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Playful Encounters: Games for Geopolitical Change

Authors: Daniel Bos

Affiliation: The Department of Geography and International Development- University of Chester 

Organization/Publisher: Geopolitics Journal

Date/Place: December 7, 2021/UK

Type of Literature: Journal Article  

Number of Pages: 25 



Keywords: Popular Geopolitics, Ludic/Play, Encounter Complexes, Video Games, Online Methods, This War of Mine



When it comes to video games, studies have traditionally focused on ideological readings of the playful texts. However, this paper aims to offer an alternative approach to critical video games by examining the role that players themselves play in reshaping geopolitics through popular cultures. At the outset of the paper, the author analyzes the relationship between video games and geopolitics, highlighting their long-standing significance in geopolitical thought and practice within liberal democracies, and how play provides geopolitical alternatives across popular cultures. To start, the author notes that the conceptual connotations of geopolitics differ between academia and popular cultures. In this context, the author emphasizes that the principles of video games have been included in military strategic planning as proactive measures in the war industry. These have been presented to the public in the form of virtual simulations of future war scenarios and possible terrorist attacks that could threaten the security and sovereignty of the State. The purpose of this is to culturally legitimize the use of military violence by making the spots of conflict meaningful. However, with the advantage of modifying content and play mechanisms to change the game’s shape or behavior, player engagement can run counter to the intention of game designers in ways that can challenge, resist, and destroy the original meaning.


For instance, players can corrupt dominant cultures and ideologies in militarism and resist them by promoting new alternatives to conflict and understanding geopolitics. Critical video games make it possible to set up virtual protests and resistance within the game and challenge various political, environmental, and social conditions. To further illustrate this point, the author cites examples such as the work of digital artist Joseph Delap’s “dead-in-Iraq,” which used the military recruitment game America’s Army to raise awareness of those killed in the United States Army in Iraq. Another example is the group “Velvet Strike,” which submitted an amendment to the Counter-Strike military game by spraying anti-war writings within the game. The author warns that critical video games are a double-edged sword in that they can be used as a tool for changing geopolitics, raising awareness, and challenging geopolitical programming. Still, they can also become increasingly involved in geopolitical forms of work because of the way they function as cultural expressions that can then be used to interfere in political and social life.


Daniel Boss raises important questions, namely, how virtual playing environments can create geopolitical encounters and how they are facilitated and shaped. Before answering these questions, the author highlights the lack of theoretical clarity on this matter. However, Wilson and Darling’s critical analytical scope can help us understand how elements of the past combine with diverse future imaginations to shape today’s associations through player interactions, experiences of different geopolitical fantasies, landscapes, and people, leading to a better understanding of how popular perceptions of geopolitics persist or are challenged.


The paper refers to the controversy over whether these games can be separated from the political world as a geopolitical act. However, there is a dissenting view of this perspective, which suggests that the public can recreate its geopolitical meaning. Nevertheless, the writer acknowledges that the specific spatial contexts in which emerging geopolitical confrontations occur are important and cannot be ignored. Therefore, the geopolitical meaning of video games is made possible by playful encounters within the available space. To support this proposal, the researcher offers a range of arguments showing how these encounters act as a bridge of cultural communication between people, with players negotiating and navigating sociocultural differences within different physical and virtual spatial contexts. This can lead to the reformulation of geopolitical knowledge and identity in everyday life and practices. According to the author, these encounters open up “political possibilities” for play, but the ways to confront geopolitical fantasies and differences through gameplay are still limited.


In response to previous questions, this paper presents a case study on the independent game “This War of Mine,” which gained international fame and critical acclaim after its release in 2014. The game offers a unique perspective on urban conflict by focusing on the experiences of civilians within a war environment, in contrast to games that often depict remote geographical areas as nothing but terrorist nests that need to be dealt with militarily. In TWOM, players control a group of survivors and manage their shelter, searching for necessities like food, medicine, and equipment to survive. They must also carefully manage their supplies and provide comfort, protection, and recreation to maintain their physical and psychological health. The ultimate goal is to survive until a ceasefire is declared.


While the game highlights the consequences of war for civilians, it also holds players responsible for rebuilding society from scratch amidst social and institutional collapse. The day and night cycle determines the pace of the game, with players focusing on keeping their stash during the day and exploring unique sites for items at night. The game developers chose to highlight personal events and family biographies, as well as geographical contexts, rather than focusing on a specific geopolitical conflict.


This study examines player reviews of the game “This War of Mine” (TWoM) on the Steam platform. The aim is to understand how these reviews can help interpret players’ personal experiences of playing the game in connection to geopolitical events and issues, making them meaningful within and outside the gaming community. By analyzing player ratings, the study shows how TWoM disrupts geopolitical logic that links spatial contexts to military violence. Surprisingly, 94% of the 41,495 reviews indicated positive aspects of the game, which is unusual for military video games. Reviewers praised TWoM’s lack of reliance on traditional standards for the commercial video game industry, and its introduction of a civilian perspective, which allows players to open the debate about the ethical dilemma of war and the role of violence within and outside video games.


The writer of the article believes that TWoM resonates with feminist geopolitical knowledge theories, which seek to challenge male hegemony that fosters war militarism. The game is set in a deliberately fictional environment to avoid referring to any specific conflict and to encourage players to feel like it’s their own city. However, players in their reviews have linked the game and its progressive message to the geopolitical realities of historical and contemporary conflicts.

The article highlights the fact that games have the power to challenge not only geopolitical discourses, but also to be used as a form of humanitarian intervention through financial donations in relation to current geopolitical conflicts. Game developers and charitable organizations are beginning to connect players with social and political issues they can help with. As an example, in 2015, TWoM added pieces of art made by global artists to the game environment that players were able to collect as in-game rewards. These donations and profits supported the lives of 350 Syrian refugee children in Iraq and Jordan.


However, the article also acknowledges some criticism of the game’s persuasive abilities. Nonetheless, the writer emphasizes the importance of compassion towards human suffering. Finally, the article strongly criticizes the limited focus on opposition cultural media despite its diversity and importance in rethinking an alternative to dominant geopolitics through popular culture and its role in drawing awareness to various political issues and understanding complex systems.

By: Ryma Meddah, MA in IR and International Law



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