Killing in the Name? Towards Aesthetic and Affective Reflection on Military Videogames

Rob Young shows how the medium selectively constructs a narrative of warfare and soldiering. Nick Robinson explains how military video games are the way in which we “experience” the war on terror.

Rob Young's Abstract

Since the end of the Cold War, the emergence of an aesthetically-interested popular geopolitics has allowed from the disruption of geographical specifications of power and the Cartesian mapping of the world ‘as it really is’. Although the image of global security that is offered within media forms such as film and television has been widely studied, its depiction within war-themed video games has attracted less attention. This presentation will indicate a need to surpass the hyper-moral criticism common in the examination of video gaming, supplanting this with a closer consideration of how the medium selectively constructs a narrative of warfare and soldiering. To this end I aim to develop on the base offered by Ahall and Borg in their analysis of 24 (2013, pp. 196-207), offering a close examination of selected scenes from within the HomeFront (2011), Spec Ops: the Line (2012) and Splinter Cell: Blacklist (2013) video games.

Nick Robinson's abstract

Military Videogames - from a virtual to a lived experience of war?

Military videogames are perhaps the pre-eminent way in which we 'experience' the war on terror. With ever fewer of us with direct connection to the military, millions of us now 'actively participate’ in the war on terror through playing military combat games (Stahl refers to these players as virtual citizen soldiers). At the heart of videogaming is process, with players experiencing the parameters of a fixed game world (the possibility space) in order to open up reflective spaces and potentially learn about political reality (procedural rhetoric) (Bogost). The paper reflects on the importance of aesthetics in framing what we 'learn' or 'feel' from playing military games. Does it matter that what I term mainstream military shooter games script the enemy-friend distinction as immutable over time? Does it matter that such games efface spaces for historical 'rupture' when many films suggest that trauma and reflection are integral to historical war films? What does it mean that war is to be resolved within these games exclusively through a shoot and destroy mechanic with no role for negotiation? How does 'playing first person' affect our connections with characters who conform to a certain (frequently hyper-militarised, masculine) archetype? 

The paper also reflects on two types of critical intervention designed to challenge the ‘mainstream’ – what I term critical military shooters and critical procedural military games. The former, utilize the conventional shoot and destroy mechanic but with explicitly critical intent, albeit with varying degrees of success. The later, specifically use alternative gameplay mechanics (frequently privileging stealth/an absence of combat) to challenge the dominant pro-military narrative within the mainstream. Cumulatively the paper reflects on the impact of these aesthetic experiences of war for players. In short military videogames are much more than 'just a game' as this paper attests. 

There will be an opportunity for networking after the talk.


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