The word “wargames” might seem like a contradiction in terms. After all, the declaration “This is war” is meant to signal that things have turned deadly serious, that there is no more playing around. Yet the practices of war are intimately entangled with practices of gaming, from military videogames to live battle reenactments. How do these forms of play impact how both soldiers and civilians perceive acts of war?
This Quick Take considers how various war games and simulations shape the ways we imagine war. Paradoxically, these games grant us a sense of mastery and control as we strategize and scrutinize the enemy, yet also allow us the thrilling sense of being immersed in the carnage and chaos of battle. But as simulations of war become more integrated into both popular culture and military practice, how do they shape our apprehension of the traumatic realities of warfare?
Covering everything from chess to football, from Saving Private Ryan to American Sniper, and from Call of Duty to drone interfaces, War Games is an essential guide for anyone seeking to understand the militarization of American culture, offering a compact yet comprehensive look at how we play with images of war.