GamePro.com / Domestic / Feature / Pro Vs. Pro: Vietnam – The popular gaming press starts to look at the issues that Gonzalo was addressing in Ludology.org.
One of the things that’s noticeable is how the Vietnam war is seens as uniquely troublesome, because it remains a morally ambiguous and contested memory in the American psyche, unlike any other conflict since the Civil War. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that war games are more popular in America than elsewhere. War isn’t experienced in America (except by combat troops) – it is mediated.
I was just reading Friedrich Kittler’s Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, in which he talks about war and simulation (drawing from a comment in Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. He writes:
It is widely known that war — from the sandbox models of the Prussian General Staff to the computer games of the Americans –has become increasingly simulable. “But there, too,” as these same general staffs wisely recognized, “the last question remains unanswered, because death and the enemy “cannot be factored in realistically.” … for death in battle to coincide with cinema would be its own death.
I find it telling that he, a German writer, associated the computerized war game with America. Not surprising, by any means, in light of the way the first Persian Gulf war was depicted as the first videogame war.
I was thinking about the weakness of simulation: that it turns the world into operants, that it is part of the end of interiority as a concern of humanity, that it shares the ontology of nihilism as Heidegger tracked it. If the novel is a form is inextricable from the psychological, modern subject, and film from the subject as a pattern of surface effects and as a body, the game posits the subject as an array of values, of goals and means which subsume history into operations. Of course, it’s easy to accept that sort of operational distance when there isn’t the memory of pain associated with the object of the model: games and models are as much about what didn’t happen or what could have happened or what would happen if… as they are about what did happened.
Coincidentally, I’ve been playing Advance Wars 2 on the GBA. It does have a different, cartoonish stance towards modern war in it. It’s a Japanese game – it’s interesting that war in Japanese games (and anime and manga) is usually fantastic, except as tragedy (Grave of the Fireflies). Even for pre-modern conflict in the 16th century, the best simulation is Total War: Shogun – a British production. Only in (non-animated) cinema do we see any depictions of war, as in Shohei Imamura’s Dr. Akagi or Masaki Kobayashi’s The Human Condition. Perhaps there’s a sort of respect for the fragility of memory that makes simulation, rather than depiction, unappealing.