Serious Games (2009-10)
Harun Farocki’s four-part project Serious Games (2009-10) takes a look at the use of photorealistic computer-generated imagery in processes surrounding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We see soldiers being trained before missions by demonstrative games that map out enemy terrain and climate in amazing detail – right down till the physical properties of the vegetation found in these geographies. We also see similar interactive programs that help PTSD-afflicted ex-servicemen revisit devastating moments and, in doing so, overcome their condition. There is an amalgamation of reality, fiction and simulation throughout the film. What appear to be documentary segments are revealed to be performances by amateur actor-salesmen demonstrating to soldiers the uses of their video games. In one segment, a mock Iraqi village is set up in Twentynine Palms, California with the help of local Iranian and Pakistani folk that seems directly modeled on a videogame. While not all of these games with reality and fiction pay off, it is intriguing to note how armies’ relationship to war has changed over the years. War appears to have ceased being a hard, irrational, unpredictable material reality and become a science that could be modeled, predicted and controlled. Farocki refers to this modern type of war as an asymmetric war, in which one side has a heavy advantage over the other and focuses on the biased representation and perceptual manipulation such simulations propagate. His fuzzy polemic, however, is not only compromised but also questionable because the kind of representation he is criticizing is, unlike the mass media, made specifically for the consumption of the army and is, itself, based on the army’s existing view of things. So not only does the commentary come across as self-evident, but also toothless because the position that the film locates itself in does not allow for insightful criticism in the first place.