In The World of Wrestling, Barthes describes a professional wrestling match as a display that “takes up the ancient myths of Suffering and Humiliation”. The act of one man putting another in a hold, immobilizing him while his face contorts in agony, symbolizes an agony that goes beyond defeat. It represents torture and submission in a way that no touchdown, homerun, or even bloody hockey fight can convey. There is duration and struggle to these moments, and they are used to multiple effects. These moments of submission can be a great injustice, like when a heel breaks the rules and catches his opponent off guard with a well-placed folding chair. But they can also signify redemption when the heel gets what’s coming to him in the end.
More than that, victory in professional wrestling is supposed to be an act of justice.
The heel is brought before the crowd and humiliated. Eventually, the face always wins (or the heel becomes a face, but that’s a whole different recipe that the Rock is cooking).
A video game that forces the player to actively participate in the forgery of righteousness hits too close to home for the intended audience. It would serve as a reminder that retribution is often more symbolic than meaningful. Whether it is the trial of a murderer, the bombing of a country that used chemical weapons, or a cringe-inducing hold that leaves the Iron Sheik pretending to be crippled, violence does not create justice.
We like to believe that it does, but at best an act of violence is a deterrent and at worst it is an accelerant towards greater strife.
These acts of violence are inflicted upon a target, but they are directed at the audience who watches from afar. And that audience–the people who play games like WWF: No Mercy–are not interested in participating in the kabuki. They want to watch. They want to believe that it’s real, or at least that it means something. That is why they cannot be allowed to participate. As soon as you let them participate–as soon as you let people in on the portrayal of the act and make them the perpetrators of fake or meaningless violence–they are turned off by the idea. No one would buy that video game.
No one bought Spec Ops: The Line, after all.