The Absent Virtual Soldier: Combat Simulators in Film

SCMS, Atlanta GA – April 2016

The American military has long been invested in single soldier and networked simulation technology, such as early examples like SIMNET and The Battle of 73 Easting (to say nothing of flight and tank simulators), as a means to train its soldiers in an attempt to expose them to the speed and visceral nature of warfare. Yet, these simulators are almost completely absent from movies within the war film genre. Interesting then, the cinematic representations of the technology, when they do show up, come under the guise of civilian military-styled video games and virtual reality in movies like Brainstorm, eXistenZ and Gamer. Using these films and focusing on the civilian use of the technology, the chapter explores these films’ critiques about the use of popular combat simulators’ functions within a culture of Total War as well as raising concerns around the virtualizing of the modern military war machine as both dehumanizing and over-corporatized applications of military brainwashing. The movie present conflicts that further enhancing the theme of enemy-ally disintegration by turning civilians against other civilians in the role of soldier in militarized combat, generating a space, via the games themselves and the cinematic representations of these virtual spaces, wherein the dense networking capabilities of the Internet becomes a normalized facilitator of military violence. The end of the chapter will then further explore the reasons why, despite its normalized placement within a contemporary war machine, combat and warfare simulators do not show up in war films. While first touching on the obvious differences in the mediums of film and video games, the chapter then looks at the intertextual nature of movies like Jarhead, wherein soldiers watch other war movies within the film, to argue that cinema itself functions as a form of “virtual reality” training that potentially indoctrinates soldiers in much the same way a combat simulator does.

Paper – The Absent Virtual Soldier – SCMS Pressentation 3.0 (Autosaved)

lecture Slides – The Absent Virtual Soldier