Playing War: Military Video Games after 9/11

Payne, Matthew Thomas. Playing War: Military Video Games after 9/11. NYU Press, 2016.

No video game genre has been more popular or more lucrative in recent years than the “military shooter.” Franchises such as Call of Duty, Battlefield, and those bearing Tom Clancy’s name turn over billions of dollars annually by promising to immerse players in historic and near-future battles, converting the reality of contemporary conflicts into playable, experiences. In the aftermath of 9/11, these games transformed a national crisis into fantastic and profitable adventures, where seemingly powerless spectators became solutions to these virtual Wars on Terror.

Playing War provides a cultural framework for understanding the popularity of military-themed video games and their significance in the ongoing War on Terror. Matthew Payneexamines post-9/11 shooter-style game design as well as gaming strategies to expose how these practices perpetuate and challenge reigning political beliefs about America’s military prowess and combat policies. Far from offering simplistic escapist pleasures, these post-9/11 shooters draw on a range of nationalist mythologies, positioning the player as the virtual hero at every level. Through close readings of key games, analyses of marketing materials, and participant observations of the war gaming community, Playing War examines an industry mobilizing anxieties about terrorism and invasion to craft immersive titles that transform international strife into interactive fun.

Articles (non-refereed)

Wicked Games, Part II: Blood, Sex, and Pixels


Payne, Matthew Thomas and Peter Alilunas. “Wicked Games, Part II: Blood, Sex, and Pixels.” Flow: A Critical Forum on Television and Media Culture 22.4 (February 2016). Solicited for inclusion.

Articles (refereed)

“Regulating the Desire Machine: Custer’s Revenge and 8-Bit Atari Porn Games”


Payne, Matthew Thomas and Peter Alilunas. “Regulating the Desire Machine: Custer’s Revenge and 8-Bit Atari Porn Video Games,” Television and New Media, in press.

Exploring the short and largely forgotten history of adult-oriented 8-bit video games produced for the Atari 2600 home game console, this essay argues that the games represent an important attempt by media producers to bridge the adult film and interactive entertainment industries. Although American Multiple Industries, Playaround, and Universal Gamex failed to establish a market, their titles nevertheless demonstrate how adult games function as desire machines within an erotic economy that sells a host of anticipatory pleasures. Indeed, the resulting public outcry not only led to the game industry’s first sex-based controversy, but the antagonism signals the desire to regulate sexual expression on a new media technology as game producers—following the lead of adult video professionals—attempted to transport users’ joysticks from living rooms into bedrooms.