restricted access Gameplay Mode: War, Simulation, and Technoculture (review)
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Reviewed by
Patrick Crogan, Gameplay Mode: War, Simulation, and Technoculture, University of Minnesota Press, 2011, 222 pp.

Videogames have become an increasingly prominent form of entertainment in Western nations, with profits from blockbuster videogames rivaling those from movies. But there has been no shortage of concern over the social, cultural, and even moral implications of video-games. In fact, an entire field of scholarly research— videogame studies—has developed to explore these issues. Gameplay Mode argues, however, that much of this scholarship has paid insufficient attention to the role of the military and war in the development and proliferation of computer-based games and simulation. According to author Patrick Crogan, much of the existing scholarship has missed that videogames represent and constitute a new orientation to both space and time. In the first instance, Crogan argues that effective distance has become a matter of attention more than geographical space. He concludes that online interaction is not an add-on to a preexisting condition of non-technological human togetherness. It is the latest manifestation of human togetherness that has always already been technologically mediated in one way or another. Where time is concerned, he argues that videogames have changed our orientation to the past as well as the future.

Crogan argues that simulation is central to contemporary technoculture and that computers are simulation's primary technological medium. In turn, videogames are the primary manifestation of computer simulation in contemporary culture. Simulation is a "technics of anticipating what has not yet happened" that is about "experiment[ing] with . . . hypothetical futures." This encourages the "preemptive regulation of the future's emergence" (pp. xix-xx). Thus, the development and proliferation of computer games points to a societal shift from a quest for control toward a quest for preemption.

Paul Virilio's work on shifting meanings and practices of war in Western societies provides the primary theoretical foundation for Crogan's analysis. In particular, Crogan draws on Virilio's notions of "pure war" and the "logistical trajectory" of post-World War II society. This includes the observation that society has become a standing reserve that is always mobilized for war; this environment has become the rule rather than the exception. Crogan also deploys Heidegger's concepts of Dasein and "de-severing" to examine the nature of online engagement with others, in which effective distance is a matter of concern and attention more than geographical space.

Gameplay Mode focuses on particular types of computer games or the key issues related to them. It begins by providing historical background that includes a recounting of Norbert Wiener's cybernetics work during World War II, the US Air Force's development of the SAGE air defense system during the 1950s, and DARPA's development of SIMNET during the 1980s. Crogan argues that these developments mark the emergence of important societal "tendencies—the cybernetic, the virtualizing, and the converging of real and simulation" (pp. 17-18)—all of which remain dominant today.

Two chapters are devoted to analyzing the history and importance of flight simulators (Chapters 3 and 4), and another covers first-person shooters (Chapter 5). Crogan sees both as exemplary of logistical, cybernetic, and virtualizing tendencies. After examining the emergence of flight simulation, he argues that the logistical trajectory of a pure war society results in "the mutation of narrative" (p. 75). In videogames, as well as blockbuster special effects films, the inclusion of historical narrative is no longer the primary attraction and meant to provide an interpretation of historical events, but rather, it is secondary and meant to frame and provide context for an interactive experience in the case of games and for a series of spectacular, audio-visual effects in the case of film. Similarly, he argues that first-person shooters are exemplary of society's increasingly preemptive orientation to the future, which Crogan describes as "a powerful technocultural desire to encounter the future in the form of anticipated, controllable contingencies" (p. 106).

Other chapters address key issues such as the definition and value of studying videogames (Chapter 2), the possibilities and limitations of online communities (Chapter 6), and the critical potential of videogames and simulations (Chapter 7). Crogan argues that videogames "offer...