Hey y’all, I just got done listening to the latest Game Studies Study Buddies on Amanda Phillips’ “Shooting to Kill” and it opened my thinking up on the intersection of games and real-world violence (conceptually - this is not a “video games cause violence” take, don’t worry). The article is mostly about the cultural politics of the headshot, but I hadn’t even considered the more basic idea that most people experience direct gun combat - both shooting and being shot at - through video games. The article brings up the ramifications this might have, especially in the possibility that we might identify more with those doing the shooting than those being shot (the murder of Michael Brown being her main example here.)
I enjoy shooters a lot, and the gun politics have sat uneasily with more for a number of years. I’ve especially felt guilty because the games I’m drawn to are realistic, military-adjacent, low-TTK shooters. I get the sense that cartoon shooters or power-fantasy games like Overwatch, Titanfall, or Wolfenstein are easier for people to brush aside gun politics, which makes total sense, but none of those games feel as salient to me as Rainbow Six or Battlefield. The article actually helped me pinpoint why realism is important to me in FPS games. What I’m drawn to isn’t the power that holding a gun brings, but the precarity and danger it invites you into. Battlefield 1 thrilled me - I was the guy hiding in a trench for minutes at a time while bullets flew overhead. And R6 Siege, the only shooter that’s really grabbed me this generation, actually encapsulates the politics of bullets better than any other game (all of Tom Clancy’s bullshit aside). Starting a match in Siege, taking three steps, and dying because someone somewhere pulled a trigger at a wall, the bullet travelled through a few walls and just happened to find your head while you were in full sprint - that captures everything I know about real world gun behavior: bullets are unpredicatble, fatal, arbitrary, and wholly agnostic to human life. THIS, I think, is a good foundation for thinking about gun politics.
Sorry for this rant, mostly I’m just wondering how others reconcile the constant tension between gun, police, and imperial violence with the fact that first-person shooters are unanimously ingrained very deeply into our visual and phenomenal culture. Also go listen to GSSB if you don’t!