we were reading Heart of Darkness in class, I came across a videogame released this year that was heavily inspired by the novel. The game Spec Ops: The Line is a triple A title that at face value looks like any other first person shooter. On the contrary, the content of the game is a critique of games like Call of Duty that present war as more of an escapist fantasy than actually demonstrating the horrible toll it takes on soldiers. The game doesn’t shy away from all the moral ambiguity of war and the grotesque images and situations soldiers find themselves in on a daily basis. It intends to make the player feel uncomfortable, much in the same vein has how Heart of Darkness shows the horrors of colonialism in great detail.
Heart of Darkness is about Marlow’s descent into the jungles of Africa looking for Mr. Kurtz, a company man who has become ill. Along his journey, men are constantly telling Marlow about how eloquent and intelligent Kurtz is. Marlow also sees many slaves and how the company men treat them. Marlow sees the native Africans as primitive humans that need civilizing. After months of flowing down the Congo on a steamboat, Marlow finally gets to Kurtz station. He sees that his quarters are lined with decapitated heads. Kurtz, in his time isolated in the jungle, has become a savage who has convinced the native people that his a God. He has become ruthless but also very ill. The book makes a point on how civilization is built upon darkness, whether it be war or slavery.
Spec Ops has many similarities with Heart of Darkness. In the game you play has Martin Walker, a solider who is looking for a war hero Coronel John Konrad (an obvious nod to Joseph Conrad) in a now war ridden Dubai. Throughout the game the character you control becomes more and more ruthless killing civilians and other American soldiers. The game makes it clear that you taking a decent into madness as you start to play portions of the game over again. It’s as if this war is Walker’s own purgatory. You are essentially Kurtz in this game, starting off with noble intentions but then being overcome by the horrors of the world around you. At one point in the game you come across a hanging dead civilian and a trophy achievement pops up on the screen called “The Horror” which of course is yet another nod to Kurtz’s last words in the novel. This game is one of many examples of how Joseph Conrad’s novel has stood the test of time and continues to be a source of thought provoking story telling.