Grad Research: Carrie Andersen publishes article on drones and Call of Duty in Surveillance and Society

A Reaper Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) comes into land at Kandahar Airbase in Helmand, Afghanistan.

A Reaper Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) comes into land at Kandahar Airbase in Helmand, Afghanistan.

Summer may be winding down – it is August, after all – but we still have exciting news to share with you folks about our departmental community and its various projects. Ph.D. student Carrie Andersen has just published a journal article in the July 2014 issue of Surveillance and Society, entitled “Games of Drones: The Uneasy Future of the Soldier-Hero in Call of Duty: Black Ops II.” This work comprises part of her dissertation research: her project examines the cultural and political construction of the drone within the post-9/11 milieu.

Check out her abstract below. The full article can be found here (bonus: the journal is open-access, so have at it without logging into any databases!).

In this article, I argue that the first-person shooter video game, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, reflects the U.S. military‟s transition as it reimagines the soldier‟s role in war. In the age of drone technology, this role shifts from a position of strength to one of relative weakness. Although video games that feature future combat often “function as virtual enactments and endorsements for developing military technologies,” Black Ops II offers a surprisingly complex vision of the future of drones and U.S. soldiers (Smicker 2009: 107). To explore how the game reflects a contemporary vision of the U.S. military, I weave together a close textual reading of two levels in Black Ops II with actual accounts from drone pilots and politicians that illuminate the nature of drone combat. Although there are moments in Black Ops II in which avatars combat enemies with first-hand firepower, the experience of heroic diegetic violence is superseded by a combat experience defined by powerlessness, boredom, and ambiguous pleasure. The shift of the soldier from imposing hero to a banal figure experiences its logical conclusion in Unmanned, an independent video game that foregrounds the mundane, nonviolent nature of drone piloting. Instead of training soldiers to withstand emotionally devastating experiences of death and violence first-hand (or to physically enact such violence), games like Black Ops II and Unmanned train actual and potential soldiers to tolerate monotony and disempowerment.

Stories from Summer Vacation: Andi Gustavson Launches Personal Pin-up Project

Andi Gustavson describes the launch of a digital archive on war and photography to which servicemembers of all kinds can contribute – take a look!

from the Personal Pin-up PRoject

from the Personal Pin-up PRoject

This summer I launched the digital humanities portion of my dissertation on Cold War snapshot photography, the Personal Pin-up Project. I am collecting the private photographs that servicemembers carried or kept with them during their time in the military. These personal “pin-ups” can be snapshots of loved ones taken by the soldiers themselves or pictures of women or men who posed for the camera and then sent that snapshot off to war. I am looking for the photograph kept in the pocket, or worn in the helmet, or hidden in the gear of each servicemember. These images of loved ones do not often make their way into archives or art galleries. And yet, if most military members had one special photograph with them when they went away to war, then there must be thousands of these snapshots—in shoeboxes under beds, tucked into the back of closets, left in journals or letters, or stored on cellphones. The Personal Pin-up Project brings together the private images scattered across thousands of homes into a public and digital archive.

The Personal Pin-up Project is a public digital archive of the private images taken and kept by many American veterans and their loved ones. There is currently no archival repository to collect such a specific subset of war-related photographs that were, nevertheless, very common. Over the last several years as I was working on my dissertation about snapshot photography and the Cold War, I kept coming across references to these personal photographs of loved ones that were treasured by servicemembers and carried with them while they were deployed. Tim O’Brien, for example, notes in The Things They Carried, “Almost everyone humped photographs. In his wallet, Lieutenant Cross carried two photographs of Martha. The first was a Kodacolor snapshot signed Love, though he knew better. She stood against a brick wall. Her eyes were gray and neutral, her lips slightly open as she stared straight-on at the camera” (3). These snapshots are incredibly common and yet I had not come across many–I kept searching and muttering to my dissertation group that “surely these photographs are out there, so why can’t I find them?” After several failed attempts to discover the type of snapshots I knew existed, I decided it might be a better use of my time to just create the archive I hope to find.

Hopefully, The Personal Pin-up Project can become a way for servicemembers to preserve their collective memories about the role of photographs carried overseas. This is not an archive of professional photojournalism nor it is a catch-all for thousands of soldier snapshots. This collection of treasured photographs will document the private experience of war, making publicly available for the first time images that were highly valued and extremely personal. By exploring the personal snapshots taken by servicemembers into warzones and overseas, we can learn more about the intimate and daily experiences of war and its relationship to love, hope, longing, desire, frustration, admiration, and nostalgia.

Please consider contributing to this archive or encouraging someone you know to contribute to the archive at