Gun Games and Bullet Politics (CW for gun and racial violence)

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!

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I was thinking this just last month when CoD4 Remastered came to PS+. Here was a game that I spent hundreds of hours in back in the day, and now I get a sick feeling in my stomach playing it. I interrogated that feeling, and realized that I haven’t stuck to any milsim style game for a few years now. Call of Duty, PUBG, and Battlefield’s aesthetics just don’t appeal to me anymore the more I have learned about western and US imperialism. I still play shooters, but they tend to be more stylized or detached from modern reality, stuff like Overwatch, Halo, and Fortnite. I don’t know, maybe I’m detaching myself from the reality of gun violence, but then again I live in a society where guns are relatively rare and ownership is for paranoid weirdos. I guess I’m kinda ok with that, but maybe I’m just ignorant.

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I was FLOORED last month replaying Modern Warfare, that made me realize how absolutely insane and jingoistic and islamophobic 2000’s culture was, and no one really questioned it at a high level. To your point though, I think avoiding the current military aesthetics altogether is a coherent and valid response, and it seems like we’re seeing military shooters fall off pretty steeply in popularity. Which is exactly what makes me wonder what MY problem is for clinging to them.

I think safely simulating the fear and dread and powerlessness of engaging in actual combat feels important, educational, or in some way meaningful to me. As a kid, getting a high kill count in Modern Warfare didn’t interest me, instead I played on hardcore and just tried not to die, and I think that experiencing that precariousness and fear actually reoriented my thinking about military warfare in general, at a time when a lot of my classmates were enlisting.

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I’d like to think the decline in modern military shooters is because people in droves are having this same sort of realization but if I’m being honest it’s probably more that people are bored of modern military shooters just like people were bored of WW2 shooters 15 years ago.

p.s. vored as typo came up a few times as I typed this. Made for some amusing sentences.

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I would love to see a heatmap or something which highlights my movement across a map in the original Modern Warfare compared to the Remastered. I play so much more anxiously now.