Date of Award


Degree Name



College of Liberal Arts

Type of Degree


Document Type


First Advisor

Dr. Kristen Lillvis, Committee Chairperson

Second Advisor

Dr. Walter Squire

Third Advisor

Professor Nathan Rucker


Throughout Thumb Sticks and Hand Grenades, I seek to examine the role American Exceptionalism plays within the player’s perspective of war narratives in Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Wolfenstein: The New Order, and Wolfenstein: The New Colossus. Using a theoretical lens I call ludo-narrative war theory, I am able to fully understand the above-listed games’ narrative, player perspectives, and positions in relationship to the wider war narrative and how the games reflect a wider understanding of war, American Exceptionalism, and societal issues prevalent in the analog world. When these facets of the games are analyzed I am able to show that they exist as cultural artifacts that exhibit the fears, societal shortcomings, and issues of the cultures in which they were created. With Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2 this analysis shows the issues that are inherent in blindly drawing lines between who is friend and foe, and it shows the issues that arise when American Exceptionalism gets in the way of allowing those othered to step in and help in times of war. Moreover, in Wolfenstein: The New Order and The New Colossus this analysis shows that the rise and fall of American Exceptionalism coincides with a blinded view of who the American Dream is truly created for, and that Exceptionalism can only be regained through a changing of that Dream on every level of society. By analyzing these four games together I show a common thread among video games as cultural artifacts, in that they show players the state of the world in which they live and what transformations must be made to reverse the cultural slopes they depict. Ultimately, Halo and Wolfenstein provide examples of the cautionary tales the war narratives provide in video games, and what follows are analyses of those narratives and player perspectives in video games.


Exceptionalism - United States.

Digital humanities.

Video games -- Social aspects.