Playing in the End Times: Wargames, Resilience and the Art of Failure

McSorley, Kevin (2019). Playing in the End Times: Wargames, Resilience and the Art of Failure. In: Hammond, Philip and Pötzsch, Holger eds. Wargames: Memory, Militarism and the Subject of Play. London: Bloomsbury, pp. 37–52.



This chapter argues that the political significance and cultural resonance of contemporary video wargames lies not simply in the forms of militarism that such games engender. Rather video wargames are a signature late modern medium through which forms of resilience are entrained through permanent arousal and continuous exposure to contingency and failure. The video wargamer is a subject who ultimately understands and experiences themselves as a resilient subject, a survivor. While inevitable failure may make the player deeply frustrated, such anger is predominantly directed towards a delimited form of self-improvement rather than towards structural critique of the gameworld, which is ruled out of court because the rules of the game cannot be changed. Wargaming thus serves as an activity in which specific models and practices of resilience training are increasingly made manifest. Wargames may be best understood and critiqued not simply in terms of cultural militarisation or pre-training for war, but as a space for playing through continual emergency, as an increasingly prominent cultural form where the player learns emotionally and imaginatively to bear the disaster of living in the end times.

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