Keimena #22: Ernste Spiele I–IV (Serious Games I–IV)
by Harun Farocki

Monday May 15, 2017, 24:00 on ERT2
Ernste Spiele I–IV (Serious Games I–IV), 200910, Germany, 44 min.
Director: Harun Farocki

Images of war pervade our screens, streaming in real time, impossible to ignore. Harun Farocki’s Serious Games reminds us that this spectacle is only one aspect of the mediatization of combat: the image does not simply picture war, but is also an instrument of warfare.

Shot primarily in Twentynine Palms, a military training center in the California desert, Serious Games examines how various forms of simulation—particularly the computer-generated environments of video games—are used in the training of US soldiers and their treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Its four episodes adopt a largely observational style. Farocki’s camera patiently details the schematic avatars and flattened landscapes of the software and captures the experiences of those who use it. Virtuality and actuality collide, as the interfaces and procedures of gaming are put to work in situations in which real lives are at stake.

Throughout the first three episodes, Farocki refrains from offering any overt commentary on what we see, at times strategically confusing the distinction between what is real and what is simulated. It is not until the fourth instalment, “A Sun with No Shadow”, that intermittent titles appear onscreen to guide Serious Games to its conclusion.

The imaginary sun of the training program casts imaginary shadows, while the therapy program has none. And yet, as the final title card puts it, “Both use asymmetrical images.” What is an asymmetrical image? In Serious Games, a work in which images of the messiness of war have given way to virtual spaces imbued with fantasies of mastery, this is the central question.

—Erika Balsom, film scholar and lecturer

Posted in Public TV on 05.15.2017