Killing Without Death in Wars Without Conflict

Presented as “Killing Without Death in Wars Without Conflict: Exploring the Paradoxical Fantasies of Military First-Person Shooter (FPS) Video Games,” 39th Annual Meeting of the Semiotics Society of America (SSA), Seattle, Washington, October 2014: conference site

Abstract: In our reputedly post-ideological and almost entirely virtual era, one that still seems perversely obsessed with “reality,” the first-person shooter (FPS) video game has emerged as the foremost playground of globalized capitalist entertainment. In 2012, Call of Duty: Black Ops II earned over $500,000 on its very first day of sales. Subsequent FPS titles have continued to dwarf sales figures for all other entertainment media, including Hollywood films; however, the cultural significance of these games remains largely under-acknowledged and relatively unexplored by scholars, even as this ubiquitous and apparently “artless” entertainment empowers cosmopolitan online hordes of consumers to kill their fellow world citizens by the billions without conscience, consequence, or death, engaging 24/7 in never-ending, wholesale, photo-realistic, simulated war that has been carefully scrubbed clean of all potential for political conflict. As such, Call of Duty and similar military FPS games perfectly embody the multi-faceted paradoxes of life and art/entertainment in the Digital Age. This paper enumerates many of the key paradoxes presented by this genre and examines in detail two central and inter-related paradoxical fantasies upon which military FPS video games are built: killing without death, and war without conflict.

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