Transgressive Content and Meaning Making Processes in War Games
Kristine Jørgensen, University of Bergen

Digital games have a reputation for including controversial content, as players often interact with the gameworld through simulated violence. The infamous “No Russian” level of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 lets the player be part of terrorist group attack on an airport, and in the Grand Theft Auto series it is not only accepted but also expected that violence and crime is rewarded and a part of the entertainment value. While there is a social concern whether such content can be morally or psychologically harmful, digital games are becoming accepted as artistic forms of expression, and as such, they are expected to be able to challenge established norms and spawn reflection by way of simulation and procedures.

The aim of this paper is to discuss transgressive game content with particular attention towards war games. Transgressive game content should be understood as enactments, events, or representations that “violate[s] certain beliefs and sentiments of the audience” (Julius 2002, 102). Transgressive game content is thus that which is in conflict with social norms, such as fictional representations that are considered morally or legally transgressive, or gameplay actions that simulate activities and events that would be considered offensive if executed in the actual world.

Whether game content is transgressive or not is a subjective evaluation. Violence is not as a rule experienced as offensive or “unplayable” for players. Nevertheless, in some contexts games may expose the player for actions that put them into uncomfortable ethical situations (Sicart 2009, 215-216). What is experienced as transgressive by one player may not be experienced as thus by a second player. The paper will discuss the basis and boundaries of transgressive content in games and how it interacts and interferes with playfulness with special attention to the player’s subjective view and the negotiation of meaning potentials connected to transgressive content.

The paper will give particular attention to commercial as well as independent war games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, September 12, and KZ Manager.


Julius, A. Transgressions: The Offfences of Art. Thames & Hudson, 2002.

Sicart, M. The Ethics of Computer Games. MIT Press, 2009.

Back to Workshop 1

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License