Professor John Wills

Professor of American Media and Culture
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Professor John Wills


Professor John Wills is a scholar in American popular culture, game studies and Disney studies. He studied at Warwick University (BA) and Bristol University (MA and PhD), before teaching in the Sociology department at the University of Essex. In September 2005, he joined the University of Kent.

Research interests

John works on a range of environmental, cultural and digital topics, including 1950's American film and media, nuclear films and landscapes, popular amusements and theme parks, the Walt Disney company, eco-media, environmental protest and nature protection, video game history and game studies, and the cultural history of Hollywood, California, and the American West. 

John is the co-editor of the European Journal of American Culture (Intellect), an interdisciplinary cultural studies journal, and sits on the editorial board of the International Journal of Disney Studies (Intellect). He is the author of seven books, his most recent being Disney Culture (Rutgers University Press, 2017), Gamer Nation: Video Games and American Culture (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019), and co-edited with Esther Wright, Red Dead Redemption: History, Myth and Violence in the Video Game West (University of Oklahoma Press, 2023). John has written film essays for the US Library of Congress National Film Preservation Board, game entries for Van Burnham’s lavish Supercade series on video games, and most recently, an article about the Disney 100th Anniversary for BBC History magazine. 

John has exhibited his work on video games at the British Academy Summer Showcase in London (2018), as well as at Rapture, the Medway Gaming Festival (2022, 2023), and spoken about his research at a variety of venues, including the Royal Society of Arts (2008) and the Being Human Festival (2019). He has also been interviewed by The Guardian, Le Monde, and BBC Radio 4. The past recipient of awards from the Historical Society of Southern California (for research into social justice) and British Academy (for two projects, one on video game depictions of Los Angeles and the urban West, the other on US environmental disasters), John recently completed a Leverhulme Research Fellowship, and an Eccles Centre, British Library Visiting Fellowship, dedicated to writing a new monograph on Doom Town, an experimental town created at Nevada Test Site in the 1950s and exploded live on television to shock Americans into taking civil defense more seriously. 

John is a member of the Executive Committee for the British Association of American Studies, as well as its Greener BAAS Network. Active in the digital community, John is a member of the Historical Game Studies Network, the Video Game Heritage Society, as well as the Institute of Cyber Security for Society here at Kent. He also plays video games, probably too much, and his favorite console is the Sega Dreamcast. 


John currently teaches a module on video games and the history of play.  


John supervises postgraduate research in Disney Studies, Game Studies, Fan Studies, Eco-Media and Environmental activism, US film, history and popular culture (especially linked with California or the American West). 

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