More than half of all Americans play video games, spending an average of 142 hours (in 2012) with a game controller in their hands. Of the top-selling games, many are war- or military-themed. Games like Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Halo put players at the center of conflict and violence. Why are people so fascinated with making entertainment out of war?
This is the kind of question that Nina Huntemann, associate professor of communication, asks in her research on gaming, and as associate producer of the new documentary Joystick Warriors: Video Games, Violence & the Culture of Militarism.
Huntemann was an expert consultant during the concept and filming phases of this documentary, produced by the Media Education Foundation (MEF).
“There is a misconception that violent video games lead to violent behavior, but research shows that many other factors—such as education, socioeconomic status, and mental health--also contribute,” Huntemann said. “This documentary aims to reframe discussion about video game violence to ask why so many of these games are set in a military environment and how that affects players.”
Although she is a cultural critic of the video game industry, Huntemann is also an avid gamer herself. And as a passionate player, she wants to see the industry address tough questions. Huntemann and other contributors on the documentary explore what happens to war stories when created by video game companies motivated by entertainment and profit.
“There is very little focus on why we fight, but more on how—this gun or that gun, drones or boots on the ground.” she said. “This doesn't leave a lot of room for questions about motivation or consequences of war.”
Next semester, Huntemann will be showing Joystick Warriors to students in her media seminar, entitled Digital Games and Culture. “One of the reasons that I was so excited to work on this project is that MEF brings difficult subject matter and complicated theory into a very accessible classroom format,” she said. “This documentary will help provoke discussion among students and get them to think about the important issues of the day in deep ways.”
Joystick Warriors is not Huntemann’s first foray into the world of documentary production. In 2000, she wrote, produced, and directed another educational video distributed by MEF called Game Over: Gender, Race, and Violence in Video Games. Huntemann is also the co-editor of Joystick Soldiers: The Politics of Play in Military Video Games, which examines the reciprocal relationship between militarism and video games.