‘The Video Game Industry Has Profited From Fear And Anxiety About Terrorism’

‘The Video Game Industry Has Profited From Fear And Anxiety About Terrorism’

Suffolk University Professor Nina Huntemann is probably not calling in sick tomorrow to play Modern Warfare 3. She’s no fan.

Amid all the hype for the release of this year’s huge first person shooter, she wants anyone who will listen to know what’s wrong with Modern Warfare, Battlefield and the rest of video game’s interactive military complex.

“Since the attacks on 9/11, the largest publishers in the video game industry have profited from fear and anxiety about terrorism,” she said in a press release blasted to reporters today. “Electronic Arts (Battlefield 3) and Activision (Modern Warfare) have spent millions of dollars producing and marketing first-person shooter games that simplify and glamorise global conflict and military intervention.”

Huntemann wrote a book about this two years ago. It’s called Joystick Soldiers: The Politics of Play in Military Video Games. She’s modernising those arguments today, because she thinks big-budget video games still don’t properly address the costs of war.

“Instead they reduce military intervention to narratives about weapons systems and how we fight,” she wrote. “As the US government debates federal budget priorities that include decisions about military spending, it is difficult to have a thoughtful national conversation about the strategic use of the armed forces when the overwhelming attention to military conflict in the entertainment media is focused on treating war as a game.”

While Prof Huntemann’s outreach to reporters today doesn’t explain if or whether she draws a distinction between gaming’s glorification of war and movie and TV’s practices of doing the same, a movies-do-it-too defence wouldn’t be gaming’s strongest defence. Kotaku has reached out to Huntemann to find out more about her take. We’ll let you know what we hear.


  • So have books. So have movies. It’s not that they have profited from them, it’s that they adapt to the modern psyche.

    Also worth noting that these games existed long before 2001.

    • +1.

      Though I doubt the success of these games relies on fear of terrorism. CoD4 (the first CoD with terrorists?) came out more than 5 years after Sept 11th 2001. A little late if you ask me. The big shooters in that period were all set in WW2. Make of that what you will.

      I also think, that even though such games are arguably an effective recruitment tool (or at least the US DoD thinks so), it can also have the opposite effect. Its certainly made me increasingly anti-war: “Shit! I die so easily!”

      • I do wonder if the popularity of WW2 games around that time was reflection of how people in the west (US in particular) were responding to the reality of terrorism. A longing for the golden years of global conflict, where the bad guys were bad, the good guys were good and both sides had conventional armies and fought a conventional war on a distant battlefield. Terrorism changed all that, and the west has found that all its conventional military might and wisdom counts for little. The new COD games do reflect in part this changed world, while the Battlefield games focus on more conventional conflict between nation states.

  • Let’s make a game about deciding where federal funds are spent, that will be so much fun.
    Oh please, she’s probably just bitter because her boyfriend dumped her for COD, I don’t blame him, she’s probably the buzz kill of the century.

  • ^exactly. There have been games about war since long before the attacks in 2001. I don’t think the success of the ‘military shooter genre’ can be attributed to fear of terrorism. Terrorism as an adversary in games has pretty much been the go-to badguy choice for years since the end of the Cold War… over a decade before 2001.

    • I’d argue that Russia is still the go to villain despite its fall from power. As seen in the Modern Warfare series, Bad Company series and I believe BF3. Personally this choice makes no sense with Russia in no fit state to go to war with the USA let alone the world. (looking at you Modern Warfare and Bad company.). It is indeed a carry over from the cold war, I suspect that terrorists normally dressed in civilian attire are too grey for a black and white world of mainstream shooters, and a Realistic enemy like the PRC is your major buyer of product soo…. Russia is the tried and tested so lets use him.

      If it doesn’t make sense know that it made more in my head

      • haha, don’t worry. It makes a lot of sense, and I’d say you’re correct as well, but that since the end of the Cold War they use ‘Russia as an operating country’ as the enemy less and more often go with ‘Russian terrorists’ or ‘Russian extremists’… so really we’re both right and they’re just using a combination of ideas. (i.e. Ruskie Terrorists)

        Heck, even in MGS3, where the Cold War is the *setting* we’re not really fighting against Russia, Snake is dealing with a Russian splinter group of terrorists. 😛

  • These extracts don’t conjure up the image of a considered argument hiding somewhere under another diatribe. It’s perennially true that games are just another wondrous set of distractions from the cruelty and general dodginess of the world and its affairs, but the idea that their main purpose, in the case of cod, battlefield etc is pernicious, profiteering on the fears sited above is just cheap and lazy thinking… I could do with some better stories though, and I’m not talking about wondering through an airport unable to shoot my gun whilst NPCs wipe every other NPC out.

  • I think the fact certain games like Black Water have tanked while others like BF3 and MW3 are huge indicates that we’re not hungry for games that glamourise war, we’re just hungry for good games.

    The nature of almost all forms of entertainment is to glamourise their subject, there’s nothing intrinsically harmful in that.

  • I’m gonna be the unpopular guy that agrees (for the most part) with this article.

    It’s not a recent thing, however. Games have been glorifying war for ages, but recently they’ve been set in whichever country it is that America is currently at war with, and touting their increased ‘realism’, while just serving up run and gun bravado.

    I’m not a fan of any medium which glorifies the negative aspects of society, and most AAA fps/tps titles being released today I consider to be doing so.

    • Last time I checked the US wasn’t at war with Russia (MW3), at war with North Korea (Home Front), at war with….you get where I’m going. Your argument sounds good, but falls apart when you consider facts.

  • Ever heard of the illiad or countless other epic war stories from antiquity? Just because we’re gamers doesn’t mean we’re completely obtuse to the fact we’re playing a game and not reliving the realities of an actual war.

    • Dude…I cant believe your comparing the COD games to the illiad! There is no doubt in my mind that the majority of games are based around American militarism..whether it is a FPS or a RTS or whatever. This is of course not some PLOT but a case of living in an extremely militant society. Its a tradition carried over from our European roots (talking socially, not ethnically) of imperialism. Its a bit sad really, but its what the punters want!

  • Thanks God,

    I was worried that the only ones profiting were defence contractors, media outlets, authors, movie makers, souvineer sellers, pundits, commentators, speculators and insurance agencies.

    • This.

      The minor symptom of games imitating (and profiting) from the ‘war on terrorism’ is just an indicator of how far out of whack our ‘leaders’ priorities are in the first place. Military Industrial Complex. Defence Contractors. Weapons manufacturers. Boeing, Lockheed Martin, even SERCO – they’re all making cash hand over fist.

  • I remember the days when “Terror attack” meant a night mission fighting chrysalids!

    ….Johnny was the first to go as he stepped off the Sky Ranger. Poor bastard never even saw it coming.

  • Well… yeah. Surely this isn’t surprising? We crave a “bad guy”. It used to be Cowboys vs Indians, Cops vs Robbers, Allies vs Axis, 1st world vs 2nd world… terrorists are just the latest in a row of bad guys for the good guys to wack.

  • on a different tangent, would anyone else be interested in a hard hitting ‘war is hell’ game that portrays the horrors of war, as apposed to the tack mw3 and battlefield take?

    Perhaps you take on the role of a disenfranchised soldier? Start the game all gung-ho, end up in a psych ward with ptsd. Could be interesting.

    Homefront started to do it, but it kinda fell flat.

    • i’ve forgotten what it’s called, but kotaku has covered the development of a game based around being a war reporter that might be right up you alley, give it a look

      • Yep, remember seeing that, and being very intrigued.

        You know, the interactive nature of games could mean we could portray this topic *better* then movies or book could

    • Would be Refused Classification, as it Demonises Defence. There’s a difference between attack and defense. In a world of defenders, their is no attackers.

  • All valid in terms of books/films/other media…but there has to be something a little more interesting in games in that YOU play the role of a soldier and YOU are fighting….its VR War, and it DOES seek to glamourise it. Its also a medium whose primary fan base is of fighting age.

    • Oh and here we go again. Games don’t kill people, people kill people, and not with games. You can say the player is responsible all you like, but we’re all as likely to be influenced by films, music and political speeches as we are video games. Unless you’re a truly mentally-challenged individual, you won’t go out and reenact what you see on the display.

      What’s this you say? Some people Have been influenced by games? True. but when you take up their numbers (not even anywhere near a thousand) against the number of people that play them (absolute millions), I fail to see the danger at all.

  • I agree somewhat. I boycotted war games a few years ago when I saw them becoming graphically advanced. I can and will play Halo or anything that puts story or narrative first (uncharted, deus ex etc), but generally FPS games based on war I find disgusting. If we had world peace would people still crave to simulate war?

  • New poster here.

    I can’t say that military first person shooters don’t ‘airbrush’ or glamourise warfare, I’d frankly be surprised if they didn’t. The narrative behind most of the popular ones with some sort of story read like variations of action hero movies and books or TV series. I have yet to have my fill of recent offerings of this genre but I can say most I’ve seen do cast the heroes in a good light. I think that’s part of the way the narrative is told.

    You could say that it lacks creativity but you got to admit, such a simple narrative is fun and compelling to some extent? Certainly, it sells and remains popular. Why wouldn’t it? Don’t a lot of people want to play the warrior hero?

  • I watched a 9/11 documentary the other night that I recorded from two months ago. It was focussing on the political events and what the various key figures such as Bush and the mayor of New York were doing at the time.

    In it, one of the people being interviewed remembers someone saying to him “we’re living in a Tom Clancy novel”.

    That pretty much sums it all up. Books, for instance, had been “profiting off terrorism” for years. Obviously this increased after the attacks as terrorism became ingrained more into the psyche of society. The same can be said of TV shows and movies. Games, in this respect, are no different.

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