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Shall we kill the pixel soldier?: perceptions of trauma and morality in combat video games

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The western media has been eager to construct an apparent link between the so-called moral desensitization of soldiers in the 2003 Iraq War and their experience of video game combat. Commentators assert that games have avoided engaging the real-life issues to which they are responding (Zacny 2008), including the issue of combat trauma. Contrary to such positions, many video games already simulate the trauma in their gameplay experience; this article explores this concept from Brown's definition of trauma as outside the range of human experience (1995: 101). This evokes recent work in games studies on in-game involvement and identity-formation and raises questions about the role of morality in gameplay, especially in multi-player combat games like Counter-Strike, Call of Duty 4 and America's Army. Working from these hitherto overlooked aspects of trauma in gameplay experiences, this article challenges the oversimplified association of video games with the desensitization of US troops in recent conflicts.

Keywords: Iraq; morality; perception; trauma; video games; war

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Nottingham Trent University.

Publication date: May 1, 2010

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  • The Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds focuses on theoretical and applied, empirical, critical, rhetorical, creative, economic and professional approaches to the study of electronic games across platforms and genres as well as ludic and serious online environments.
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