Similar to animation and online networking media scholarship, critical analyses of video games and other interactive, real-time simulation-based media is relatively new. As such, new media scholars are still engaged in the process of legitimizing their objects, even as those objects become more diffuse and less observably material. In his recent publication Gameplay Mode: War, Simulation, and Techno-culture, Patrick Crogan seeks to define and explain the tremendous presence that interactive media, best represented by video games, occupies in contemporary life and the ways in which video games have contributed greatly to shifts in the experience of space and time. While his approach is largely ontological and media specific, based not only in the idiosyncrasies of gaming media but also in the “military technoscientific legacy” from which they emerge, he effectively connects with a larger context of multimedia production and consumption, demonstrating that the reach of interactive new media extends beyond the limited realm of military training and online gaming (xiii). The greatest strength of this work is ultimately its scope, breadth of research, and knowledge that support [End Page 348] the argument that the “gameplay mode” is one that is inherent to the postmodern condition.
One of the most significant points that Crogan makes is that the experience of time has become increasingly future-oriented, which privileges contingencies and preemption over direct observation of the present itself. In particular, he connects gaming media’s military logistics to the increased speed (dromoscopy) and future-oriented time endemic to contemporary modern life. According to Crogan, the contexts of war and defense are unavoidable. Relying heavily on Paul Virilio’s work regarding war and culture in which war and peace cannot be easily separated by time or space, Game-play Mode identifies logistics, or a nation’s readiness for war and its ability to access and move resources, as the current dominant cultural paradigm. In a logistical model, all activity is geared toward anticipating rather than reacting to events, as preemption is the best and surest means to victory. Simulation, an integral element of gaming, lends itself to this forward-thinking preemptive model because it allows for the calculation of multiple contingencies, thereby enhancing the ability to predict what will happen next.
Given the reliance of interactive media on technologies developed in a military context, war is an unavoidable context for video games, it is therefore not surprising that death is a recurring theme in much of Crogan’s argument, both literally and conceptually. Much of the purpose of this book is to demonstrate the seriousness rather than the playfulness of gameplay, and Crogan labors to establish these vital stakes through each of his diverse examples. Many of the chapters begin with anecdotes that demonstrate instances where war and virtual reality meet, such as the role that flight simulation played in preparing the 9/11 terrorists and the abstract animation used to track the real-time in-the-air progress of Patriot smart bombs during the Persian Gulf War. To some extent, describing these real-life scenarios may simply be a legitimization tactic in response to those who continue to see video games as mindless fun, but it also becomes an interesting point of departure for some of Crogan’s more compelling multimedia arguments.
In chapter 3, Gameplay Mode briefly addresses the nature of animation in video games, a ubiquitous feature that has received little scholarly attention to date but is conventionally understood to be different from filmic animation. Citing Alan Cholodenko’s introduction to The Illusion of Life, Crogan notes that as much as animation works to endow objects and media with the semblance of life, it simultaneously obscures death. In this case, his argument is linked to the destabilization of experiencing the real. Crogan borrows from Baudrillard to show that even at the level of theory and [End Page 349] criticism, there is currently a “major crisis in modern ways of understanding reality and how to critically evaluate its development” (25). Chapter 3...