War, what is it good for?
On Oct 6, 2017 news broke about the ambush and killing of 3 US Special Forces soldiers in the African state of Niger. That same week a new set of war game posters were spotted in the New York subway advertising the latest immersive video game to take your mind off — what else? — the wars at work, the wars in the grocery lines, wars with your neighbors and the wars for parking spaces or restaurant reservations. Feeling pinned down by an oppressive workload? Every day is an uphill battle, isn’t it? Strike back with Total War or Gears of War or God of War or Shadow of War and win!
Guy Debord was deeply disturbed by our image-saturated consumer culture. When he looked at modern culture through the lens of Marx, he discovered that what used to be directly lived “has moved away into representation”. Modern life, according to Debord, presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Spectacles around celebrity, political scandals, pollution and, of course, war to name a few. And the function of these eyeball grabbing, attention diverting spectacles is to pacify us all, reinforce the status quo and quell dissent. How does it accomplish this diversion? By appearing to empower us through consumer choice. In the case of Shadow of War, a prospective player can download the game for Playstation, buy the disc, play the mobile version, or buy the Microsoft version.
In 2015, the global video game market was valued at $93 billion. It has become very good at building beautiful roles, addictive challenges and endless rewards to keep players, safely glued to their screens, consuming illusions or in the case of video games, consuming moving pixels on a screen.
Debord realized that the spectacle reduces reality to an endless supply of commodifiable fragments, while encouraging us to focus on appearances. Instead of discussing the realities of our day (like real wars), our every spare moment is sucked up volunteering on “Facebook, Twitter or Google which monetizes our friendships, opinions, purchase data and emotions. Our internal thoughts and experiences are now commodifiable assets. Did you tweet today? Why haven’t you posted to Instagram? Did you “like” your friend’s photos on Facebook yet?”
Meanwhile out in the real world, the business of actually blowing up things, people and places is immensely profitable. In 2011, the 100 largest contractors sold $410 billion in arms and military services.
War, what is it good for? Absolutely profit