30 September 2022 until 28 May 2023

IWM London

Free

The UK’s first exhibition to explore what video games can tell us about conflict.

War Games: Real Conflicts | Virtual Worlds | Extreme Entertainment will delve into one of today’s most popular storytelling mediums and seeks to challenge perceptions of how video games interpret stories about war and conflict through a series of titles which, over the last forty years, have reflected events from the First World War to the present.

Showcasing immersive installations, never-before-displayed objects and perspectives from industry experts, War Games will also include a playable retro gaming zone and a programme of supporting events.

Video Games

Still from Sniper Elite 5
Still from 'Sniper Elite 5' © Rebellion.

Video Games

Featuring blockbusters like Sniper Elite 5, recently released by lead exhibition sponsor Rebellion, and Call of Duty: Modern WarfareWar Games will present 12 unique titles including video games and a military training simulator alongside new acquisitions and objects from IWM’s collection, raising questions about how different developers have portrayed conflict and highlighting real-life stories which many have drawn similar inspiration from

From first-person shooters to real-time strategy campaigns, modern games often depict thoroughly researched historical events. Others use distinctive graphic styles and techniques which reveal contemporary societal attitudes.

Featuring in the exhibition, Six Days in Fallujah is informed by the real testimonies of marines, soldiers and civilians affected by the Second Battle of Fallujah, a crucial operation in the Iraq War. Whereas Worms, a 2D artillery game, portrays its protagonists as an elite army of cartoon worms, tapping into a de-humanising mechanism that artists, such as Beatrice Fergusson in her sketchbook from 1938, have used to process the traumas and anxieties of conflict.

Displays

Still from 'Bury Me, My Love'
Still from 'Bury Me, My Love' © The Pixel Hunt/Figs/Arte

Displays

Using these diverse case studies, War Games will invite visitors to interrogate the tension that exists between the thrill and tragedy of warfare in a game and its repercussions in the real world. Common gameplay tropes such as explosive barrels and sniper rifles will feature next to collection items like facial prosthetics, developed in the First World War to disguise injuries caused by modern combat.

Similarly, items belonging to real individuals – such as the blanket of Lore Engels-Meyer, evacuated from her home in Berlin when the Second World War broke out – will display alongside case studies like Bury Me, My Love and This War of Mine. Together these titles challenge visitors’ expectations of traditional war games by going beyond heroic depictions of conflict to explore civilian and refugee experiences.  

Interrogating the blurring of the virtual and the real, the exhibition will also explore how video game technology can be used, and is used, to help shape real wars. Alongside software used to train militaries, War Games will feature brand new acquisitions including an Xbox 360 controller once used to operate the camera of an unmanned aerial vehicle in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Gaming Zone

Xbox 360 controller used to operate the camera of an unmanned aerial vehicle in Afghanistan and Iraq.
© IWM (COM 1873) Xbox 360 controller used to operate the camera of an unmanned aerial vehicle in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Gaming Zone

War Games includes a retro gaming zone where visitors will be able to play 13 iconic titles including BattlezoneMedal of Honour and Top Gun on consoles ranging from the Atari 2600 to the Sega Saturn. Further expanding the themes of the exhibition, a series of public events, announced at a later date, will consider how video games can shape our understanding of conflict.

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