Academic journal article Afterimage

Trauma and Agitation: Video Games in a Time of War

Academic journal article Afterimage

Trauma and Agitation: Video Games in a Time of War

Article excerpt

"Real art is play, & play is one of the most immediate of all experiences."--Hakim Bey

In recognition of the cross-cultural influence of electronic gaming, artists are tapping into the global reach of the medium to advance interrogations of present conditions. A number of recent artistic projects themed on armed conflict and war have combined formats ranging from video games to online performance to installation art. The works discussed here are by Rolando Sanchez from Peru, (1) France-based American artist Douglas Edric Stanley, (2) and Iraqi-born, New York City-based artist Wafaa Bilal. (3) These pieces are best understood as repurposings of popular digital games and game formats for cultural critique at the intersections of representation, play, and power. By receding the play experience, these artists attempt to goad audiences in performative situations designed to amplify and expose cultural assumptions and ideological undercurrents.

Sanchez, a trained painter and engineer, and Stanley, a digital artist, conceived their works as critiques addressing the historization of catastrophic events from the recent past through deconstructions of official histories. Modifications of the familiar game interfaces comment on the contradictions between war as a media event and war as a real experience. Sanchez's Matari 69200 (2004-05) consists of an Atari 2600 video game system connected to a television and five reprogrammed game cartridges. The work conflates the artist's experiences both as an Atari gamer and as a tele-spectator of the guerrilla war that pitted Peruvian military forces against the Shining Path Maoist guerrillas active throughout the 1980s. As he states: "While parts of Peru suffered the inclemencies of war, for others war was only an experience they partook in through watching TV: their position in relation to the war was similar to one of a child playing video games." (4) The title of the work, Matari, is a combination of the word Atari (in reference to a disabling move in the Japanese game GO) (5) and the Spanish verb "to kill," matar. The number 69200 represents the official estimate of terrorism casualties in Peru during the twenty years of political and social unrest.

Sanchez began work on the piece shortly after the final presentation of a report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an independent organization investigating the circumstances of the Peruvian state's war on terror. Public presentation of the commission's final conclusions included televised testimonies by civilians caught in the conflict, and a permanent photographic record of the conflict currently housed in the Museum of the Nation in Lima, and open to the public. (6) The piece responds to the conclusions reached by the commission linking the "massive murder, disappearance and torture" to "indolence, incompetence and indifference" on the part of authorities. To this end, Sanchez revisits four iconic televised war events, each titled in reference to the event portrayed, while the fifth is the artist's commentary on the representation of the conflict.

In "Penalties" (a play on the Spanish word for prison, penal, and penalties in sports), the gamer (re)plays the state-conducted massacre of 224 prisoners, labeled alleged terrorists in 1986, as one of the prison guards. The executions were carried out in the aftermath of a prison uprising in Lima, at the moment of surrender, and appeared live on television. "Acomarca" alludes to a rural Andean community in the small province of Ayacucho, near Cuzco, which became nationally known via televised testimonials of survivors of the massacre of 69 campesinos (peasant women, elders, and children) by an army patrol in 1985. (The Ayacucho province, an extremely impoverished area of Peru, was pinpointed as the epicenter of guerilla operations.) The gamer plays one of the soldiers. "Lucanamarca Revolution" refers to the Lucanamarca massacre of 69 campesinos carried out by a group of Shining Path soldiers armed with machetes, knives, and guns in 1983. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.