Selective Transgressions: Gendering the Experience of War in Military-Themed Computer Games
Holger Pötzsch, UiT Tromsø

War-themed computer games often excessively exhibit transgressive content. Exploding heads, smashed torsos, or torn off limbs are equally familiar features as acts of torture, remorseless executions, or the killing of large numbers of assumed enemies through air strikes. At the same time, other acts of atrocious violence we know often take place on battlefields and in war zones, such as (mass) rape, the killing of children, or the massive destruction of social- and ecosystems, rarely feature in war-themed AAA-titles.

The present contribution critically engages the inherent selectivity of the genre by further investigating the four specific filters that render war a suitable frame for pleasurable experiences of play. Briefly introducing the violence, consequence, character, and conflict filters, I alert to the implied presence of a metafilter that provides the presentation and experience of war in computer games with a highly gendered dimension. In excluding female, non-hegemonic male, or LGBT-perspectives on and narratives of war this metafilter is one important reason for the continued popularity of war as a game setting for mass entertainment.

After briefly highlighting the constitutive filters of the genre with reference to Call of Duty: World at War (Activision 2008) and a strategy game (tbd), I show how Spec Ops: The Line (Yager Development 2012) challenges these conventions, yet fails to address the gender-based metafilter identified above. Finally, a reading of This War of Mine (11Bit Studios 2015) will show how critical game design can take up, and subvert the discursive effects of, this metafilter by relentlessly exposing players to a variety of structural and direct forms of violence characteristic of authentic war situations, and by adding a distinct gendered dimension to its simulated environments and events. Finally, I will present a way of productively including these perspectives into discussions regarding the transgressive nature of war and violence in computer games.

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