What makes them tick – Pieter Van den Heede

What makes them tick – Pieter Van den Heede

In the series ‘What makes them tick’, Erasmus researchers explain why they love their research and where their passion comes from. In this episode, PhD candidate Pieter Van den Heede talks about his research on the representation of modern war history in digital games. ‘Some of the games still blow me away and drive me to keep pursuing the subject and learn more about it’.

His research

‘Digital games set in World War II, or that fictionalise contemporary wars, are very popular; just look at the latest Call of Duty installment. My PhD is about how people engage with modern warfare through these kinds of games. It’s part of a broader project that examines how the heritage of modern war history is represented and appropriated in popular culture, such as movies and musicals.’

What makes him tick

‘I’ve always been a gamer. I played all those war games as a kid, I stormed the beaches of Normandy. One particular game really caught my attention a few years ago. I had seen it on TV once, but never played it. Then I found it at a flea market for one Euro, so I figured: why not?

'Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty started out as a normal stealth game in which you just sneak around a military base as a secret soldier, and that was fine. But as I kept playing it became more and more complex, a rich story in which you as a player turn out to be manipulated by the game to mindlessly perform whatever order it gave you. To me, it was mind-blowing that a game could offer such a big critique on what other military games usually do. I was overwhelmed by it and it convinced me that a game can really be a rich cultural medium and tell complex stories.

‘I’ve been passionate about history since high school and studied history at Ghent University. When I had to pick a thesis subject, I accidentally stumbled upon the subject of war in digital games and found out there was little research about it. Ever since, I’ve been exploring it, and some of the games still blow me away and drive me to keep pursuing the subject and learn more about it.

‘I still like playing digital games; it has become a passion even more so then before I got into the subject. But instead of playing the same games over and over again, I like to discover as many diverse games as I can. It allows me to explore new play ideas, be active in creative worlds, do what I want, and discover stories along the way. As a player, you’re co-producing the game, that’s a big appeal about it. As a scholar I of course look at it seriously, but on a personal level, gaming makes me kind of happy.’

More What makes them tick? Read the following episodes: