Games of Drones: The Uneasy Future of the Soldier-Hero in Call of Duty: Black Ops II

Carrie Elizabeth Andersen


In this article, I argue that the first-person shooter video game, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, reflects the U.S. military‟s transition as it reimagines the soldier‟s role in war. In the age of drone technology, this role shifts from a position of strength to one of relative weakness. Although video games that feature future combat often “function as virtual enactments and endorsements for developing military technologies,” Black Ops II offers a surprisingly complex vision of the future of drones and U.S. soldiers (Smicker 2009: 107). To explore how the game reflects a contemporary vision of the U.S. military, I weave together a close textual reading of two levels in Black Ops II with actual accounts from drone pilots and politicians that illuminate the nature of drone combat. Although there are moments in Black Ops II in which avatars combat enemies with first-hand firepower, the experience of heroic diegetic violence is superseded by a combat experience defined by powerlessness, boredom, and ambiguous pleasure. The shift of the soldier from imposing hero to a banal figure experiences its logical conclusion in Unmanned, an independent video game that foregrounds the mundane, nonviolent nature of drone piloting. Instead of training soldiers to withstand emotionally devastating experiences of death and violence first-hand (or to physically enact such violence), games like Black Ops II and Unmanned train actual and potential soldiers to tolerate monotony and disempowerment.


surveillance, videogame, gaming, drone, agency, emotion, affect, military, war, technology

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