Shall We Kill the Pixel Soldier? Paper at Under the Mask, 2009

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This was my first collaborative paper and I must say a big 'thank you' to my co-presenter Jenna Pitchford for her thorough work and cooperation despite tight schedules and other problems. In one of Jenna's presentations in our university, I realised the wider definition of trauma that she was using was vital in analysing videogame experiences and in countering the false politically motivated allegations against games. This is changing now; as Ernest Adams told us, the first console has now been installed in the White House and polemic might now turn to policy in favour of games. However, whatever happens, the need to understand that games do not merely desensitise and that they cause a different level of trauma (some can even raise moral concerns) is imminent. We are not psychologists or trauma specialists but Jenna's work on Gulf and Iraq War narratives and mine on gameplay experiences come together in stating that the problem is more complex than has hitherto been understood.


Shall We Kill the Pixel Soldier? : Perceptions of Trauma, Morality and Violence in Combat Videogames

It felt like I was in a big video game. It didn't even faze me, shooting back. It was just natural instinct. Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!

Sgt. Sinque Swales quoted in The Washington Post

Sergeant Swales’ comment provides an easy link from the so-called moral desensitisation of soldiers in the 2003 Iraq War to their experience of videogame combat, an apparent connection that is eagerly picked up on by Western media. Videogame criticism, surprisingly distancing itself from contemporary challenges to the notion of media effects, persists in conflating the technologically-mediated experience of the Gulf War with the increasingly face-to-face interaction in recent Middle-Eastern conflicts. Contemporaneous accounts have compared the Gulf War to the electronic experience of ‘a child playing atari’; despite vast developments in gaming, commentators still contend that ‘thus far, games have avoided engaging the real-life issues to which they are responding’. A key issue that games are accused of avoiding is that of combat trauma. Contrary to such positions, many videogames already simulate the trauma in their gameplay experience; this paper will explore this concept from Laura Brown's definition of trauma as ‘outside the range of human experience’. This evokes recent work in games studies on in-game involvement and identity-formation. It also opens up further questions against ignoring the role of morality in gameplay, especially in multiplayer interaction in combat games like Counter-Strike, Call of Duty 4 and America's Army. Working from these hitherto overlooked aspects of trauma in gameplay experiences, our analyses challenge the oversimplified association of videogames with the desensitisation of US troops in recent conflicts, and by extension, with wider issues of violence.

read the full paper here


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