Worshipping War

With E3 approaching the fundamental flaws and fallacies of the gaming culture are exposed as we are treated with a high dose of concentrated bullshit right from the hype engine that propels the industry. One thing that strikes me now more than ever is the fact how many games celebrate and worship war and soldiers. Many main protagonists are soldiers and many game narratives center around wars. Games quote, repeat and validate military terms, ideas, structures and especially technology. There is a somewhat similar tendency in Hollywood movies, so this bit may have originated in the American culture. The naïvety of this rhetoric is becomes apparent when you bring other cultures to the equation.

In Germany the military is rarely mentioned in favorable context. In fact, it is rarely mentioned at all. Hardly anybody can even name one piece of equipment the German military uses. If they do it’s because it was a target of critique on superfluous military spending (Eurofighter). Almost every mention of the military in the news is in a negative or at least controversial context. The military is generally considered as a rather problematic and questionably necessary organization.

The military itself doesn’t try come up with any catchy slogans. There are hardly any commercials to attract new recruits. Actually the images associated with the military in official media are often not even about combat but about rescue, maintenance and humanitarian operations. The German military is NOT about kicking butt.

And to be honest, that’s how I feel most comfortable about the military. Because otherwise, the military is something designed to make war. It’s making people kill other people. In a way, it’s murder. The fact that it’s murder that is sanctioned by the government makes matters only worse. It means the the government itself is willing to suspend human rights for both, it’s own citizens and the citizens of foreign countries to pursue political goals. The celebration and worship of military is the uncritical confirmation that this is an acceptable way to lead a country and co-exist as humans in general.

I’m ok with games where I slay dragons, kill zombies or even kill people out of personal reasons. But it’s difficult for me to deal with games that repeat military propaganda without questioning. It is especially awful when a game presents a futuristic scenario with soldiers fighting the future. How do we even come to accept terms like “Space Marines”? Such an idea presents the military as a universal constant of human civilization. It shows that military will continue to be used in the future. But it’s not only the fact that military conflict is represented. It’s also the fact that it is portrayed as something cool and heroic. The space marines are heroes. Fighting in a war is considered a worthy thing to do.

But it shouldn’t. War should be never something to look forward to. And that’s why it’s sickening to see so many games repeat that brain-dead dogma, especially now at E3. Going through the trailers I see one Military or Sci-Fi Military game after another. Are those people even aware what they are doing? It’s hard to see the games medium mature until these games become at least just one genre of many others and not the industry’s defining aesthetic.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

5 responses to “Worshipping War”

  1. Rob

    I just finished my first playthrough of Alpha Protocol, which I highly reccomend by the way. In the game you play an agent in a black ops type government organization.
    This organization is the epitome of an unrestricted military organization, they instigate political conflicts, assasinate, or even carry out terrorist attacks, all for the furtherment of the United States.
    Throughout the game on the surface it seems to be praising the complete lack of restriction but in the end (Not gonna say how, huuuge spoiler) the game ends up coming out against all this, as the player ends up opposed to the organization.
    It’s kind of interesting how the message they end up presenting at the end seems to actually conflict with the actions of the character throughout the entire game, as you are encouraged to go through the game slaughtering literally hundreds of enemies as you undergo your mission, it seems to be the easiest way to make it through the game.
    Once you really start to dig into the game you find things like the field “Orphans Created” on the end of level statistics screen, or the fact that characters shower you with praise if you do things like make it through a level without killing a single person (every obstacle can be overcome nonlethally).
    This was all kind of rambly and unorganized, but that’s why it’s a comment not a blog post…on a blog I don’t have…
    So to sum it up: High praise to Obsidian for creating a multilayered, meaningfull game that’s a hell of a good time to play as well!

    1. Krystian Majewski

      I recall Metal Gear Solid 3. You can play through that game not killing anybody. The is even a level where you encounter the ghosts of the enemies you have killed.

      But that’s past the point. The killing is not exactly the problem. The problem is why you kill – because you are a soldier and that’s an acceptable excuse for killing people.

      1. Rob

        That’s entirely my point as well though. As you begin the game you easily accept (or are supposed to) the fact that your position in Alpha Protocol gives you the right to do things like kill, steal, and terrorize. The story starts to call this into question, the suggested conclusion at the end being that you do not have such rights as you thought you did at the beginning.
        What really made this awesome for me though comes in two parts. The short game length and emphasis on replayability encourages you to go through the story again, using the lessons you learned on the first playthrough. Second, the variation in gameplay possibilities seems to represent the fact that while those in positions of power of any kind, not only political or military, may have the capability to do terrible things, but that does not grant them right to do so, even if they believe it to be in the best interests of any number of people.

  2. sirleto

    what possible could i add to this?

    i think its ugly, shamefull and rather catastrophic status of the games industry. and its ugly for me to see how popular military based games are.

    but is it better with films? no, of course its very present their – since centuries. and AFAI can tell its totally holywood movies. the probably worst modern example (target at a young audience pre-16) that made me cry out loud, is transformers2. is it an american military advertisement campaign movie, or what? WTF.

    i hate all modern brutal action related content a lot, because not only the topics are not what i like (subjectively) and the concepts are very wrong for a great culture like humanity (objectively), but also because it sucks to see how many really good people are spending their great creativity on such SHIT topics.

    god of war? how could ever come that so many so great artists + technicians are doing things like gow3 on ps3? its so superb in all its details, but its 100% of the time only hate, brutality, gore and stupid unmotivated dialogues between one shitty character and another. and on top of it all its based on greek mythology and in that pov is totally iliterate and high level educational. or isn’t it?


    1. Krystian Majewski

      You are mixing two different things. The worship of military is something different that mere violence.

      I agree with you – Transformers 2 is a great example of military brainwash mixed with mainstream entertainment. That’s exactly what I was referring to.

      As for GoW3 – that’s different. Kratos is not a soldier and not fighting in a War (in spite of the Tiltle). He as actually a very clearly defined motivation and he is rebelling against his superiors. In spite of being brutal, he is a person with good morality compass. Also, Kratos actually doesn’t even kill too many humans, he fights mostly against mythological creatures. Finally, the fact that GoW is set in greek mythology is quite ingenious. The hyper-aggressive style can be considered as a faithful re-imagining of the source material. I mean, have you read the old storie? GoW is harmless compared to that.


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


follow Krystian on Twitter
follow Yu-Chung on Twitter
follow Daniel on Twitter