Laquana Cooke

Laquana Cooke is a PhD Candidate in Communication and Rhetoric at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute whose dissertation seeks to amend current game-based learning (GBL) strategies to address racial/ethnic disparities in STEM Education through a game design pedagogical framework she conceptualizes as Metatuning. Metatuning, as a result of Laquana’s interdisciplinary and multi-industrial experiences, sits at the intersection of critical pedagogy, games criticism, and the performative view of game design practices. As a part-time Game Designer, Laquana’s research and teaching revolves around concepts of students'/ players’sociotechnical and sociocultural experiences in procedural spaces.
Contact information:
laquana.cooke at

Gaines S. Hubbell

Gaines S. Hubbell is a lecturer of English at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. He has a PhD in Communication and Rhetoric from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He studies the contemporary history of rhetorical theory and practice and its applications for newer media environments. His dissertation tracks the history of topical invention in twentieth-century American rhetorical theory, pedagogy, and criticism.
Contact information:
gaineshubbell at

Working Out Memory with a Medal of Honor Complex

by Laquana Cooke, Gaines S. Hubbell


We look at the memorial function of videogames through the lenses of videogame studies and memory studies. We argue that a videogame does memory work if it attempts to represent past events through historical, functional, and mimetic realism. These kinds of realism should be present in gamic action, whether diegetic and non-diegetic, and the representation of speech and images in the game.

We look specifically at Medal of Honor (Danger Close Games, 2010) because it is an excellent example of a game that does memory work; however, we find that Medal of Honor’ s memory work challenges the prevalent memory studies binary of official versus popular memory because its official memory is made available for play. Furthermore, since Medal of Honor’ s memory work happens in the procedural code of the game and the procedural language scripted for the non-player characters in the game, we expanded our working definition of proceduralism to accommodate various rhetorics. Ultimately, appreciating games that do memory work means refining a definition of the text and the methodology that stems from that definition.

Keywords: Memory, Medal of Honor, realism, FPS, history, proceduralism, narrative, mechanics


Academic studies that examine sites of memory quite often fixate theoretical frameworks around contested spaces that are defined by conflicts between vernacular and official interests, elite and popular practices, official history and popular memory (Bodnar, 1992; Haskins, 2003; Foucault, 1996). The pendulum swinging between these binaries is usually contingent on matters such as what are the rituals of commemoration, who is funding the commemorating artifacts, and who is included in the creation/ construction process. Games like Medal of Honor (MHO; Danger Close Games, 2010) are conceptualized as sites of popular memory; however, MHO, because of its played historical realism and development within the military entertainment complex, frustrates the bifurcation of official and popular memory.

Previous videogame analyses explored how games’ stories and realism help recreate hegemonic narratives. Hess (2007) argued that Medal of Honor: Rising Sun (Electronic Arts Los Angeles, 2003) operated on both sides of the popular/ official binary: Medal of Honor: Rising Sun used historical verisimilitude to lead players to believe its authenticity while "selective[ly] (re)making" the public memory in the privacy of their own home (p. 353). We seek to continue Hess’ s line of research by considering how military protocol—linguistic and practical combat procedure—works closely with the proceduralism of MHO to build a memory space that challenges the binary of official and popular memory through play. In MHO the site of memory operates across the gamic action of the game to locate a distinct middle position between official and popular memory. Medal of Honor stands out as a particularly good example, not because it is a military FPS, but because it has attempted a clear historical realism by combining historical evidence with other naïve realisms of functional technology, militaristic speech terminology, and realistic graphical representation.

This essay looks at narrative elements and isolated immersive and participatory elements of the game in order to expose the "memory work" within the game; memory work is an academic shorthand for the ways that memory, as a process, creates, controls, or contributes to making meaning of the past (see Zelizer, 2008). By looking at memory work in games we hope to demonstrate that memory requires more than just a "hypodermic" model of consumption: It obliges a "gaming literacy" (Zimmerman, 2009; Bogost, 2005) of MHO—that space is a reflective and recursive process of looking at the inside gameworld turned inside-out as allegories of the real (outside) world. Thus, memory is "worked out" through a reflexive process, and manifestations of this "working out" are found within online community spaces.

The goal here is to show that memory work game play is not merely based on the historical accuracy of representation but that it is also the combination of the gamic action (Galloway, 2006), the palpability of agency within the environment’ s algorithmic space, and the ongoing discourses in affinity spaces (Gee, 2007). We will look at the memory work from the conceptualization stage to the reception stage, where the single-player mode of MHO is the intersecting commemorating site that serves as the impetus for players’ collective memories made apparent within affinity spaces.

Collective, Official, Popular and Prosthetic Memory

Sites of memory, such as libraries and museums, are instrumental in not only preserving and organizing history (Halbwachs, 2007; Nora, 2007), but also in intentionally revising, selecting and rejecting the past (Frow, 2007; Huyssen, 2007). Recognizing that history is malleable, the historical accuracy of mnemonic artifacts becomes questionable. Who determines how and in what ways history is to be stored, accessed, and displayed? In addition, who constructs these sites of memory and guides the ritualistic practices thereof? In order to capture the way these questions may suggest a plural notion of histories, Halbwachs (2007) proposed "collective memory" as a counterpart for history, specifically to allow for a consideration of historical events as perceived — a question of the relative accuracy of history. Collective memory accounts for the continuity of history when perceived by a group of people and abhors the schematization of historical periods (Halbwachs, 2007, p. 140-141). There are, then, collective memories, plural: a collective memory for every group, however groups are established (Halbwachs, 2007, p. 142-143). The demarcation of separate groups often begins the process of analysis of collective memory, and one such demarcation between groups is based upon the amount or type of agency over the collective memory or memories a group has. Agency over memory, a nebulous concept in itself, has been reduced in memory studies scholarship to agency based on consolidated power and agency based on collective will. This results in a binary of official versus popular, where official is "official," “governmental,” or "elite" memory or history, popular is "vernacular" or "public" memory, and collective memory has become the catchall term. This dichotomy of agency in memory is present in Bodnar (1992), Haskins (2003), and Foucault (1996).

According to Bodnar (1992), the control of the memorialization practices of American Civil War history was negotiated between "official" national commissions and "vernacular" local residents. What was significant about the commemoration of the American Civil War was the universal narrative that was intended by the commissions to solidify a single fictive identity (Balibar, 2007), hence a unifying nationalistic collective memory (and identity). Even though the commissions created protocols and rules and financed those who followed the rules, the commissions’ approaches were opposed by local appropriations and carnivalesque memorial practices.

In a similar light, Haskins (2003) showed how the United States Postal Service’ s commemoration of 20th century history was a joint effort between the elite and public/masses. The US Postal Service’ s Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, a group of elite board members,strategically created the illusion of agency through an inclusive and egalitarian voting process. By constraining the voting process with consciously chosen taxonomic categories from which the public was to choose and by organizing and rearranging the selections into a hegemonic narrative, the Committee’ s memorialization served as a mantle that the public masses were to fall under.

Congruent with Haskins and Bodnar’ s studies is Foucault’ s (1996) opinions about French historical films like The Sorrow and the Pity, Lacombe Lucien, and The Night Porter. Foucault (1996) argued that the portrayal of the French Resistance during WWII was erased in such "official" films. By eroticizing Nazism with narrative-driven love stories, these films repressed the narratives of the Resistance. According to Foucault (1996), this method effectively reprogrammed and controlled public memory.

Finally, Landsberg (2004) provides a useful contribution to the academic discourse around this official/popular binary: a concept she called "prosthetic memory" (p. 2). Prosthetic memory captures the interaction between a "historical narrative about the past" and a person receiving this historical narrative, and this interaction typically occurs at a commodified site of memory. The conceptual attempt made by Landsberg was to capture the moment where a film depicting a historical narrative about the past shapes the personal memory of an audience member without expecting the audience member to decode the entirety of the characters’ identities. Where official memory is the selection and curation of remembered events serving an elite group’ s ideology and popular memory is a group’ s shared memory of events, prosthetic memory is the personal remembrance developed in response to artifacts that record either official or popular memory. Prosthetic memory engages at a personal level how the commodification of mass culture disseminates public and official memory. This allows for the dissemination of memory in a fragmented, pluralistic society while maintaining the normative aspects of shared memory of memory. Memories cannot be separated from their social context (Misztal, 2003), and the American political and economic context that surrounds the official, popular, and prosthetic memories present in MHO is the military entertainment complex.

Military Entertainment Complex

Gradually, the military industrial complex has seeped into entertainment and evolved into a military entertainment complex. The military entertainment complex appears when the military and/or military industry and entertainment industries mutually benefit from their joint material endeavors (Lenoir, 2000; King & Leonard, 2010).

Studies of collective memory often focus on the purpose of a collective memory, and according to Zelizer (1995), "collective memory is always a means to something else" (p. 226). Part of the memory work of war games is merely naturalizing the military entertainment complex and, by extension, the military industrial complex. They also sterilize war: According to Leonard (2004), the "blur between real and the fantastically imagined, given the hyper-presence of war on Television and within videogames, constructs a war without bloodshed, carnage or destruction" (pp. 2-3). Military games tend to represent a Western ideal of war and reduce representation of war to outstanding moments, eliding the everyday fear of violence (Berents & Keogh, 2014). But, one way that war and military games authenticate war experiences is by presenting those experiences and the conflict itself in a commemorative light.

The Conceptualization of Medal of Honor

We should, first, say that MHO is one among a limited set of games that do memory work. And, among games that do memory work, MHO is an excellent example, which is why we have chosen it as the object of analysis for proposing a definition and demonstrating how that definition operates methodologically. The differences that set games that do memory work apart from other games begin with their production, specifically the choice of what to represent and how to represent it.

As a site of official memory, Medal of Honor (Danger Close Games, 2010) was based on battles during Operation Enduring Freedom—Afghanistan (OEF-A), popularly referred to in America as the "war in Afghanistan." Medal of Honor is significant because it depicted battles from a conflict that was transpiring during the game’ s release date (2010). Recorded official literature, such as the Department of Defense’ s (2002) executive summary and other pamphlets, thoroughly outlined historical events and battles that occurred during OEF-A, which were depicted in MHO. Medal of Honor was based on fragmented battles and events of the OEF-A that were often synonymous with the facts expressed by the DOD. Rather than depicting the war in its entirety, MHO primarily re-enacted two days of the March 2002 Operation Anaconda (that occurred six months after 9/11), which was a relatively short operation that included the Battle of Shah-i-Kot valley and the Battle of Takur Ghar.

During Operation Anaconda, US Joint Special Operations Command units were to provide "reconnaissance ... teams at strategic locations where they would establish observation posts provide information on enemy movements and direct air strikes against observed enemy forces" (DOD, 2002). According to Kugler (2007), intelligence estimates of the number of enemy combatants in Shah-i-Kot valley varied greatly from the number encountered, unexpected heavy weapons were present, and early friendly fire incidents demoralized Afghan troops. These events make for a dramatic historical event and an ideal form for the simulacra presented by the military entertainment complex — 2010’ s MHO videogame.

Even though a number of published historical accounts of Operation Anaconda exist, Electronic Arts (EA) brought in soldiers from a Tier 1 Operator unit, elite soldiers organized under US Joint Special Operations Command, as consultants to create an emotional appeal for these events and to authenticate the story and simulated war environment (Medalofhonor, 2010). As MHO’ s consultants, these Tier 1 Operators shared their personal stories, tactical and technical weaponry knowledge, and historical recollection of Operation Anaconda as special unit combatants. A series of interviews with these Tier 1 Operators were provided online where they shared mission stories, militaristic beliefs, and patriotism in order to "have some say in the way the community is being represented" and "to do the right thing and let [the public] see [the] operator for what he is," according to an unidentified Tier 1 operator interviewee (Medalofhonor, 2010). The consultants celebrated MHO’ s commitment to military and historical accuracy; for example, one stated, "If I told the story or talked about something, half an hour later I can see the results of what I said taking place on the screen." Another interviewee proceeded by stating that no other game "simulates being on a real op [...] Medal of Honor is going to be different [...] it’ s the human side that they are bringing into the soldier and bring back the respect." As part of the prosthetic memory, this structures players’ subjectivity by validating their experiences with those articulated by soldiers.

Military games have long demonstrated a preference for historical accuracy which often turns the games’ narratives toward historical realism. The prevalence of historical realism in Medal of Honor (2010) should come as no surprise: The Medal of Honor series began with Medal of Honor (2000) under the direction of Steven Spielberg—director and producer of Saving Private Ryan and producer of Band of Brothers, two properties well known for their historical realism. Medal of Honor (2000) was intended, according to Russell (2012), to be a complementary product for Saving Private Ryan and an educational experience. Saving Private Ryan’ s plot became the basis for the third game in the series, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (2002). Historical realism as a quality of production has driven the marketing of Medal of Honor (2010) to interviewing Tier 1 Operators for historical evidence and mimicking official history documents, like the Department of Defense’ s executive summary.

As opposed to using archived footage—as Medal of Honor: Rising Sun does—to augment the verisimilitude of war, MHO brings the soldiers into the foreground and authenticates its depiction of history through a paratext by hosting the Tier 1 interview series on the Medalofhonor YouTube channel. Medal of Honor’ s approach that both humanized the soldiers and directs attention to their perspectives of what goes on behind the scenes of the battles, are important elements that legitimize MHO as a memorializing game.

Medal of Honor (Danger Close Games, 2010) is rife with memorial symbolism and confronts the player with memorial framing immediately. At the beginning of the single-player levels, the player was first provided with a quote from Lawrence Binyon’ s "For the Fallen," often used in British World War 1 memorial services and then introduced to a foreshadowing cut-scene of "Rabbit" (one of four main protagonists) and other crewmembers in a helicopter that was abruptly hit by rocket propelled grenades. Yelling came over the radio, and suddenly this disaster was curtailed by a cutaway text stating, "6 Months Earlier." These opening moments frame the game as memorial, and perhaps more importantly to the game’ s craft, they prime the player to interact with diegetic action in a historical setting--removed from the narrative’ s present-ness by “six months.”“Present day" events related to the foreshadowed event the player initially witnessed were conveyed through news media sound bites. From 9/11 commentaries to military personnel’ s coordinated missions, these sound bites help situate the players’ role and contextualize why the war they are to embark on is historically realistic as well as framing the game within a popular memory of the war in Afghanistan.

Historical realism also plays a role in the marketing of these games. The importance of historical realism for players of military genre video games and for the propagandistic effect of those games is well documented by Penney (2010). Historical realism has become a hallmark of competitive marketing for military FPS games. EA’ s Medal of Honor and Battlefield series differentiate themselves from Activision’ s Call of Duty series by emphasizing the "realism" of EA properties over that of Activision’ s. For example, the back cover of EA’ s Medal of Honor: Warfighter, limited edition, (Danger Close Games, 2012) claimed, "The world of Tier 1 returns in the only shooter with real Operators, real gear and a real terror threat" [emphasis added]. According to Ransom-Wiley (2008), MHO was originally named "Medal of Honor: Operation Anaconda," emphasizing the role of "realism" in the marketing of EA. The marketing is not lost on Ransom-Wiley (2008) who continued on to characterize the game: "Unlike Call of Duty 4, apparently this version of ‘ modern combat’ will focus on historical events, including the Battle of Takur Ghar." Where in the production cycle the marketing scheme of differentiating between EA and Activision FPS warfare figures, we do not know (see Dovey, 2007, for an idea of how complex development choices like this can be); however we believe that at some point during production a decision was made to perform "realism" in game design, basing the game on US Military executive reports, soldiers' testimony, historical realism and technological verisimilitude.

Historical Realism in the Medal of Honor Storyline

After a short series of largely tutorial levels, MHO’ s A and B stories resume after the player secured Bagram airfield. The airfield became the operating base for Colonel Drucker, who has video conferences with his commanding officer, General Flagg. From this point on, the conflict between Colonel Drucker and General Flagg over how to proceed strategically dominates the B story. Drucker suggested a recon approach (fewer causalities) that would gather intelligence for the allied Afghan army to fight the battle; yet Flagg preferred a more aggressive approach, deploying Rangers to kill and drive out the Taliban. In the end, Flagg granted Drucker 24 hours to do things his way, and the stage is set for the Battle of Shah-i-Kot valley waged by a combination of Afghani and US coalition special operations soldiers (Department of Defense, 2002). Colonel Drucker and General Flagg present a B story in cut-scenes for the remainder of the game that operates simultaneously and interspersed amidst the gameplay storyline. Later in this essay, we refer to the conflict between Colonel Drucker, who wears fatigues, and General Flagg, who wears a suit, as the suit v. soldier narrative.

The A story picks up with the next mission carried out by the “AFO Wolfpack” (player playing as protagonist "Deuce"), a special command unit that was tasked to stealthily mark enemy vehicles. Meanwhile, Flagg and Drucker’ s conflicts manifested in this mission when an AC-130 strike mistakenly targeted the allies, similar to the friendly fire incident that occurred during OEF-A at the beginning of the Battle of Shah-i-Kot valley (Kugler, 2007). From this point on, the coincidences between the A story’ s events and the official accounts of the Battles of Shah-i-Kot valley and Takur Ghar are numerous. With the allied Afghan army fleeing from friendly fire, Drucker was left no choice but to call in the Rangers. The Rangers entered only to find themselves under heavy fire from a DShK machine gun, matching the Department of Defense's (DOD) executive summary description of a "heavy machine gun perfectly positioned to shoot down coalition aircraft" that deployed Rangers in the valley (Danger Close Games, 2010; DOD, 2002). Rocket propelled grenades, machine guns, and mortars attacked the Rangers and their helicopters—likewise reported by Kugler (2007)—and the Rangers took cover in the valley in a geographic formation described by soldiers, according to Kugler's (2007) report, as "Hell’ s Halfpipe" (p. 16)—a description matching a dry riverbed encountered at this point in the game.

Protagonist Specialist Dante Adams and his crew—US Rangers and an Air Force close-air combat specialist—were tasked with counter attacking the Taliban and destroying their machine guns, by fighting to the ridge-line on which the machine gun was positioned, again matching the description provided by Kugler (2007, p. 12). After accomplishing the task, Dante and crew headed to an extraction point in a village where they faced overwhelming numbers, ammunition shortages, and certain death. Salvation came in the form of Apache helicopters to which the protagonist role switched after a brief cut-scene; these Apaches destroyed Taliban bases and villages, matching the description of two Apache helicopters that flew a "racetrack" pattern over the valley (Kugler, 2007, p. 15). Thereafter, as the Apaches were heading back to refit, a Taliban fighter firing an anti-aircraft gun appeared ready to take down a chopper: Fortunately, the protagonists’ AFO team on the opposite side of mountain quickly killed the Taliban, which may be an attempt to pay homage to Canadian sniper Corporal Rob Furlong's record-setting service in Shah-i-Kot valley (Friscolanti, 2006).

Following that scene, Rabbit (Player) and Wolfpack were separated while escaping the Taliban. An injured Rabbit sought shelter with leader "Mother" only to find themselves cornered and captured by the Taliban. Meanwhile, Colonel Drucker and Flagg disagreed on whether they should rescue the two captured soldiers. Disregarding command, Drucker sent out a rescue team that found Mother and Rabbit. Unfortunately, the medevac team did not arrive in time to save Rabbit from his wounds, and so Rabbit died. Though a soldier was lost, the ending remains victorious as jets destroy the remainder of the Taliban camps (Danger Close Games, 2010).

Medal of Honor’ s depiction of the events that transpired during the Battle of Takur Ghar and Battle of Shah-i-Kot valley bears remarkable similarity to historical accounts of Operation Anaconda. Although the true identities of the US serviceman were not revealed, matching the main protagonist with the real soldier who fought is uncomplicated. US Navy SEAL Neil Roberts was marooned alone on Takur Ghar, a mountain forming one end of the Shah-i-Kot valley, after an RPG caused him to fall off a Chinook helicopter’ s open ramp, becoming the first casualty of the Battle of Takur Ghar. Some other narrative elements are obviously fabricated by MHO, and many notable moments in the Battle of Shah-i-Kot valley, which MHO portrays using American soldiers, were accomplished by Coalition and NATO soldiers of several different nationalities.

Medal of Honor’ s storyline is filled with suspense, action and drama, which creatively scaffold the historical realism of what happened during Operation Anaconda. The missions are also authenticated by the diegetic action within MHO’ s virtual environment. The game’ s cinematic approaches—the prologue’ s rolling credits and periodic cutback scenes—flaunt MHO’ s fictional methods, but the accuracy of the events and missions that are sponsored by Tier 1 operatives suggests naïve realism and historical evidence. The competition between historical narratives and a fictional cinematic space is submerged under the mantel of a gaming experience where the player makes their own meaning and memorializing experience.

The establishment of MHO as a site of memory is scaffolded, first, by the "realism" initiated as a distinction between EA and Activision properties through marketing and paratexts; second, by the narrative operating between missions—the B story conflict between Colonel Drucker and General Flagg—and, third, the A story narrative directing level play—the desire to stay alive and accomplish fixed mission tasks. These two narratives work with historical realism in gamic action to do memory work. The conflict between the General and the Colonel, between a suit and a soldier, provided to the player as cinematic sequences, works within an American public memory of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars as defined by political struggles between politicians and US Military generals and between US generals and US commanders. The conflict between the enemy NPCs and the friendly NPCs and the player-character operates alongside the official history of US DOD executive summaries and the personal stories of US soldiers, such as those interviewed as part of the game development, and publications, such as Call’ s (2007) and Blaber's (2010). The suit versus soldier narrative is a common frame for mass media, popular culture, and political discourse, which is a usual confluence of cultural influences when tracking a moment in the process of popular memory (see Dovey, 2007, for how this confluence happened for Conflict: Vietnam). However, the two narratives, suit v. soldier and mission gameplay, work closely together, challenging the bifurcation of official and popular by constructing a site of memory that merges both official and popular in gameplay. The following section will explore how gamic action is necessary to involve the player within the story and to catalyze and influence the players’ memory work processes.

Gamic Action

While visual aesthetics and storylines are important in increasing subjective gaming experiences, contemporary videogame theorists are moving beyond the visual rhetoric (Bogost, 2007 & 2008) and mimetic realism (Galloway, 2006) of games to suggest a more in-depth critical analysis of gaming that involves its algorithmic code. According to Galloway (2006), mimetic realism (the connection between the real world and gameworld via realistic modeling) through visual representations merely "refers to the creation of meaning about the world through images," and consequently is not sufficient to talk about games as a "phenomenon of action" (p. 71). Likewise, according to Bogost (2008), simply exposing the visual rhetoric (nonverbal media images that mount arguments) of games is inadequate in accounting for the essential constraints of play and the procedural representations of games (p. 124). Therefore, these theorists suggest an algorithmic and informatic analysis that exposes a video game’ s use of authored arguments through a computational process (Bogost, 2005, p. 29) and unveils its core political principles of informatic code (reductive code and algorithms of the abstract, like race) and flexibility (the illusion of control and mobility) (Galloway, 2006, pp. 100-102). Adopting this algorithmic and informatic perspective, this section will briefly demonstrate ways MHO constrains and controls a player’s progression of play algorithmically, while also showing how its storyline and simulated affordances are illusions of autonomous play. A player does not merely consume historical information via MHO, but he/ she is given agency to experientially progress through these computational processes, although those lead to pre-destined ends.

Bogost and Galloway argued that players are provided agency to engage with and participate through pre-destined ends (concluded victories and storylines). Where Bogost (2007) suggested a player plays code within persuasive games, Galloway (2006) suggested a player learns, internalizes and becomes intimate with a global algorithm (p. 90) through gamic action. Gamic action is a "unified, single phenomenon" of the operator (performed by the player) and machine action (performed by the hardware and software of the game) within the diegetic ("game’ s total world of narrative action") and/ or non-diegetic ("external to the world of action") space of the game (p. 3-7). Hence, the operator (player) and machine (console system) is a cybernetic relationship within the games’ apparatus where the operator internalizes the algorithm.

Gamic action is an integral part of games that do memory work in that the player is required to possess a level of gaming dexterity in order to engage with the objective algorithmic rules that are overlaid by subjective histories. Before discussing the memory work processes that occur outside of the game, we will explore the constraints and algorithmic rules that affect a player's gamic action; this is what Bogost (2007) termed procedural rhetoric. Medal of Honor controls the progression of Operation Anaconda’ s story and the player's action within by controlling how the player engages with the story, protagonist and environment. In the following section, emphasis will be placed primarily on what one can and cannot do and on the game’ s illusion of participatory and autonomous play.

Reflection of Public Memory

Medal of Honor’ s cinematic approach was not limited to its opening prologue, it also periodically emerged throughout the campaign as dramatized cut-scenes. Cut-scenes in MHO consist of animated segments that function as informative, contextualizing scenarios that set the mood and plot, control the pace of the story, and at the same time create emotional connections (Hancock, 2002). Colonel Drucker and General Flagg’ s story exists solely as animated cut-scenes. After the player seized the Bagram Airfield, the game cut to a lapsed time reel of the Airfield converting into the US military’s headquarters. The camera then changed to an animated scene of a dialogue between the two commanding officers, Drucker and Flagg. Drucker and Flagg were speaking via video conference, and they strongly disagreed on plans for attacking the Taliban. We later find that their conflicting conversations affect missions, objectives, and ultimately the protagonist’ s life.

Cut-scenes in MHO also occur as micronarratives, defined as "small sporadic animations" by Jenkins (2006), between objectives and missions, which functionally control the progression of the narrative and the players’ actions. While these cut-scenes suspend the player's action and control within the game (actions are turned on and off), they also help contextualize the player's actions within the succeeding scenes. For example, the first task in Gardez was for AFO Neptune to locate informant Tariq. The scene opened with a point-of-view shot of three trucks riding along the street into town. By scoping the area and often communicating with driver Voodoo, Rabbit’ s cautious stares and commentary foreshadows that danger was near. Just as suspected, Chechens attacked the truck. Rabbit's heart was racing, vision was blurred and breathing was rapid. It was not until the truck crashes and Voodoo and Rabbit escape the flames, that the player is granted control of Rabbit’ s avatar. At that moment, the game relinquished control to the player by tossing them into action to begin the objective (which is iterated via text overlay). Cut-scenes are common throughout play. They allow the story to progress as well as place the player in incremental climatic moments that subtly streamline the algorithmic progression.

While these cut-scenes evoke emotional connections and control the pace of the game, they also structure the popularmemory in the game. Cut-scenes govern the entirety of the suit v. soldier conflict. This is a narrative in which the player has little or no agency, and it operates as a reflection of public memory of the Afghanistan conflict. The cut-scenes of the suit v. soldier conflict offers players a memory of what they already "know": the arguments between civilian command and military command of the US armed forces, between General Franks (commander of the Afghanistan invasion) and his subordinates (including his successor General Abizaid), and between US Central Command and "troops on the ground." They also draw on a prevalent cultural framing of war: A suit v. soldier narrative appears in US political discourse, US news media, and US war films frequently. Medal of Honor deploys the suit v. soldier narrative in a way that recalls news media coverage of the war, especially the public disagreements between politicians, senior officers, and junior officers.

The validity and value of the war is never questioned during these cut-scenes; however, the trust that US military should have of Afghani troops is questioned, again, reflecting a public memory of the war. The role of this narrative conflict of suit v. soldier operates a site of public memory of the war, and the player has no diegetic control and only a little non-diegetic control, such as pausing the game, over the reception of the cut-scenes. They are as removed from individual control as the mass media disagreements they recall. The player merely visits these public memorial cut-scenes unlike the sites of official memory in the game, namely, avatar and environmental control.

Functional Realism and Interpellation

"Players will step into the boots of these warriors and apply their unique skill sets to a new enemy in the most unforgiving and hostile battlefield conditions of present day Afghanistan" (Electronic Arts, 2013). "Step into the boots" is a common verbal interpellation—hailing (through ideologies) subjects as always already subjects (Althusser, 1972)—that resonates in MHO’ s gaming community, marketing material and even game instruction manuals. But, what does it mean to "step into the boots of warriors," and how is one afforded to do so? This interpellation is overtly evident in gaming material, online commentary and even during gameplay as mechanisms of identification. In order to interpellate players as soldiers and deliver an official memory of military virtue, militaristic codes are disseminated throughout the game, including teamwork, patriotism, trust, honor, warrior spirit and respect of commanding officers. These codes are not blatantly obvious but are discretely peppered ingredients of gamic action. First, it is necessary to address how these gamic actions are afforded. A "stepping into the boots" requires participatory activities and engagements by the player: It is a claim of functional realism (King, 2007). The game’ s controller and heads-up display (HUD) are instrumental in providing the "flexibility" and illusion of autonomous control to do so. For the Xbox 360 version, pressing the Up button on the Directional Pad activates the HUD display, which is also rather restrictive compared to other games’ HUDs, such as Call of Duty: Black Ops (Treyarch, 2010) and Battlefield 3 (EA Digital Illusions CE, 2011). Medal of Honor’s HUD only provides a symbol of the avatar’s current stance, crew’ s call signs (their names and where they are located) and weapon inventory. The limited HUD fits well within MHO’ s functional realism where fewer options evoke more tactical competencies, reasoning and combat skills. Altogether, the controls and the limited HUD allot agency for the player to respond with the avatar, react to the environment, and thus productively succeed in objectives and missions. Moreover, the limited HUD requires the player to perform combat skills and situational awareness, watching for tracers or muzzle flashes, conserving or counting remaining ammunition and using to cover to reload—procedures common in military tactics.

The alternating of protagonist roles is another regulatory mechanism that controls the operator’ s activities. Based on each mission and objective, the player's character changed. Each of these characters embodies special tactics, skills and abilities. The differences between these avatar roles are mostly distinguished by the diegetic technology available to each role. These factors are interwoven into the narrative and corresponding objectives/ tasks at hand. For example, Deuce’ s role was to partake in stealth objectives as a sniper and to mark enemies’ convoys with beacons, so the player controlling Deuce’ s avatar had access to a sniper rifle, which itself makes a claim for the functional realism of the technology (Danger Close Games, 2010). On another occasion, Captain Hawkins’ s role was to gun down enemy camps with an Apache gun. With the exception of Hawkins, the avatars all have predominantly identical controls for primary game mechanics (Sicart, 2008): A player moves the avatar through the diegetic space using the Left Stick, aims the avatar's view with Right Stick and pulls Right Trigger to fire a weapon. As King (2007) has argued previously, all of these representations of military technology are made to function as realistically as possible; however, they are also coupled with some functionally realistic operator actions, such as pulling the operator’ s Right Trigger to pull the diegetic gun’ s trigger. Moreover, the differentiation of role based on technology is a hallmark of modern military service, where military occupation specialties are similarly differentiated by the primary technology employed in each, whether the technology is artillery, helicopters or language.

Lastly, and importantly, the game interpellates the player as soldier by regulating the protagonist’s relationship with the "other"/ Non Player Characters (NPCs). The main protagonist's face was never revealed, and there were no character customization options. In turn, the game draws on the externalities of the character to enforce identification. In other words, identification is augmented by the way the characters interact with "others" and the environment.

Codes of teamwork are intertwined with the narrative and objectives. For example, Rabbit (player) was instructed to meet up with the AFOs at a corner hut. In approaching the hut, an enemy met Rabbit just around the corner with a weapon-smash to the face. As the enemy aimed to finish off Rabbit, the enemy was killed. Viewing this from the ground with blurred vision, Rabbit saw a hand reach for him, and it was Mother, a fellow elite soldier, who said, "I just saved your ass. Now let’s get back to work!" (Danger Close Games, 2010). Algorithmically, this was coded to happen, and the player had no way of preventing this incident. Upon reaching the hut, the cut-scene was animated, and the player’ s control ceases in order to briefly witness militaristic comradery and teamwork play out. Other examples of this computationally processed teamwork consists of occasional "buddy boost" moments: Moving forward in missions sometimes requires climbing rubble and buildings by working together with an NPC to cross the obstacle, similar to the buddy boost in the Army of Two series. The player was prompted to take the NPC’ s hand through his diegetic gesturing, as well as procedurally by the system that provided a text overlay reading "Press A for buddy boost" (Danger Close Games, 2010). Notably, this game mechanic, in its reinforcement of the military virtues of teamwork, marks a rupture of a historical realism discussed below.

Other teamwork and ideologies of trust are fostered, sometimes by commanding officers that require a stealth mission. Stealth missions involve tactical engagement where two soldiers must trust each other to eliminate enemies quickly and quietly. For example, a NPC suggested the player take one enemy while the NPC took the other. If the player failed to do so, the crew’ s cover was blown, enemies swarmed them, and they ultimately died (thus mission failed). Teamwork is a procedural rhetoric of the game that can result in some of the most severe punishments. Outside of failures to perform teamwork, there are few moments in the game that have an instant fail punishment. One of the most celebrated teamwork algorithms is the "Ask for Ammo" option. Throughout the course of the game, players can request ammo from other NPCs. Just as the buddy system, requesting ammo is a unidirectional activity; players were only allowed to receive ammo but not provide it—players are interpellated, not interpellators.

Mimetic Realism of Image and Text

While an analysis of MHO could point to the mimetic realism of MHO’ s context specific weaponry (AK47s in Afghan), war technologies (Chinooks and UAV Drones), and geographical locations (Shah-i-Kot valley), Galloway, Bogost and Jenkins are more critically engaged with the players' action feedback within the environment/ gamespace. For example, they raise critical questions like, how much and what type of interactivity transpires when the operator chooses to steer away from the narrative driven path? These critical questions highlight the boundaries of the game’ s procedures—the borders of the possibility space—but they overlook the role of textures and NPC verbal scripts as procedural and coded elements of gameplay. Much of meaning and, in this case, memory work, comes in and through these details.

Medal of Honor works hard to present detailed graphical representations of the technology used in Operation Anaconda. Not only are weapons textured to have remarkably mimetic images, the functions available are also coded on a per-weapon basis. For example, some weapons alternated between fully automatic, burst and semi-automatic fire; others had only one or two of these options; and the options themselves were coded to the Directional Pad on the controller. The detailed visual representation of weapons operates within the game to create an authentic military technological mise-en-scene.

Similarly, environments evoke distinct reactions from the avatar. Desert sand storms and smoke caused the avatar to cough. Dark caves reduced visibility and diminished the avatar’ s vision; therefore, the player-character must use suitable gear, such as night vision goggles, to enhance vision. When exiting caves into sunlight, there was a drastic transition of vision. Other realistic environments fostered by these emergent narratives and its contents consist of nature and physics-bound constraints. For example, distance and wind affected shooting accuracy, and the player must take these factors into account when firing.

The authenticity of military mimetic realism reaches its peak in MHO’ s NPC verbal scripts, which employ a nearly unintelligible amount of military technical speech. The frequent use of military acronyms—some familiar through various pop culture media, such as "LZ", and others entirely unexplained, such as "ETAC" and "AN/PEQ-2"—builds an environment of verbal mimetic realism, which makes the character a fitting member of military culture while linguistically divorcing the player from the character. The character is repeatedly treated by NPCs as a part of linguistic military culture: NPCs’ praise was limited and specific while ignoring the commands of teammates resulted in insults, badgering comments and failed objectives. The most notable disruption of the linguistic environment comes when the player must "buddy boost," which is a non-diegetic term. The NPCs do not ask the player-character for a "buddy boost;" they have a more believably militaristic script to follow. Finally, lest any should need a reminder, MHO was famously rebuked in the press for attempting to name one of the two multiplayer teams the "Taliban" (Kenreck, 2010). The depth of the mimetic realism works alongside the gamic actions of functional and historical realism to build a memory space in the gamespace of MHO.

Together, functional, historical, and mimetic realism construct an official memory within the game where the player re-enacts military culture as a member of the military. This is, specifically, an official memory that glorifies both OEF-A and what the player is led to believe is the everyday work of the US military. Subversive play is punished: The player-character is chastised for shooting friendly NPCs and cannot progress through the single player story without following and completing the objectives. In this, the gamic actions of functional, historical, and mimetic realism operate equally in the progression of the game; furthermore, they develop a popular and an official memory of Operation Anaconda simultaneously.

Memory Operations

In many ways, MHO (Danger Close Games, 2010) is an ideal example for discussing memory work in videogames. It was a game that was based on testimony from members of US Special Operations teams and published US DOD executive summaries. This game was probably disseminated more widely and its text perused more thoroughly than any of the official accounts of the Battle of Shah-i-Kot valley and the Battle of Takur Ghar. To these photo realistic depictions of combat and military technology and official discourse of Operation Anaconda is affixed a narrative depicting the disagreement over how to fight the war between a General wearing a suit and a Colonel wearing fatigues. Medal of Honor has an impressive list of credited military consultants and weapons consultants, should the veracity of historical evidence need credentials. Medal of Honor presents an excellent example of how memory work can occur through the videogame as a medium, and as a paradigmatic example, MHO frustrates the binary of official and popular memory.

In MHO official memory operates through the historical realism of the mission and overarching narratives, the functional realism of operator action and diegetic action, and the mimetic realism of the NPCs’ rhetoric and the graphical environment. In this official memory, players re-enact virtues of military culture as part of gameplay in a game that is thoroughly instantiated in the military entertainment complex's commodification of memory. Players control a character that is expected to understand the military terminology that NPCs around it use fluently. The technological environment reflects a similar attempt at realism, photo and functional, to produce a reflection of several military operation specialties which the player-character embodies. One of the primary mechanics of gameplay, having the avatar shoot, is mapped to a controller input that mimics the same action, i.e., pulling a trigger. And, through the close cooperation between military personnel, current and retired, all of these actions are part of an authentic appeal. And, in so doing, MHO allows individuals to participate in an experience of official memory of events, an official memory developed by four videogame companies in consultation with individuals from four branches of the US military.

The official memory presented in MHO is one taken up in the "privacy of the home" where the popular memory of OEF-A is a hazy and fragmented mix of righteousness and questionable strategy. This popular memory tempers the official memory of the military culture and virtue of OEF-A by providing a discourse of second-guessing military command presented in US mass media following Operation Anaconda.

When imagined as a prosthetic memory, MHO offers the official memory through gameplay that tempers the civilian audience's popular memory of OEF-A; however, MHO repeats that same popular memory as the suit vs. soldier narrative. Prosthetic memory, while capturing some appeal of the gameplay’ s official memory on an individual basis and the commodification of MHO as an artifact, proposes a scheme in which MHO is either official memory or popular memory, instead of the game being able to straddle both sides of the binary simultaneously.

Like prosthetic memory, the memories presented by MHO engage players in considering soldiers' individual memories of OEF-A. Prosthetic memory is a process necessarily involving the individual uptake of commodified memory. The influence of collective memories on a public understanding of the history of events is notoriously hard to track (Kligler-Vilenchik, Tsfati, & Meyers, 2014), but one potential location for enduring evidence of the uptake of prosthetic memory is internet published fan fiction. One fan fiction (Wolf Passion, 2011) repeated much of the narrative elements and plot of MHO, yet it also continued the commemorative genre the game while refocusing it to the US Marines, rather than the more publicly nebulous structure of the US Joint Special Operations Command. Another fan fiction (Razgriz13, 2011) retold a MHO cut-scene of a helicopter crash as a personal narrative of post-traumatic stress disorder while replicating the narrative device the game uses to tell the popular memory of the war: A mass media sound bite in the background. In both of these stories, portions of MHO (Danger Close Games, 2010) prove resilient to individual’ s meaning-making; they demonstrate how MHO functions as a prosthetic memory that provides content and structure of popular memories during individual uptake.


Medal of Honor is a game that does memory work, and not all games do memory work. Some games have memory work done to them, and in turn, they prove susceptible to being studied as nostalgic experiences. Some games make a concerted effort to discuss memory while not doing memory work. But, as games continue to be included in the contestation of memory and history, a definition of games that do memory work makes a valuable starting point for analyzing that memory work.

A game does memory work if it attempts to represent historical events using historical realism in its diegetic action, functional realism in diegetic and operator action, and mimetic realism in the diegetic representation of speech and images. Thus, a game that discusses memory, like Remember Me (Dontnod Entertainment, 2013), is ripe for an analysis using Landsberg’ s (2004) prosthetic memory, but it is not a game that does memory work. The cinematic elements of Remember Me asked us to imagine a futuristic neo-Paris where memories are commodified; the cinematic elements of MHO (Danger Close Games, 2010), a game available for purchase, asked us to imagine a meeting in March 2002 between a general and a colonel planning Operation Anaconda, one that may have taken place between MHO consultant, Lieutenant Colonel Pete Blaber, and his commanding officer, Major General Dell Dailey. The avatar control of Remember Me had the player pressing the X button to punch, jump-punch, kick and jump-kick foes; the avatar control of MHO had us pulling a trigger to pull a trigger.The diegetic action of Remember Me had the Memorize corporation selling Sensation Engine brain implants to every citizen; the diegetic action of MHO had our character using a M4A1 rifle with a AN/PEQ-2 attachment that we could feasibly buy online. These elements in Remember Me produce a commentary on memory and commodification, but in MHO they offer an official memory and emblematic popular memories of the events leading up to and including Operation Anaconda during OEF-A.

Medal of Honor activates both official memory and popular memory to memorialize Operation Anaconda and, broadly, OEF-A. In doing so, it challenges the binary of official versus popular memory; moreover, we believe that playing games that do memory work always ruins the official versus popular binary. Hess (2007) made this a case of the privacy of play, but we expect that all games that do memory work rupture the official / popular binary because they are played texts. As Sicart (2011) put this, “there must be an orthogonal analysis of play that completes the arguments of meaning by means of accounting the play experience.” Moreover, games that do memory work allow what King (2007) called a "particular kind of subjectivity"—they allow players to interpret, and be interpellated as, the collective memory of characters played or represented in the diegetic space of gameplay. Since videogames, especially AAA videogames, are developed by a corporate or single entity that creates an official discourse of memorialization that will be received and interacted with in a significant way, they are necessarily engaged in reproducing official memory; however, the commodified and disseminated game text cannot help but offer a popular memory.

When we look at games that do memory work, like MHO, we have to acknowledge that the procedural rhetoric and its appeal are not limited to the code alone. Medal of Honor, presents its memory work using the procedural rhetoric of its code, to be sure, e.g., pulling a controller trigger to fire a diegetic gun. But, that same procedural rhetoric is at work in the military protocol, which fills out the mimetic realism of the visual and linguistic space of gameplay, where we know our character understood what a DShK is while we did not. Both the procedural rhetoric of rhetoric and the procedural rhetoric of code are necessary to account for the appeal of memory work in games that do memory work.

Recognizing a game as a game that does memory work, then, requires certain methodological foci; we hope our analysis of MHO has demonstrated how a distinct definition of games that domemory work necessitates multiple methods of analysis. Popular memory exists in dialogue with official memory, so an official memory or historical evidence of the events represented in the game needs to be discoverable. In terms of textual analysis of a game that does memory work, gamic action and procedural rhetoric are effective frames, but actions and codes that facilitate naïve realisms, such as historical, functional, and mimetic realism, deserve particular interest. The normative part of memory requires interest in the ideologies and cultural assumptions that a game disseminates. Finally, memory work is often predicated on some evidence of the uptake of a collective memory. Memory work, however, is never a simple node in a network: Games that do memory work are aspects of a complex and serious process of making meaning of the past.


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