War Ethics: A Framework for Analyzing Videogames

Zagal José P.
2017 DiGRA '17 - Proceedings of the 2017 DiGRA International Conference

While much has been done exploring how ethics and videogames can overlap in interesting ways, there is little work examining the philosophy of war and its relation to videogames. This seems unusual since videogames have a long tradition of engaging with war as its subject matter. We provide a framework for analyzing and articulating ethical issues and concerns in videogames that feature representations of war. This framework is based in traditional war ethics, more specifically the notion of the “just war” and considers the ethical concerns that include when engaging in a war is morally justified (jus ad bellum), how to wage a war ethically (jus in bello) and the ethical responsibilities of the aftermath of a war (jus post bellum). Our framework consists of five lenses consisting of the perspective offered to players, the scale and scope of war represented, the centrality of war to the game experience, the type of military that appear in the game, and the authenticity of a game’s representation. For each lens we also provide a list of questions that can be used to examine the subtleties and nuances of how war is represented in the game that hopefully lead to deeper and more insightful analyses. We conclude with thoughts on how this approach could be productive as well as outline some additional areas worth considering for future work.


Wargaming and Computer Games: Fun with the Future

Crogan Patrick
2003 DiGRA '03 - Proceedings of the 2003 DiGRA International Conference: Level Up

This essay explores aspects of the history of wargaming in order to develop fresh perspectives on the analysis of contemporary computer games. Wargaming is considered in relation to the ludological approach to games studies with a view to developing an understanding of the marginality of narrative content in games that ludology takes as its point of departure. Wargaming is interpreted as a forerunner of contemporary modelling and simulation practices. It is associated with the modern project of programming the future by the rational means of mathematically-based measurement and projection. The influence of wargaming on contemporary computer gaming is discussed and the appeal of computer games is explored in terms of a modulation of this modern project.


It’s no videogame: news commentary and the second gulf war

Consalvo Mia
2003 DiGRA '03 - Proceedings of the 2003 DiGRA International Conference: Level Up

This study analyzes U.S. news media coverage of the second Gulf War, to determine how individuals used the term ‘videogame’ in reference to the war. By studying how the news media itself sought to praise or criticize coverage of the war as being un/like videogames, we can see how videogames continue to be constructed in popular media in troublesome ways. Analysis, for example, shows that use of the term “videogame” points to coverage that (1) focuses on sophisticated technologies, (2) is devoid of human suffering, and/or (3) seems somehow fake or non-serious. Use of the term is largely pejorative and dismissive, reflecting (and reinforcing) popular views of videogames as lacking context and seriousness. Finally, the study examines the military’s own history of game-related activities, and how that context creates striking paradoxes in such usages.


“This isn’t a computer game you know!”: revisiting the computer games/televised war analogy

Swalwell Melanie
2003 DiGRA '03 - Proceedings of the 2003 DiGRA International Conference: Level Up

During the Gulf War of 1991, the television coverage was frequently observed to be ‘just like a video game’. This analogy primarily derived from the specific, ‘bombs-eye’ perspective of camera-equipped weapons, approaching their targets. The troubling nature of this coverage was said to derive from the viewer’s sense of direct involvement: the argument was that viewers were able to marvel at the ‘high tech’ nature of the weapons, at a remove from the bloody reality on the ground. These criticisms of a vicarious aesthetic (dis)engagement were taken to also characterise the playing of computer games. At a time when we have once again been confronted by TV coverage of war in the Gulf, this paper revisits the TV war/computer games nexus, informed by research on players’ engagements with games. It argues that comparisons between televised war and games have little to offer to those concerned with theorising games, at least in their current form. Research with players of games is, however, able to provide insights useful for theorising the fraughtness of watching televised war. Considered in this way, the analogy can be revealing. Drawing on previous research on players’ aesthetic engagements with games, as well as a range of other sources, this paper re-considers televisual war spectatorship, in terms of the figures of proximity/distance; here and there; negotiations between different materialities and realities; and virtuality. It proposes these figures as bases around which a more productive dialogue on computer games and televisual war might be conducted.