In the wake of 9/11, the United States has returned to national narratives that offer certainty, comfort, and security. In catchphrases and sound bites, pundits and politicians remind Americans of the importance of protecting the homeland, the role of all Americans in safeguarding national space and American democratic values, the need to guard against the enemies of freedom and civilization, and the promise of spreading democracy through conquest. As countless bodies fall injured and dying, shattering families and communities over here and over there, and multinational corporations profit on increased militarism, diminishing natural resources, and public panics, many in the United States seek refuge in fantasy worlds of virtual play.
Offering a more interactive cultural medium that provides players with new scenarios, locales, and places of play weekly, virtual reality has taken the lead in terms of providing a sense of security and power otherwise unavailable in this currently unstable moment. Significantly, these lucid spaces are not all fun and games, but deadly serious reiterations of the networks of power and the ideologies of difference that drive so called war on terror and less recognized campaigns against communities of color closer to home. In this talk, Dr. Leonard offers a critical reading of video games set in the old West, the new Iraq, and the ghetto, suggesting that each rehearses the central tenets of American imperialism.