War Games

Peter Singer has an article in Foreign Policy about something he calls the rise of “militainment”, or the increasing use of video games in military training and the blurry of any distinction between them and games designed specifically for entertainment.

America’s Army is a video game — a “tactical multiplayer first-person shooter” in gaming lingo — that was originally developed by the U.S. military to aid in its recruiting and training, but is now available for anyone to play.

…while Americas Army is technically a publicly funded recruiting and training platform, its main commercial rival is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, a game published by Activision Blizzard.

I think there’s some real potential to the use of computer simulations and improvement, even over the last few years, in terms of processing power by computers means you can get increasing levels of realism.  And it’s not just good for the shoot ’em up stuff.  You can do all sorts of command, control and communications functions as well.

But of course, the shoot ’em up stuff is the most fun and that’s where I get a bit creeped out at times.  Once in awhile my unit hosts boy scouts or some youth type group (JROTC?) and, of course, the combat simulations are a bit hit.  Still, I’m given pause that a system designed to help soldiers operate in a combat environment is being sold to kids in their early teens as basically an alternative to a party at Chuck-E Cheese.

I think Singer finds words for what makes my quesy feeling.

The real danger of militainment, though, might be in how it risks changing the perceptions of war. “You lose an avatar; just reboot the game,” is how Ken Robinson, the Special Forces veteran who produced Army 360, put it in Training & Simulation Journal. “In real life, you lose your guy; you’ve lost your guy. And then you’ve got to bury him, and then you’ve got to call his wife.”


5 responses to “War Games

  1. So that means what? People starting to have difficulties distinguishing between gaming environments and reality and the respective consequences? I played all kinds of FPS etc. over a period of 15 years, sometimes for hours, online and offline, basically since the genre was invented. I also served in the military. I have no difficulties whatsoever to tell the difference between the two? There was somewhat of a discussion about this over at J’s AG blog.

    “Militainment” does not, in my humble opinion, change any perceptions whatsoever.
    A messed up upbringing and the general value of (real) human life in a society however might just do that.

    Just my two cents.

  2. On reflection, its perhaps important to clarify if Singer was referring more to the military side of things applying entertainment procedures for controlling fighting environments or rather to the perception of war in the mind of some teenager in the suburbs playing AA or MW2.

    My response referred to the second assumption. I would agree that ordering a drone strike by gaming stick and lcd screen as opposed to pulling the trigger in the field >might< lower the threshold for willingly applying violence resulting in deaths. Of course thats not exactly a new problem and I am not even sure if it generally applies. I still think, proper education and general ethic values in a society go a long way in safeguarding our appreciation for the value of human life, regardless of the circumstances in which violence is being applied.

  3. Well, no. I play FPS as well and am in the military. And played D&D growing up. And listened to wild devil music. And I’d say I’m pretty well adjusted and have pretty strongly rejected the idea that these systems would turn people into sociopaths or make them unable to distinguish reality from fantasy. I think the impact of them is much more subtle and on the periphery.

    It didn’t occur to my until later but I think my concern is the context in which these sorts of things occur. As I said in the comments of the Armchair Generalist on a post about the same subject:

    “A kid sitting in his bedroom playing Call of Duty is one thing. That same kid, surrounded by soldiers in an armory and being told that he was about to play a war simulation (NOT a game) so that he/she could feel what war is like is another.”

  4. We’ve used COTs sims for over a decade with no issues identified (so far) regarding any difficulty with the difference between simulation and reality. The ‘blame it on the video games’ crowd have always had a ton of trouble getting any science to support their claims.

    If kids today are having trouble differentiating between what’s real and what’s, and cause, effect and consequence, I’d suggest that an ‘all care, no responsibility’ education system (regardless of where you live in the Anglosphere) where there is no right and no wrong is more to blame…

  5. You know, guys, I really hate having to admit I’m wrong.

    But, as I was thinking about this I realized I was talking out my wazoo. My objection really stemmed from an incident where I saw a bunch of pre/early teens handed some simulated M4 carbines, taught to load/unload them and put in an interactive environment to go kill bad guys.

    I saw absolutely no evidence that these kids viewed the experience as anything other than a really cool video game but it just seemed vaguely inappropriate to me. I don’t have kids but if I did, I’m not sure I’d be thrilled with mine participating in something like this BUT wouldn’t have any problem with them playing that same game in the living room with a game controller.

    So, in short, it appears this is more a personal hang up of mine than anything else.

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