Cinema of the Gun: Science and Technology Studies and the First Person Shooter

Cinema of the Gun: Science and Technology Studies and the First Person Shooter

Sam Hinton (University of Canberra, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-037-2.ch019


Games, like other technological artifacts, do not fall mysteriously from orbit. They are constructed by humans within a matrix of social, economic and cultural conditions of production and consumption. Technologies including the refrigerator, the M16 machine gun and the bicycle have famously been the subject of so-called science and technology studies (STS) analyses, following MacKenzie and Wajcman, Pinch and Bijker and Latour and Callon, among others. Aside from a few initial forays, games have largely escaped this kind of in-depth and sustained analysis. This chapter argues for the use of STS in games research and uses an STS approach to explore the evolution of a ’genre’ of computer games – the first person shooter, or FPS – and in particular the cinematic turn that has taken place within this genre over the past decade.
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Science and technology studies (often abbreviated as STS) is an approach to the study of technology that focuses on the importance of social factors in the construction of technologies. Two books in particular were important in bringing the STS approach to prominence – MacKenzie and Wajcman’s The Social Shaping of Technology (1985); and, Pinch and Bijker’s The Social Construction of Technological Systems. (1987) MacKenzie and Wajcman pose the fundamental question like this: “what shapes the technology in the first place, before it has ‘effects’. Particularly, what role does society play in shaping technology?” (MacKenzie and Wajcman 1985, 8)

The term “technology” is problematic because it is widely used with a variety of subtly different meanings. MacKenzie and Wacjman associate three distinct meanings with the term “technology”. First, technology can be said to relate to a physical object or artefact – a hammer is a technology, a computer is a technology. The second definition acknowledges the human dimension of technology. MacKenzie and Wacjman use the example of steelmaking as a technology – this emphasises that steel is made through a physical process of production that necessarily incorporates the activity of people who use the apparatus required to make steel. The third definition of technology presented by MacKenzie and Wacjman is derived from the etymology of the word technology as a form of knowledge: a “systematic knowledge of the practical arts”. (MacKenzie and Wajcman 1985, 4)

A central problem in technology studies concerns the nature of the relationship between technologies and society. On one hand, technologies are often said to have an impact, or an effect, upon human societies. The microcomputer, for example, has been touted as both a positive technology that will unleash humans from the drudgery of repetitive labour, and as a negative technology that reduces humans to binary sequences and processes them like any other commodity. This perspective that technologies alone change society is an approach that is often referred to as technological determinism. (MacKenzie and Wajcman 1985, 4)

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