Virtual residues : historical uncertainty and John F. Kennedy's assassination in videogames




Andersen, Carrie Elizabeth

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This study explores how representations of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in videogames inform our present and future. I argue that videogames have the potential to sway a player’s sense of politics and history through image, sound, and interactive capabilities: these games leave what we might call “residue” in a player’s mind, even if he or she is not conscious of those effects. I hope that my analysis, drawing upon player experiences and close readings of two games, will uncover how this residue might reconfigure a player’s sense of Kennedy’s assassination as well as his or her political ideologies and anxieties.

I focus on two games released in the past ten years: the low-selling but controversial JFK: Reloaded, released in 2004, and the wildly popular Call of Duty: Black Ops, released in 2010. These games present the narrative in starkly different ways. The former invites players to reenact repeatedly the assassination from the vantage point of Oswald in the Book Depository while the latter presents an alternative history that ultimately positions a fictional character as Kennedy’s assassin. These games, however, invite players to arrive to similar conclusions about the ways that people engage with historical narratives when playing historically-inspired games. In different ways, both Reloaded and Black Ops divorce the player’s engagement with the assassination on a political level, framing Kennedy’s death as a simple act of violence. Players, then, might understand history as driven more by discrete acts of violence than by complex political practices.

The two games diverge in how they treat the player’s relationship to official accounts of history as well. Reloaded enables deviation from the prescribed story of Kennedy’s assassination offered by the Warren Commission while Black Ops presents an alternative historical account that highlights the flimsiness of memory when memories are tainted by traumatic experience. Both suggest that the official narrative is faulty. Yet these games at once open a space for a new historical narrative and fail to provide a plausible alternative history. The games ultimately render history itself an uncertain enterprise, fraught with flawed memories and official reconfigurations of how events actually transpired.



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