Video Games and the Militarization of Society

by John Martino (Author)
©2015 Monographs X, 191 Pages
Series: Minding the Media, Volume 11


The impact that First Person Shooter video games have had on the evolution of youth culture over a decade or more has been the focus of attention from political leaders; medical and legal specialists; and the mass media. Much of the discussion concerning these games has focused on the issues of the violence that is depicted in the games and on the perceived psychological and social costs for individuals and society. What is not widely canvassed in the public debate generated by violent video games is the role that military-themed games play in the wider process of militarization. The significance of this genre of gaming for the creation of a militarized variant of youth culture warrants closer interrogation. War/Play critically examines the role that militarized video games such as Call of Duty play in the lives of young people and the impact these games have had on the evolution of youth culture and the broader society. The book examines and critiques the manner in which the habits and social interactions of young people, particularly boys and young men, have been reconfigured through a form of pedagogy embedded within this genre.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Chapter 1. Introduction
  • Chapter 2. War Culture
  • Chapter 3. The Militarization of Society
  • Chapter 4. Video Games, Digital Culture, and the Militarization of the Young
  • Chapter 5. Propaganda and Video Games
  • Chapter 6. The First Person Shooter
  • Chapter 7. The Military Habitus
  • Chapter 8. Drone Strike
  • Chapter 9. The Information Empire
  • Chapter 10. War without End?
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index


Any book is a collaborative project. It requires hard work and a supportive environment for the work to take shape and in order to produce something meaningful. I could not have completed this project without the inspiration, constructive comments, and belief in me shown by my close friends. I wish to also acknowledge the support of Victoria University for providing me with a sabbatical in 2012 within which much of the thinking that underpins this book was able to occur. It is sad to say that having the time to think, read and write is now a luxury for academics.

I would also like to thank Professor Roger Slee of the Victoria Institute who encouraged me to concentrate on this one endeavor. I wish to also acknowledge the funding made available by the Australian Commonwealth Government through the Collaborative Research Network program (CRN)—it is not possible to do good critical and analytical work without time and, in this case, the CRN provided that for me.

My thanks to colleagues in the College of Education past and present who helped me to develop the idea for this book and to subsequently complete it. The staff at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and in particular Professor Joost Raessens, the chair of Media Theory, who welcomed me on my sabbatical in 2012, and gave me space to work and the opportunity to test out ← ix | x → and amend my early thinking on this topic. It was at Utrecht when I gave a seminar on the theoretical model I was working on that a professor of political science said to me after I had complained to her that many of my colleagues had queried where my “data” was for this book, “Don’t worry about counting or measuring things, just write about the games. That’s your data.”

← x | 1 → · 1 ·


‘And it had to be a child, Ender,’ said Mazer. ‘You were faster than me. Better than me. I was too old and cautious. Any decent person who knows what warfare is can never go into battle with a whole heart. But you didn’t know. We made sure you didn’t know. You were reckless and brilliant and young. It’s what you were born for.’

Ender’s Game (Card, 2002, pp. 300–301)

This is a war universe. War all the time. That is its nature. There may be other universes based on all sorts of other principles, but ours seems to be based on war.

—William S. Burroughs (1992, p. 95)

Writing is often a political act. In writing a book about new forms of popular media, such as video and computer games, one can choose one of two approaches. The first views video games and other forms of new and popular media as a form of art or a literature—opening up the domain of literary and filmic critique and analysis. The second emphasizes the technical and operational aspects of media such as video games—the focus of this type of study is more often an examination of the structure of video games, their playability, or the utility of a specific form of new media, for example the use and abuse of Twitter or other social media. As I will argue throughout this book, neither of these approaches is particularly useful when artifacts such as video games are used as a form of propaganda or, as I will describe later, as “perceptual ← 1 | 2 → weaponry.” Neither approach is particularly useful when we unpack the underlying political nature of military-themed or -oriented video games. Such as perspective will not be welcomed. The legion of video game fan boys who are unwilling to view their personal acts and interests as open to scrutiny or part of a broader social malaise are vigilant, highly motivated, and armed with the tools of modern propaganda—the web, social media, and the twitter verse. Nevertheless, this book needed to be written. I began thinking about writing this book in the shadows of an event, which, for Western audiences, was shocking both in its level of cruelty and violence. The bombing of Oslo government offices and the subsequent mass murder of 87 young people and adults on the Norwegian island of Utøya, by the right-wing fanatic Anders Breivik, brought home to the people of Norway and, by extension, Western Europe an event that is commonplace elsewhere in the world.

The indiscriminate targeting and killing of civilians by armed men is, in many parts of the world, a normal part of daily living. This has been the case in large parts of the developing world, in the past decade places such as sub-Saharan Africa, Iraq, and Afghanistan and more recently in Libya and Syria. Not since the period of Palestinian terror attacks of the 1970s and early 1980s has Western Europe experienced such an attack. The attack shook the foundations of the Norwegian state and highlighted the vulnerability of civilian populations in the face of heavily armed and determined terrorists or the mentally disturbed.

So if the killing of civilians by a politically motivated terrorist is not something new in the West, and the killing of civilians in war is also not an aberration, then what was particularly disturbing about Utøya? First, who the victims were, their ages, and the manner in which they were murdered shocked us. Whilst acts of terror were not new, the killing of children in such a violent, cold-blooded way was horrific. Second, the murderer boasted about the role video games played in his preparation for the crime, as he talked about how he “trained” himself using World of Warcraft and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 for his attack (Pidd, 2012). Third, the killer portrayed himself online and in evidence during his trial as being a soldier, or knight, engaged in an act of war to protect his culture and his people from the Islamization of Europe (Bachmann et al., 2012).

The declaration by Breivik in court that video games contributed to his preparation for the crime piqued my interest as it did for many others. It led me to write a short piece for an academic blog called “The Conversation” (Martino, 2012). It was a short and apparently provocative piece in which I stated:

← 2 | 3 → Games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 are now so immersive, so accurate (with the right add-ons) that they’re more like training tools than simple games. Breivik has stated that he used a “holographic” gun sight to practice targeting while training with Call of Duty. The sophistication of these games is the product of the close relationship between game designers and the military. The designers of military shooters often work with former (or current) military personnel to ensure the gameplay (including the look, feel and effect of in-game guns) is as realistic as possible—as was the case with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

The reaction to the piece was varied and at times near hysterical. It is pointless mulling over the online outrage and “trolling” my writing engendered. What I would like to focus on is the striking similarity between the Utøya massacre and another horrific event: the 2008 Mumbai killings. Both had similar gamelike characteristics—by this I mean that the perpetrators conducted themselves in a manner that anyone with even a passing acquaintance with First Person Shooter games—especially the military variant—would find familiar. In First Person Shooters the protagonist is almost always heavily armed, alone, and intent on creating the greatest level of mayhem and carnage possible. The games are constructed in a way in which the rewards for killing—and killing in specific ways, such as head shots or with a knife—are significant and help promote progress within the game and public prestige.

Aims of This Book

This book critically examines the part that video games play in the lives of young people and the impact these games have had on the evolution of youth culture and the broader society. It focuses on the how military video games such as Call of Duty aid in the process of the militarization of society and, as a consequence, how they assist in the establishment of new forms of culture and an emergent political form. In the book the creation of what is described as “ludic military habitus” will be analyzed and critiqued. The manner in which the habits and social interactions of young people, particularly boys and young men, have been reconfigured through a form of pedagogy embedded within military-themed or -oriented video games will be examined.


X, 191
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2013 (March)
first person shooter, killerspiele killergames call of duty counter strike
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. X, 191 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

John Martino (Author)

John Martino (PhD, BA, DipEd) holds the position of Senior Lecturer in the College of Education at Victoria University, where he also lectures in media studies and the sociology of education. He has published in the fields of political sociology, critical media studies, and in education.


Title: War/Play