European Peace Research Association’s (EuPRA) 9th Biennial conference "THE FRAMING OF EUROPE: Peace Perspectives on Europe’s Future"

UiT Tromsø, September 2-4, 2015


“Re-Framing European History/ies and Identities in War Films and Games: Media, Memory, Politics"

The present panel is based on the assumption that audio-visual representations of the past matter for politics and society. Taking films, television series, and computer games about wars and violent conflicts as a point of departure, the panel will interrogate the potential effects of cultural expressions on collective memory and on the formation, negotiation, and possibly subversion of (trans)national identities. Identifying means to address culturally formed, contingent frames for perception, cognition, and agency, the papers assembled in this panel argue that how we reconstruct our past has decisive influence on the acts shaping our future.

In relation to the socio-cultural frames predisposing acts of both violence and peace, we can simplify this statement with reference to James Der Derian (2002) who argues that “more than a rational calculation of interests takes us to war. People go to war because of how they see, perceive, picture, imagine and speak of others; that is, how they construct the difference of others as well as the sameness of themselves through representation”. The panel will investigate how this social construction of friend, foe, and conflict in the sphere of cultural expressions operates.

The panel is organized by the ENCODE-research group (UiT Tromsø).

Paper 1:

Roswitha Skare (UiT Tromsø, ENCODE-research group)

“The Three-Part Television Series Generation War (ZDF 2013): Representations of German and Polish Identities and the Discourse of Authenticity”

Produced in the genre of the historical series, the film is described as “the most lavish ZDF television film of all time”, representing a turning point in German television history in its visualisation of the war’s impact on an individual level. Although the fictionality of the film’s plot is not denied at any point, individuals involved in the film such as director Phillipp Kadelbach emphasise the film’s claim to maintain authenticity. The present paper will first focus on the relationship between fictional plot and historical reality and then – in a second step – investigate the representation of German and Polish identities, taking into account discussions about the question of whether the film’s representation of historical events is “true” or distorted, especially the role of the Polish Home Army and its representation as anti-Semitic in the film.

Paper 2:

Andrei Rogatchevski (UiT Tromsø, ENCODE- and Russian Space-research groups)

“Representations of European versus Russian/Soviet Identity in Cold War Spy Films: James Bond against Count Tulyev”

Imagining your adversary in the atmosphere of high political tension, accompanied by the absence of direct contact and verifiable information, often leads to myths about national and transnational identities. Such myths may prove more powerful than reality, and retain their impact and significance long after the political tensions are gone. Moreover, when such tensions flare up afresh, the relevant myths receive a new lease of life. With this in mind, the present paper compares and contrasts the visual representation of the Other's identity in Cold War times, in three films from the James Bond franchise (From Russia with Love, 1963; The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977; and The Living Daylights, 1987), as well as four films about the Soviet double agent Count Tulyev (four Secret Agent films by Veniamin Dorman, 1968-86).

Bond's tongue-in-cheek Russia-related imagery relies not only on stereotypes about chess, ballet and classical literature (immortalised in the characters of General Pushkin and General Gogol), but also on its cinematic predecessors, such as Ivan the Terrible (1944-58), Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Dr Zhivago (1965). Interestingly and perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, Russians are shown as competitors, not enemies, some of whom are even capable of love (for a Westerner) that is stronger than the Marxist ideology. For Dorman's part, the Secret Agent films contain an unusually high proportion of scenes in the "West" (i.e. various locations in the Baltic republics, then part of the USSR) which together conjure up a common European identity almost before its time, largely because the adversary is rarely specified. Sometimes Dorman's Westerners speak German and French - but CIA representatives can also be found. If anything, the Secret Agent franchise is strongly and indiscriminately anti-NATO. This makes Dorman's films highly relevant again in the light of the recent, rapidly developing confrontation between NATO and the Kremlin, which has an eerie sense of deja vu.

Paper 3:

Holger Pötzsch (UiT Tromsø, ENCODE-research group)

“Re-Framing European Histories: Simulation, Memory, and the Relentless Salience of Violent Pasts”

The European project, with its challenging objective to transform national into transnational identities and allegiances, has been born from a history of exceptional violence that culminated in the industrial-style slaughters of World War II. Since then, direct violence has (more or less) successfully been confined to the outskirts of the European Union with the wars in the former Yugoslavia and the civil war in present day Ukraine as the most glaring (European) examples. However, also the structural violences of joint European border regimes claim an increasingly heavy toll counting in the thousands those who drown in the Mediterranean on their way to what many of them hoped might offer an escape from violence, poverty, and deprivation.

The present paper asks how this legacy of violence, and its haunting continuity, is negotiated in contemporary Western audio-visual culture with particular emphasis on computer games. After a brief excursion into how Knut Erik Jensen’s films negotiate these issues, I move on to a critical reading of the World War II-based shooter Call of Duty: World at War (Activision 2008), before I direct attention the ways through which This War of Mine (11bit Studios 2015) extends a civilian perspective on the Bosnian civil war to an allegorical dimension with relevance for modern warfare in general. I show an ambivalence of popular cultural expressions that might glorify soldiery and sacrifice for the sake of the nation, but that also might bring to light and make accessible hidden and suppressed counter-histories that undermine clear-cut us-against-them and good-against-evil frames for historical identity construction.

The paper argues for the continued saliency in today’s Europe of national historical imaginations of suffering and sacrifice in war, and shows how cultural expressions might fuel or challenge the formation of mutually exclusive identities based on these frames of reference. Through their capacity to play through various versions of history and test out counterfactual decisions and developments, computer games offer an interesting venue into questioning monolithic national narratives of suffering and loss that often serve as means to justify violent approaches to conflict resolution as necessitated by historical precedence.

Paper 4:

Emil Lundedal Hammar (UiT Tromsø, ENCODE-research group)

”Commemoration through Play – How Computer Games Predispose the Performance of Memories of Conflict and Oppression”

This paper aims to explore the ways in which the design of computer games is able to commemorate conflict and/or oppression based on online testimonies of two differing cases. On the one hand, with point of departure in the online reaction to the depiction of the Russian military effort in World War 2 in the computer game Company of Heroes 2 (Relic Entertainment 2013), the paper uncovers how specific instances of memory are constrained through the design of a computer game. On the other hand, I similarly utilize the cases of Assassin’s Creed: Liberation (Ubisoft Sofia 2012) and Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry (Ubisoft Quebec 2013) and their related online testimonies of appreciation by people identifying as a member of an oppressed or as a marginalized social group. I argue that this alternate take on how memory can be enacted and performed in a computer game point towards the emancipating and cathartic qualities of ludic commemorative performances tied to identities associated with memorial oppression and marginalization.

These two differing cases of personal testimonies and collective reactions indicate that the design of a computer game is able to constrain or afford specific enactments or performances related to cultural memories associated with conflict and oppression. Consequently, if we consider digital games to be technologies designed as “explicit and tacit models of social and personal memory” (Van House & Churchill, 2008, p. 297), then they to various extents predispose how such memory is constructed and enacted. As such, I tentatively propose the concept of appropriative commemorative play as a way to understand and capture how the design of certain computer games are able to contribute to our memory of past conflict and/or oppression, and how these differing cases reveal the tension of this particular concept.

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