Propaganda and Video Games

The advert for ‘Medal of Honour: Black Ops’ is high tempo, dramatic and backed by a rock soundtrack. It shows soldiers running around throwing grenades and shooting insurgents. As the points for the individual kills, the action is intercut with on board cameras placed on falling bombs. Text appears telling the audience that the tactics and weaponry are based on real life American military techniques.

It looks genuinely exciting, and I do enjoy First Person Shooter (FPS) games. It is just that the advert seemed disturbingly like Propaganda. The advanced technology at the gamers’ disposal echoes the military parades of Soviet Russia and Communist China.

You are meant to be amazed at the technology at your disposal. The game is based on American Military Techniques and is an un-subtle way of re-enforcing the idea that the American, or in some games British, Military machines are the most advanced and therefore the best. The fact the gamer only ever plays heroic Westerners highlights the hegemonic attitude of the Armed Forces. The gamer, if they complete the game, always wins. Thus, in a subtle way, making them seemingly invincible. This invincibility also gives the gamer a distorted view on death, it becomes unreal, and the gamer is desensitised. Hence their ability to drop bombs using grainy fighter plane cameras. This means that, “in video games, life is redefined as an expendable part of a larger campaign” (Ottosen, Targeting the Audience, 2008, pp 21). Because the games render the life of the enemy expendable, they echo the thinking of the Military elite. The gamer gets more points for headshots and for creating the most damage possible. The expendable nature of the “enemy” is also echoed in other areas of mass culture, such as action films. Both are used to show the advantages of the American/ Western armies over their enemies.

The weaponry that is available highlights the technological edge the Western nations have over the insurgents; it is another way of parading warheads on the back of vans. Ottosen reinforces this point, “the games’ technology is the same as that which various branches of the armed forces use in their simulators, training their own soldiers” (Ottosen, Targeting the Audience, 2008, pp 30). By showing the gamer the application of powerful weapons, the Military are advertising their wares. The distinctions between the real life results are not considered, that would break the narrative of the game and distract from the cool technology.

Another interesting propaganda point that these games highlights are the stereotypes used to portray the opposing the sides. The Westerners are shown as heroic and in most cases obeying the rules of war, whereas the enemy (which changes depending on the zeitgeist) are shown as evil and aggressive. This is, admittedly, rather an obvious point but through the propagation of stereotypes, cultural ideas are transmitted. If the Middle Eastern characters are always shown one way then the gamer will come to identify all people from that part of the world in a similar light, thus making the video footage of them, and their property, being blown apart will not be horrific. It becomes sanitised and socially approved.

Another use part of the propaganda is the use of real battle locations, such as Helmand and Baghdad. The gamer can take part in the battles that they have just seen on the news; they can win the battles that are inconclusive. They can ruthlessly and efficiently kill the insurgents and do not have to consider real life consequences.

The fact that these games are propaganda can be evidenced by the people who go off to fight do so believing that war will be same as in the games, thus the propaganda is effective. Goebbels claimed that propaganda “should be popular, not intellectually pleasing. It is not the task of propaganda to discover intellectual truths.” The truth it will subvert is that war is not like the games and that the killing of little infrared dots on the pilots screen will have a consequence that is not shown in the games.


Bodhi: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol 2, No 1 (2008)

The potential of America’s Army, the video game as civilian-military public sphere, (Li, Zhan, 2001, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Comparative Media Studies)


About poetryinstasis

I am a long haired, infrequent blogger and Literature enthusiast. I also watch an unhealthy amount of Football (Soccer) and am the rarest of things as I support my local team. "I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know the best" Frida Kahlo
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