Keep It Simple, Stupid:
A concise analysis of Spec Ops: The Line
"Spec Ops: The Line" is a third-person exercise in ludonarrative dissonance - which is to say, a third-person regen-health cover shooter - created by Yager Development and 2K Games. It attempts to "subvert" the "tropes" found in existing regen-health cover shooters despite those games almost all attempting to do the same thing, resulting in a round robin tournament finale where the loser will be declared the boring straight man that all the others are making fun of (spoiler: It's Medal of Honor).
One of the most notable and cited scenes of "Spec Ops: The Line" is the White Phosphorous scene.
This scene depicts a scenario in which the protagonist, while burning enemies alive to death with 84mm incendiary rounds fired from a mortar, accidentally (air quotes) kills some civilians. The player is shocked and surprised to learn that they have killed civilians despite the civilians in question being visibly unarmed and not engaged in combat. From this, gamers learned several valuable lessons. Well, one valuable lesson.
1) Sometimes when you are shooting at people, the people are civilians and shooting them is bad.
One might assume that the basic concept of not shooting unarmed people would be simple enough, but apparently Spec Ops: The Line was a daring piece for breaching this otherwise untouched subject. Perhaps in the future of gaming we can potentially address even more controversial subjects, like "White Phosphorous is technically banned by the Geneva Convention anyways" and "soldiers are actually people so maybe don't kill them all either, especially if they surrender or something".
While many gamers are still reeling from this incredible revelation, it's worth discussing the ways in which other games have discussed similar subject matter with a bit more aplomb.
Call of Duty 4, one of the games that Spec Ops is supposedly subverting, makes it very clear in its equivalent gameplay segment that civilians are not to be targeted. While it could easily be possible to make commentary on the joy that the player is meant to feel by exploding hundreds of enemy soldiers from an invulnerable gunship a mile in the sky, Spec Ops declines to challenge this aspect but instead focuses on the fact that you might be killing civilians. In CoD4, the few civilians in this segment are noted by the fact that they are neither carrying nor shooting weapons, a nuance that apparently escaped Spec Ops' target audience.
Full Spectrum Warrior is a tactics-based game where the player commands one squad composed of two US Army fire teams. In this game, the player does not directly control the soldiers' guns, but rather assigns zones of engagement. The civilians in this game exist in normal gameplay, and unless the player is quick to stop them, soldiers may engage enemies when civilians are in the way. This kills the civilian. Going by the testimony of actual US military personnel, this is far closer to the reality of civilian death in war than Spec Ops' scenario.
ARMA 2 devises similar scenarios - civilians inhabit towns during regular gameplay, and will often be caught up in battles between factions. The high usage of explosives and artillery in this game makes an even more direct statement than FSW, as entire areas will sometimes be targeted for artillery or mortar attacks by individuals incapable of judging the presence of civilians. Contrasted against the direct thermal visuals of Spec Ops' scenario, it's much more reflective of the haze of war. This is compounded by the multiplayer mode in which one side consists of guerillas posing as civilians, a scenario much more in line with the reality of the insurgency in Iraq.
Metal Gear Solid and Rainbow Six even go so far as to say that maybe even killing hostile soldiers is bad - MGS offers non-lethal alternatives such as tranq darts or stealthy avoidance, while Rainbow Six sees some enemies surrendering and offering themselves up for capture.While simplistic, these measures humanize enemies and make the choice of killing or not killing them more meaningful, whereas the always-hostile, always-angry enemies of Spec Ops and similar shooters cannot really be treated like humans from a moral standpoint.
Killing is wrong and bad. This is a lesson that gamers actually had trouble learning and needed help to internalize. Despite this, they seem to still think of themselves as being intellectuals. This is itself a mystery.