This week, our contributors look at the interaction between videogames and military operations as both consumers and commissioned officers. Is it still just a game when lives are on the line?
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I'm quite disappointed at the exclusion of a mention of Virtual Battlespace 2, one of the most used military simulators on the market, but apart from that, a very interesting issue. The relation between the military and interactive software, particularly video games, is an issue that I've personally been very interested in for a long time, and it's one of my favourite talking points when anybody gives me the impression that they think that interactive computer entertainment is exclusive to children.
An excellent issue this week, guys. Well done.
I've had an interest in the interaction between the military and games for years now; back when I worked (however little!) in the industry I noted a definite presence of military personnel with an obvious interest in gaming out conflict. Demonstrating new product to active service folks can be... challenging.
However, I think the greatest "serious game" impact I encountered was during my brief stint with RAFM and their release of the WW2 miniatures game Baker Company. One of my close friends ran the "Omaha Beach" promotional event at conventions on a 6'x12' sculpted map. Over three days players controlled the various stages of the landing Americans while the staff acted as umpires and controlled the German defenders.
On the last day of Gencon (which one I forget) while I was helping pack up the map, my friend related to me a conversation that he'd had that morning with a young miniatures enthusiast admiring the models. The young lad pointed to the casualties on the beach and said they really added to the atmosphere of the map; my friend replied that they weren't part of the map, and that all those figures represented the wounded and dead left behind by the earlier players by their play... and my friend told me that, at seeing all those casualties gathered in hasty triage groups to clear paths for friendly armour (or lying where they fell in heaps) the guy's eyes widened from at least some realisation of what the cost of Omaha must have been.
We need more games that speak to these emotional truths... because showing (however roughly and incompletely) does indeed beat telling.
There's not really a gray area in remote software military application versus video games. They may have similar looks but the goals of each are clear. The gray area of course comes in the mind of the operator. An Xbox junkie turned AC-130 or Stryker RWS operator could face serious detachment issues above and beyond the normal human tendencies.
Personally I encourage the idea of simulation type systems to increase effectiveness, safety, and decrease costs for the defense system.
A great topic, one that I think many gamers have on their mind at least one time or another, simply because of the huge glut of war games on the market.
I think the easiest thing to do in a war-themed video game is to trivialize the violence. Only a few titles actually attempt to depict war violence in a very serious manner, and even fewer succeed at giving weight to the experience (Call of Duty 4 is one such game).
With current technology able to depict war scenes much more realistically than ever before, it'll be interesting to see if more developers start to use that realism to make a point about the horrors of war and death, or if they go the other way and try to avoid those themes altogether.
You guys ever played Jane's Fleet Command? That is somewhat how it is to sit in the CIC of a ship. There's a patch out that made it more realistic (as before the patch the ships wouldn't even defend themselves). I asked a Senior Chief if he liked to play Fleet Command, and he said "No, it reminds me of work. I'd rather not think about work when I'm at home."
Sitting at those consoles, the graphics are about like an old atari game - but the "multiplayer network" is amazing. I imagine the older guys getting a feeling of "this must be the best game ever" when we play a wargame. Older sailors (World War II era) take a tour of our ship and think it rivals the starship enterprise - I suppose it is true compared to what they experienced.
USS John S McCain DDG-56:
The caption for this picture was USS John F Kennedy - from a game review site about Harpoon 3. I've never been on a carrier but this looks very authentic based on numerous items in the picture:
I remember reading, years ago, an article by a developer about the realism of war games. I forget where I saw this article at - but he went on about how realism in games just wouldn't be fun. Imagine getting hit in a battlefield and laying there bleeding to death in tremendous pain. That is not fun. No one wants to do that. With games like CoD4 where there's a limit with realism in the right places - it makes for a (and it makes me kind of sick to say this after what I just typed) enjoyable experience.
No doubt that as technology moves on we're going to find ways to wage war more remotely. Even more so when the current generation of young gamers get jobs in fields that promote weapon systems.
Disturbing? Yes, a bit. Though, would you rather march on the field and be shot at or push a button from a hundred miles away?
It's funny how people are so obsessed with how war has to be waged and will be waged and never-ever question the act itself. Perfect soldiers. You command, they follow - no thinking involved.
Personally, I don't like the idea of a machine capable of killing independently of human operators. We have a movie about it. It's called Terminator.
All are crazy for stuff, all seem to like war - as long as the weapons face the right direction. Once it is their limbs that get torn off, it stops being funny.
I guess Americans like war so much, because they never got hit (ok.. independence war and civil war, long ago, does not count...)
You sit safely at home, enjoy nice gas prices and mess around with other countries. It's good fun, because you don't get hurt. If some irregular tourist, sry, terrorist guys come up with a plan involving carpet cutters and 2 airplanes and a mere 3000 Americans die, you go all hysteria... I guess, once you receive a real blow (if some madman gets his hands on something nuclear), you go real nuts and take the whole world with you.
If we are "lucky" Palin will start the 3rd World War over Georgia.
Man... you gotta see that fireworks show.
I run a non-profit organization that provides video games and gaming systems to troops deployed in combat zones (for entertainment purposes). Please check us out at www..org