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Research Project Generates New Findings on War Games

For the past two years, Dr. Daniela Kuschel, academic staff member in the department of Romance Literatures and Media Studies, has analyzed how wars in Romance language countries are represented in analog and digital games.

A key finding of her research is that the number of digital and analog games on wars in Romance language countries has increased in recent years. On the one hand, it seems that this is attributable to new production conditions which allow for the production of niche products, e.g., through crowd funding, but also to the further development of game industries in the relevant countries. On the other hand, the war scenarios of the first and second world war seem to become less popular among players and game authors focus more on national memory and national war events.

The national culture of remembrance plays an important role here since it influences if and how wars are portrayed in games. Some games are actively contributing to remembrance processes and are critically reflecting on subjects like colonization or slavery. Another finding of the project is that several of the new games no longer use the common depictions of war but rather show war scenarios from the viewpoint of ordinary soldiers, maquis, guerrillas, or civilians. Kuschel also found that war depictions are becoming less realistic, thus creating distance between the game and the historical events. According to Kuschel, another reason for the less realistic depictions is that the players are rather indirectly confronted with the violence omnipresent in war. The risk associated with this development is that a strong focus on caricaturization may also trivialize the experience of violence.

As part of the research project, Kuschel and one of her colleagues have also published a journal. The first issue of “„Spiel, Kultur & Kontext: Zeitschrift für interdisziplinäre Spieleforschung“ (which can be translated as “Game, culture & context: Journal for interdisciplinary game research”) was published in March 2022 and deals with the depictions of war and conflict in board games. In addition, Kuschel is working on integrating this field of research in teaching at universities.

In the past two years, Kuschel was funded by the “Research Seed Capital” (RiSC) funding line of the University of Mannheim and the Ministry of Science, Research and Arts Baden-Württemberg. The funding is for early-stage researchers holding a doctorate, who want to implement unusual and high-risk projects in new research areas. Depending on the project, up to 100,000 euros of funding are possible.

Text: Jessica Scholich/May 2023