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War games may not be violent enough

Moa "What are the communicative consequences of reliving the bombing of Pearl Harbor? What does it mean to memorialize war through interactive media, such as video games?" Aaron Hess, a doctoral student in the School of Human Communication at Arizona State University, poses these and other provocative questions in a recent essay that appears in Communications Currents, an online journal published by the National Communication Association.

Hess contends that no matter how many grizzly visuals or vibrating controller responses are built into war games, they will never adequately represent the dreadful nature of war. In this sense, he claims, war games may not be violent enough to give gamers an understanding of war.

While films, such as Saving Private Ryan and Pearl Harbor, may provide gruesome visual frames for public audiences, as a medium, they are largely passive. Conversely, video games are interactive, allowing audiences to enact war. In this sense, the memorial becomes both participatory and private, as in played out in the home. However, through their digital participation in war, gamers may lose sight of the reality of its gruesome detail. Video games, as all representations, fall short of the real, and Medal of Honor is no exception. Technology and creativity may move closer to capturing the nuance of war, with vibrating controls, surround sound, and blurred shell-shock vision, but the front lines of war gaming will never fully grasp the violence of modern warfare. It is in this sense that war games may not be violent enough to give gamers an understanding of war.

Click here to read the complete online version of Hess's essay. The expanded print version entitled “You don’t play, you volunteer”: Narrative public memory construction in Medal of Honor: Rising Sun appears in the most recent issue of Critical Studies in Media Communication.