Visualisations of War in Online Gaming

In a recent Visualising War podcast, Alice and Nicolas talked with Dr Iain Donald, a Senior Lecturer in Game Production at Abertay University. Iain works with talented colleagues, postgraduate researchers and undergraduates to explore what games and interactive media can achieve. He has been involved in several award-winning Applied Games projects, and has written and presented on creating and developing games for digital health, education, cybersecurity and social change. His research looks particularly at commemoration and memorialization in video-games.

A still from a game which Iain is developing, based around the battle of Loos (image credit: Iain Donald)

In the podcast we reflected on the opportunities and challenges of representing war in video games. Iain discussed the complex question of historical accuracy in games based on real conflicts, and the risks and consequences of representing real-life wars or battles. We talked about player agency and immersion, the interplay of technical, aesthetic, economic and historical interests in game creation, and the ethical problems that many games run into as they represent injury, trauma and death. We also discussed visualisations of peace and reconciliation in war games, as part of a wider conversation about the more experimental side of the industry. Iain himself has been pushing at conventional boundaries with his development of games based around commemoration.

A still from another game which Iain is developing, based around remembrance (image credit: Iain Donald)

During the podcast, Iain mentioned some little-known games alongside bigger names. The following list may be useful for listeners who want to find out more:

Iain also mentioned the following better-known games:

  • Grand Theft Auto V 
  • Red Dead Redemption 2 
  • Warframe 
  • Call of Duty Series 
  • Battlefield Series
  • Civilisation Series
  • Age of Empires Series
  • Total War Series

To complement our interview with Iain, our postdoctoral research assistant Katarina Birkedal interviewed Taliesin and Evitel, the couple behind the YouTube and Twitch channels of the same name. They offer commentary on the game World of Warcraft, as well as giving regular news updates on everything related to the game. Through a combination of humour and deep dive analyses, they enrich their viewers’ experience and understanding of the game, drawing on their backgrounds as an actor and an art historian to pick apart the references and narrative devices the game uses to tell its story. Katarina draws out a fascinating conversation with them about the overlaps and differences between how we visualise war in the real world and in game worlds, and how representations of conflict in World of Warcraft might influence as well as reflect real-life mindsets and behaviours. You can listen to that episode here.

Alice König, 2.2.22