John WillsJun 15, 2022
Video Games and American Culture
Johns Hopkins University Press 2019
In 1975, design engineer Dave Nutting completed work on a new arcade machine. A version of Taito's Western Gun, a recent Japanese arcade machine, Nutting's Gun Fight depicted a classic showdown between gunfighters. Rich in Western folklore, the game seemed perfect for the American market; players easily adapted to the new technology, becoming pistol-wielding pixel cowboys. One of the first successful early arcade titles, Gun Fight helped introduce an entire nation to video-gaming and sold more than 8,000 units.
In Gamer Nation: Video Games and American Culture (Johns Hopkins UP, 2019), John Wills examines how video games co-opt national landscapes, livelihoods, and legends. Arguing that video games toy with Americans' mass cultural and historical understanding, Wills show how games reprogram the American experience as a simulated reality. Blockbuster games such as Civilization, Call of Duty, and Red Dead Redemption repackage the past, refashioning history into novel and immersive digital states of America. Controversial titles such as Custer's Revenge and 08.46 recode past tragedies. Meanwhile, online worlds such as Second Life cater to a desire to inhabit alternate versions of America, while Paperboy and The Sims transform the mundane tasks of everyday suburbia into fun and addictive challenges.
Working with a range of popular and influential games, from Pong, Civilization, and The Oregon Trail to Grand Theft Auto, Silent Hill, and Fortnite, Wills critically explores these gamic depictions of America. Touching on organized crime, nuclear fallout, environmental degradation, and the War on Terror, Wills uncovers a world where players casually massacre Native Americans and Cold War soldiers alike, a world where neo-colonialism, naive patriotism, disassociated violence, and racial conflict abound, and a world where the boundaries of fantasy and reality are increasingly blurred. Ultimately, Gamer Nation reveals not only how video games are a key aspect of contemporary American culture, but also how games affect how people relate to America itself.
Rudolf Inderst is a professor of Game Design at the IU International University of Applied Science.