It seems that in the public debate, the archetypical First Person Shooter has become the epitome of everything that is negative with computer games. Doom and its followers do not only serve as handy examples of mindless and brain-numbing macho-entertainment par excellence - they also seem dangerously violent, aggressive and destructive. The question of their ‘effect’ on young minds, in empirical terms, is not my concern here. I want to ask how the mindless shooter becomes attractive and meaningful in a cultural context. By discussing how generic forms of mastery and fantasy relate to more general practices of work, war, play and ritual, I hope to be better able to situate the game-world within the real world, and shed some light on the interface between pleasure, ideology and modernity. Is there a cultural and ideological relevance to the FPS-fantasy beyond primitive notions of male superiority, expansion and violence?
What I want to argue in the following is that a standard run-and-gun FPS requires the player to be at once very primitive and very civilized, indulging simultaneously in the pleasures of violent excess and civilized work. Drawing on a range of theoretical models – from Roger Caillois to the British paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald W. Winnicott - I suggest some possible interpretations of this ambiguity. On the one hand, the primitive and the civilized together add up to a spectacular and modern-ritualistic celebration of modern violence and power. On the other hand, this celebration is constructed around cultural contradictions, parody and play, and does not seem to be entirely defined by traditionally militaristic and imperialist ideologies. Following a conceptual model from Victor Turner I argue that the FPS-aesthetic delineates a liminal space of techno-romantic power-play, a space where dominant ideologies are celebrated and negated. Adding a more psychoanalytical perspective, I also suggest that the on-rails, repetitive and ritualistic dimension of the game aesthetic represents an exclusively modern form of regressive pleasure. The individual is given the opportunity to engage intensely with the grotesque and destructive dimensions of modernity, in a ritualistic dance of spectacle, power and powerlessness.
Excerpt from "Dancing with the Modern Grotesque: War, work, play and ritual in the run-and-gun First Person Shooter", forthcoming article in a yet untitled book in the Ludologica book series.