David Leonard’s call for a pedagogy of peace; a useful conversation starter; a teacher’s guide to help students think critically “about video games that play at war”; and some useful videos.
“Unsettling the Military Entertainment Complex: Video Games and a Pedagogy of Peace”
In this provocative essay, David Leonard suggests that most teachers are reluctant to talk about video games and that “in general, there is a marked failure to recognize video games as sophisticated vehicles inhabiting and disseminating ideologies of hegemony” (2004: 2). He goes on to offer this disturbing picture of what happens when he uses class time to allow some students to play war-themed games, while making other students critically analyze what happens to their peers:
As students scream at their enemies and shout racially tinged epithets that serve to perpetuate ugly stereotypes – and as all things military are adored, glorified and revered – the classroom becomes a fishbowl where one can see how racial, gender and national identities are created and reinforced against a backdrop of Manichean violence and Social Darwinism(4).
To read Leonard’s full article in the on-line journal, Studies in Media and Information Literacy Education, click here.
Militarism and Video Games: An Interview with Nina Huntemann, professor of communication and director of the film, Game Over: Gender, Race, and Violence in Video Games.
Games of all sorts – video games, board games, and games kids play in the backyard – have historically been about conflict and warfare. Whether you’re playing Chess, which is a simulated battlefield, or a game like Go, an ancient Chinese game that is also a simulated battlefield, or you’re playing a board game like Risk or Axis, you’re essentially at war and playing out military conflict….What is perhaps different about video games that deal with military conflict is they’re more realistic. Instead of imagining the battlefield in your mind or having an abstract battlefield like the Chess war, is that in video games the battlefield is drawn out for you in almost photographic, picture-perfect volume.
I do want to say one thing about these (video) games – they’re fun. In that, your adrenaline during all this is really pumped up, and you have to be sneaky and think through things, and strategy is involved, so there are a lot of visceral connections to these games….They’re popular because they’re fun to play, but also the themes draw us in, since they are themes that are in the headlines. We’re drawn in a way to something that is realistic.
It’s not just about fantasy and escape, but another part of what we enjoy about entertainment and popular culture is how it reflects the world we live it. When we hear the word “terrorism” for example… we immediately respond with an immediate, Yes, we must neutralize it. Yes, they must be destroyed, etc. There is no moral or ethical questioning of the specifics of the historical context of the terrorist threat…. (All) of the questions that might come between hearing about a threat and then deciding to act have been flattened or eliminated….What I find really frightening is that in our playtime – in our leisure time, we’re engaging in fictional conflicts that are based on terrorist threat and never asking any questions…. It’s almost as if all the game needs to say is, There’s a terrorist threat, now go! If you take that and connect it to our culture, that is disconcerting…
The full interview has been made available by the Media Education Foundation and can be reproduced on a non-profit basis for educational purposes. Huntemann is an important critic of war games, recognizing their entertainment value, but also their risks. This short interview covers the key issues and represents an ideal text to use to introduce the topic in the classroom.
To read the entire interview or download it for your students, click here.
You will also find a very helpful teacher’s guide on war-themed video games from the Media Education Foundation by clicking here.
There are also a number of good films from the Media Education Foundation that can be used to critically examine video games and their messages:
- Returning Fire: Interventions in Video Game Culture (2011)
- Militainment, Inc.: Militarism and Pop Culture (2007)
- Game Over: Gender, Race and Violence in Video Games (2000)