Why I Play Spy

I’ve always been fascinated with being unknown. I tend to dress simply and I tend to speak quietly and I tend not to be noticed. I love the anonymity of the internet and am constantly dismayed by the abuse of it. Sometimes I like to squeeze into tight places like closets and gaps in a wall and feel like I’ve disappeared into the stone and wood of the building and become part of it.

I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of having a mutable identity, with being a different person from day to day. There is a constant tension in my mind between my resentment at having to be just one person, with just one identity, and my desire for safety and stability. Sometimes, for just a moment, when I’m around other people, I’m able to forget exactly which one I am.

I’ve always been fascinated by the sense of getting into someone’s thoughts, knowing what they’d do, and defeating them with the power of empathy. This emerges from my fascination with mutable identity, because once you’re able to slip out of your mind and into theirs it’s just a small step to use that against them.

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It’s a remarkable thing about multi-player FPSes in general how much you can tell what someone’s thinking merely by what they do in game, with just the slightest variations in facing… this is important in two ways when you play spy. First, from your perspective, you have to be careful about what you’re communicating to the people you’re trying to fool, and second, from theirs, you have to know the MOMENT that they’ve figured you out so that you can get out of there alive (or make a last ditch effort for a desperate kill).

And the most reliable indicator? Eye contact! Between goofy FPS characters! Players tend to look past their allies and ignore them in order to focus on their opponents. Thus, any time the enemy team is looking at you you want to avoid looking at other enemies and look at your allies as though they’re enemies, and whenever an enemy looks right at you it’s a good indicator that it’s time to make yourself scarce.

(Of course, the intriguing Catch-22 here is that if you’re not looking at your opponents you won’t be able to tell when they’re looking at you. This can get a bit nerve-wracking…)

I think the way human body language seeps into the mode of communication even in an entirely constructed game world is amazing, but relatively few games actually do anything to support that interaction. TF2’s spy mechanics are the only instance I know of of a game not only having this layer of communication as a central gameplay mechanic, but making lying through that channel of information a foundation of gameplay. Frankly, I don’t believe it was done altogether intentionally.

Regardless. I like being anonymous, I like being mutable, I like being able to trick people.

Let us dearly hope I never find my way into politics.

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