War Games and History: War, Violence, and Enemies in History-Based First-Person Shooters
Christine Smith-Simonsen and Holger Pötzsch, both UiT Tromsø

AAA computer game titles are today among the widest distributed cultural expressions worldwide. In particular young adults spend a significant amount of time daily playing games. Among the most popular titles are war-themed games such as the Call of Duty-series that, however loosely, connect their game worlds to recognizable historical settings and frames. Because of the significant exposure of people at a malleable age to these games, scholarly focus on the historical content, and on the rhetorical devices through which this content is framed, emerge as an important part of contemporary cultural and media criticism.

In addressing the narrative frames and procedural rhetoric through which Call of Duty: Black Ops represents and rescripts the Bay of Pigs incident on Cuba in 1961, the present paper sketches out a methodological template for an assessment of potential memory-effects connected to history-based, simulated game worlds. Drawing upon the distinction between intramedial, intermedial, and plurimedial levels of analysis of cultural expressions suggested by Astrid Erll, we outline and systematize the devices and means through which a particular memory-making potential is created at a textual level. Doing this, we do not argue for a determinate impact of games on players or historico-political discourses, but merely identify the textual features through which certain responses are invited and certain understandings encouraged. Finally, we argue for a form of digital orientalism that tacitly guides the ways through which game characters and groups that fall outside a hegemonic US/Western frame are represented and simulated. Through its massive distribution, this audio-visual rhetoric might inform not only imposed, but also self-ascribed forms of subjectivity and practice.

Within the WARGAME-project the present paper aims at developing conceptual grounds that facilitate a subsequent empirical testing of how certain text-based memory-making potentials do, or do not, translate into measurable effects at an individual or group level.

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