Call of Post-Modern Warfare – Video Games as Propaganda

‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’: A Cautionary Tale for Post-9/11 America < PopMatters

A recent study by Jayne Gackenbach of Grant McEwan University in Edmonton yielded an interesting result: among a sample group of military officers who experienced nightmares about war, those classified as “high gaming” (playing violent and aggressive games such as Call of Duty several times a week) were found to have nightmares that were less intense and “were more likely to be able to conquer whatever the opposing force was. By contrast, those classified as ‘low gamers’ said the enemies in their dreams were more aggressive, and they expressed having feelings of helplessness [. . .] Gackenbach referred to games like Call of Duty as ‘threat simulators,’ and said they can teach the mind to better deal with dangerous situations even when they arise in nightmares” (Mark Raby, “War Simulation Game Helps Real Soldiers Sleep”, Games Radar, 9 March 2011).

Some realities are beyond the purview of Call of Duty; it is unlikely that we will find a level where we play a veteran suffering from PTSD or attempting to adjust to having lost his legs to a roadside bomb. But Gackenbach and McEwan’s study suggests that Call of Duty has value to real world militaries that extends beyond mere recreation. During Vietnam, the domestic radical group the Weather Underground infamously sought to “bring the war home”, but Call of Duty actually does so, albeit in a markedly different way. The game works tirelessly to habituate us to a postmodern version of warfare: constant, borderless, high-definition.

In 1991, Jean Baudrillard famously declared that the Gulf War did not take place, insofar as the war existed for most Americans primarily as simulation and reproduction, both on the radar screens of generals and the TV sets of people watching at home. It’s not impossible to imagine today’s punchy critical theorist making a similar argument about the post 9/11 “Long War” with the caveat that, for many people, even televised and filmed representations of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan played a supporting role with the conflict’s primary existence in the virtual form of Call of Duty on display in 1 of every 8 American homes. And with its earlier WWII titles and the Vietnam-era story of Black Ops, the game extends its representational dominance into the past.

Although Call of Duty draws influence from big-budget blockbusters, its sheer ubiquity means that films have also begun to emulate the game itself. In its depiction of a desperate battle against a shadowy, poorly understood enemy across shockingly familiar territory, the recent alien invasion yarn Battle: Los Angeles recalls no film inspiration as much as the Modern Warfare games. But the relatively small grosses for that movie are utterly dwarfed by the sales juggernaut of the Call of Duty franchise. Even the entire opening weekend of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was outsold by Black Ops—in just one day.

In the final analysis, Call of Duty functions no differently than any other piece of mass culture, reflecting the anxieties and prejudices of our present. Despite the game’s macho bluster, Call of Duty speaks to us as a culture of fear: fear of terrorism, fear of foreign invasion, fear of duplicity and deceit on the part of our leaders. It helps accustom us to a post-9/11 view of war that is perpetual and global, a conspiratorial view of world events, and an apocalyptic outlook that views collapse and catastrophe as ever imminent.

A game like the upcoming Modern Warfare 3 thus represents another accessory in the booming market for end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it paraphernalia such as gold coins, water purification tablets, and home solar generators. The chief difference is that when compared to most of the merchandise hawked by erstwhile Glenn Beck sponsors, Modern Warfare 3 will undoubtedly be an exceptionally crafted and highly polished product.

Home Page  Public Email  Twitter  Facebook  YouTube  Github   

Writing since ancient times, blogging, e-commercing, and site installing-designing-maintaining since 2001; WordPress theme and plugin configuring and developing since 2004 or so; a lifelong freelancer, not associated nor to be associated with any company, publication, party, university, church, or other institution.

6 comments on “Call of Post-Modern Warfare – Video Games as Propaganda

Commenting at CK MacLeod's

We are determined to encourage thoughtful discussion, so please be respectful to others. We also provide a set of Commenting Options - comment/commenter highlighting and ignoring, and commenter archives that you can access by clicking the commenter options button (). Go to our Commenting Guidelines page for more details, including how to report offensive and spam commenting.

  1. Well not really, Makarov, resembles nothing more than the Gary Oldman role in Air Force One, while Zakhaev is more like General Radek, Jurgen Prochnow’s. In this privatized universe, General Shepherd, fits the archetypes from Colonel Stuart of the Second Die Hard, to General Hummel the antagonist on the Rock, I’ll leave out the byzantine world view of the Metal Gear Soldi series,

  2. We can also reference General Peter McCallister, the all but mustache twirling ‘drug lord in mufti’ of Lethal Weapon, was that another right wing exposition, I think Shane Black would differ with you.

  3. How does any of that contradict any point the writer made? Serious question.

    As for Shane Black – back when he was kind of relevant almost I don’t think anyone was accusing him of being terribly sophisticated politically. He may have conceived of himself as left or liberal – I don’t know, never seen his party ID – but that doesn’t mean that his work wasn’t, at bottom, reactionary or suitable to a reactionary worldview.

    By the same token, the fact that a particular work of art, philosophy, science, or spirituality has appealed to or been take as encouragement by the worst people may not tell you very much at all about its intrinsic value. If Call of Duty and Modern Warfare may help train the “desktop-killers” of today, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re “bad work.” It might be a question worth examining, however.

  4. One could make the argument that anti establishment figures probably starting with Dirty Harry, gained currency in the after math of Vietnam, LW’s Riggs and Murtaugh fit that paradigm as Die Hard’s John McClane, fighting criminals adopting a political pose for private gain, but that would get in the way of the meme, Hunter’s Bob Swagger novels fall in the same category

    • What “meme”?

      Anti-heroes have been popular figures for a very long time – Jesus Christ being one important prototype. The lone warrior who defies a weak establishment, however defined, and kills on behalf of a higher law or following a more personal or more true code of ethics has a long and impressive tradition. You could fill up some space arguing for it as THE tradition of American popular fiction.

  5. The Russia, in this series, is not unlike the almost Boschian landscape of Ghelfi’s Volk series, not to mention some of the recent Post-Ludlum Bourne offerings, It’s a bit of a stretch than arms dealer could garner enough support to become President, ala Zakhaev, but with a KGB man already there is it, It dovetails with the discussion on Miller, and Superhero and Villain archetypes. Batman vs. Ras Ghul and the Joker,

Commenter Ignore Button by CK's Plug-Ins

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Noted & Quoted

TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

Comment →

Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

Comment →

[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

Comment →
CK's WP Plugins


Extraordinary Comments

CK's WP Plugins