Casual Empire: Video Games as Neocolonial Praxis

Article English OPEN
Harrer, Sabine (2018)
  • Publisher: Open Library of Humanities
  • Journal: Open Library of Humanities (issn: Open Library of Humanities; Vol 4, No 1 (2018); 5, eissn: Open Library of Humanities; Vol 4, No 1 (2018); 5)
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.16995/olh.210
  • Subject: History of scholarship and learning. The humanities | Game studies, cultural studies | AZ20-999

As a media form entwined in the U.S. military-industrial complex, video games continue to celebrate imperialist imagery and Western-centric narratives of the great white explorer (Breger, 2008; Dyer-Witheford & de Peuter, 2009; Geyser & Tshalabala, 2011; Mukherjee, 2016). While much ink has been spilt on the detrimental effects of colonial imagery on those it objectifies and dehumanises, the question is why these games still get made, and what mechanisms are at work in the enjoyment of empire-themed play experiences. To explore this question, this article develops the concept of ‘casual empire’, suggesting that the wish to play games as a casual pastime expedites the incidental circulation of imperialist ideology. Three examples – Resident Evil V (2009), The Conquest: Colonization (2015) and Playing History: Slave Trade (2013) – are used to demonstrate the production and consumption of casual empire across multiple platforms, genres and player bases. Following a brief contextualisation of postcolonial (game) studies, this article addresses casual design, by which I understand game designers’ casual reproduction of inferential racism (Hall, 1995) for the sake of entertainment. I then look at casual play, and players’ attitudes to games as rational commodities continuing a history of commodity racism (McClintock, 1995). Finally, the article investigates the casual involvement of formalist game studies in the construction of imperial values. These three dimensions of the casual – design, play and academia – make up the three pillars of the casual empire that must be challenged to undermine video games’ neocolonialist praxis. 
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