Video Games and the Simulation of International Conflict
Screen shot from Six Days In Fallujah (Atomic Games, 2009) which proved so controversial for its depiction of recent conflict in Iraq that the game was never published.
The website e-International Relations has a short but useful piece by Marcus Shulzke on the simulation of international conflict in video games:
Video games are important political media, yet they receive little attention from political scientists. Even studies of the political implications of popular culture and new media rarely discuss video games. This is a serious oversight, which I hope to correct by calling attention to some of the many ways in which video games, especially video games about armed conflict, play a role in international politics. I will start by discussing how video games differ from other media. I then explore four dimensions of military video games’ political significance. First, political actors use video games as strategic communications tools that project soft-power through entertainment media. Second, video games simulate recent and current events in ways that may help to construct, and in some cases reconstruct, those events. Third, video games create imaginary conflicts that explore threat scenarios, the efficacy of military force, and the moral boundaries of warfare. Finally, video games can have critical import when they are used to question government policies or the conventions of the military gaming genre.
He concludes by noting:
The presence of critical themes and opportunities for critical interventions in games makes it important to avoid reductionist analyses of games that focus entirely on how they distort real events or glorify war. As with other media, games are open to multiple interpretations and can be politically significant in different ways depending on which interpretations they can sustain. The significance of video games for international politics is therefore multi-dimensional and calls for research that can account for the many nuances of the genre and of individual games.
These are all issues we’ve discussed before at PAXsims, in the context of both digital and manual conflict simulations. Indeed, most of this website is devoted to how games and simulations can illuminate conflict issues. See, for example:
- On strategic communications, see: Iran, covert information operations, and the politics of video games (strategic communication), plus a subsequent piece on CNN on video game wars.
On construction, reconstruction, threat scenarios, and use of force, see: Learning about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through simulations: The case of PeaceMaker (Israel-Palestine), plus our reviews of contemporary and near-future themed manual wargames such as Labyrinth (post-9/11 terrorism), A Distant Plain (Afghanistan), Persian Incursion (Israel vs Iran), and many others.
On the moral boundaries of warfare, see our various discussions of international humanitarian law and video games.
Critical perspectives on warfare are addressed in games such as Zaytoun or 1000 days of Syria.