The word “wargames” might seem like a contradiction in terms. After all, the declaration “This is war” is meant to signal that things have turned deadly serious, that there is no more playing around. Yet the practices of war are intimately entangled with practices of gaming, from military videogames to live battle reenactments. How do these forms of play impact how both soldiers and civilians perceive acts of war?
This Quick Take considers how various war games and simulations shape the ways we imagine war. Paradoxically, these games grant us a sense of mastery and control as we strategize and scrutinize the enemy, yet also allow us the thrilling sense of being immersed in the carnage and chaos of battle. But as simulations of war become more integrated into both popular culture and military practice, how do they shape our apprehension of the traumatic realities of warfare?
Covering everything from chess to football, from Saving Private Ryan to American Sniper, and from Call of Duty to drone interfaces, War Games is an essential guide for anyone seeking to understand the militarization of American culture, offering a compact yet comprehensive look at how we play with images of war.
About the Author
JONNA EAGLE is an associate professor of film and media in the department of American studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa. She is the author of Imperial Affects: Sensational Melodrama and the Attractions of American Cinema (Rutgers University Press, 2017).
"Let Eagle’s brisk storytelling shuttle you through a labyrinth of training simulators, re-enactments, video games, epic films, and more. You will be rewarded with a staggeringly rich meditation on our cultural obsession with representing the unrepresentable. From capture the flag to capture the real, I know of no other text that delivers an Olympian glimpse of the whole spectrum with such breadth, clarity, and style." — Roger Stahl
"As Eagle’s comprehensive overview of war gaming shows, war cannot be understood apart from its mediation. The visual, narrative and operational logics of war games have shaped the experience of warfighting through and through, often to the detriment of those who fight or get caught in the crossfire." — Stacy Takacs
"Lucid and engaging, War Games describes a world permeated by symbolic figurations of war, from toy soldiers, to full scale combat simulations, to the screen media of film and video games. A fascinating, well-written work." — Robert Burgoyne