- Between War and Play
In Gameplay Mode, Patrick Crogan sets out to explore the “military technoscientific legacy” (xii) that has had what he terms a “profound impact on the development of computer games” (xii). Through the course of the book, Crogan investigates this phenomenon through a historical account of the emergence of computational simulation, as well as an analysis of a series of contemporary video games. The book’s main thesis is that all video games operate through a shared logic or “gameplay mode” that revolves around the simulation of conflict, a simulation that in turn attempts to close down or foreclose contingency through a “deterrent anticipatory logic” (170). However, rather than simply critique video games, Crogan argues that exploring these simulations and the logics that underlie them is the first step in being able to recognize and respond to such modes.
Crogan is not alone in investigating the close legacy between the development of video games and military technoscience. The past several years have seen a number of books on the subject, including Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games, by Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Pueter (2009); From Sun Tzu to Xbox: War and Video Games, by Ed Halter (2006); and [End Page 495] Virtuous War: Mapping the Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment Network, by James Der Derian (2001). What separates this text from those is Crogan’s close attention to the mechanics, technologies, and skills involved in particular video games, which he terms a “postphenomenological” approach (xxiv). To develop this approach the book draws on literature from new media and game studies and on contemporary theorists such as Bernard Stiegler and Paul Virilio. This is helpful in the sense that it allows Crogan to deal with the specificities of games as a medium—something that other books exploring the relationship between war and gaming tend to overlook in favor of considering video games as an extension or development of cinema. However, this focus on media and gaming is also inhibiting in the sense that a broad range of literatures on anticipation, governance, and militarism are not dealt with, and taking this approach would no doubt broaden the appeal and range of the book to a wider audience.
Chapter 1 offers a general history of military simulation and the emergence of the relationship between vision and anticipation that military technology has enabled. The book then moves on to examine the relationship between video game theory and practice, arguing that one should pay attention to the specific materialities involved in video game play. Chapter 3 examines how space is constructed as a form of logistics in flight simulators. Following this discussion, chapter 4 links the concept of space and logistics to the question of narrative. In war video games, narrative becomes goal oriented. In doing so, events are experienced purely through the means of anticipation necessary to overcome them. Chapter 5 offers convincing readings of the kind of game mode prevalent in first-person shooting games whereby “the future is brought ‘under control’ by being determined ‘strictly in terms of the present’” (Crogan quotes from Weber 2005: 21). Chapter 6 sets out an interesting and original account of online games and game sociality, developing Martin Heidegger’s account of spatiality from Being and Time. Here online games are understood to encourage forms of individual attainment, even within a group or communal system: “Gameplay is built on the base of the isolated input/output node. Group play involves the coordination of fragments toward a higher order of particularization of the whole” (124). Such an account offers a useful alternative from the now prevalent narrative of virtual communities as whole, interconnected spaces and demonstrates how the logic of game play mode operates even in spaces that require the cultivation of social relations. Chapter 7 also offers a useful corrective to accounts that posit all games as stifling or weakening creative or critical thought in relation to contemporary geopolitical situations, through an...