Virtual War Video Games.
Video games are the most popular forms of entertainment among children, adolescents, and young adults. Many video games are extremely violent and expose the Young to violence on a constant basis. In particular, young men are a preferred target of advertisement from game manufacturers for war theme games. These games are either first person shooters or third person play. In a first person shooter game, the player is holding the gun whereas in third person games, the player is represented by a character within the game play.
These games, especially first person shooters, are designed to give a rush to the players by stimulating their primal reactions and with more reasonable games, a need to prove their ‘manhood’. In addition, extreme exposure to video game and TV violence has a tendency to desensitize people, especially immature minds who may not be able to connect to what is really happening in front of them on the TV screen and, at the same time, clearly distinguish virtual fiction from reality. (King, Krzywinska, 124)
The scope of this paper is to explore the idea that young men may join the Army for other reasons than to go to college. In essence, they join the Army with the idea that they will ‘kick butts’, just like in their favorite war video games without realizing that they have signed up to be in the middle of the nightmarish realities of war: suffering and death. Since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the news media have been showing images of war: explosions, soldiers running down what used to be streets while dodging bullets, showing these images to saturation.
The saturation seems to come from a fascination with death and how cameras can immortalize the image. (Sontag, 59) The audience is curious to know what it is like to be there, perhaps, there is a clear morbidity in the obsession of watching violence and ‘how war works. ’ Besides, the Iraq war is ambivalent because most soldiers who are sent do not understand why they are really there. Back during the Vietnam War, young soldiers seemed to have been better conscious, in the sense of understanding, of the cause they were fighting for.
After listening to Vietnam veterans, people may somewhat realize how traumatic their experience was but until people are in the nightmare of war, they will not fully grasp the horror because if you were in it once, you never forget for the rest of your life. Still, people get the idea that war is gruesome but they do not live it. Besides, wars are never simple even though it is portrayed that way by politicians whose primary interests may have nothing to do with the interests of the people and the soldiers, dying for their cause!
Einstein his 1932 letter to Freud states: “Political leaders or governments owe their power either to the use of force or to their election by the masses. They cannot be regarded as representative of the superior moral or intellectual elements in a nation. In our time, the intellectual elite do not exercise any direct influence on the history of the world. ” Vietnam veterans will tell you the pain and the level of panic, stress, disgust, and dread there was to be there, in the middle of insanity!
Grossman in his book On Killing, talks about the psychological impact of combat and how devastating it is because the soldier is forced to be in an unnatural situation in which he or she must kill the enemy and survive at the same time. (Grossman, 36) Yet, war is still portrayed as glorious and as a beautiful sacrifice of life for one’s country. This picture is probably true for a well-informed mature person who can sign up with the Army, making a conscious decision that he or she will be severely tested and that he or she may very well kill others and be killed themselves.
However, nowadays with the Iraq war dragging as well as many soldiers dying, recruitment efforts have increased, particularly in poor neighborhoods. After speaking with a total of 15 African-American young men from different areas, it is obvious that all of them they felt especially targeted by Army recruiters. Five of them actually said that the recruiters claimed that as recruits, they could do whatever they wanted like joining their corps music band if they were inclined to play music.
Two particular African-American men confirmed these statements and said that in their case, the recruiters told them how famous Black basket ball players had joined the Army. Another young man “Mike” described how two Marine recruiters tried to get him by using the fact that he was good at playing video games: “No problem, man. It’s like in the video games…Hey, you played ‘Call of Duty’, ‘SOCOM 3’? … How about ‘Doom’? Awesome… Hey, you’d be right there with the rest of us. ” The remainder of the group said that they had at least one family member in the Army and that they did not want to join because they knew what the Army was all about.
In order to enlist young men, the reality of war has been more and more hidden from the recruits to get them to sign up to go fighting in Iraq. Moreover, the Army has made a significant effort to blend reality with fiction to get young men to sign up using TV advertisements that are aired: it is a brilliant use of the psychological impact of TV and advertising; the reality is completely absent and replaced with proud looking and competent looking young people in charge of complicated ‘stuff’ coupled with computer animation worthy of “Apocalypse Now” and strangely resembling the look, style, and feel of war video games.
In addition, it is not a coincidence that these ads air at the same time than popular TV action shows. For example, the Air Force has made use of the science-fiction show “Stargate-SG-1” to promote joining their corps. The main characters of the series are Air Force officers who have wonderful, exciting adventures on exotic planets, far, far away on the other side of the galaxy. Obviously, the basic goal is to offer young men an opportunity for 30 seconds to imagine themselves as proud competent young people playing with ‘stuff’, looking good, being well-educated and well-paid.
Little do they realize what they are in for once they sign up because they just cannot walk away and say ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’ whereas in a video game, they push the off button and everything goes away. So, the psychological appeal is double. The message from these televised ads says: ‘you will be successful in the Army (‘Be All That You Can Be in the Army’) and you will if you join. Plus, the Army is about adventure and action just like the video games you like to play. ’ Video games have a very tight grip on young people, especially teenagers and young adults: you can see that clearly when you visit video games arcades.
Many video games particularly target young men, especially the violent ones. Young women who play video games may prefer pure adventure or funny games. Violent games are prevalent and popular. The more violent and gory, the better is the motto. King & Krzywinska mention that the extent of obstacles to which a player is confronted to save his character from dying is correlated to the extent of violence to do so. (King, Krzywinska, 162) The resulting intensity is addictive while the violence seems to be connected to the idea of prompt retaliation for actions perceived as threatening by the character/player.
Prompt retaliation is often displayed by people who have not attained an emotional maturity such as adolescents and young males. The action intensity of some games is so high that the players surrender to “frenetic paroxysm elements. ”(King, Krzywinska, 162) Interestingly, assaults in the real world tend to result in a total state of primitive adrenaline-driven fight or flight in the violent offenders, bypassing the cerebral rationality area of the brain. Grossman specifies that in a combat situation, the soldier will display “tunnel vision” meaning that the enemy soldier looks closer and more dangerous.
(Grossman, 97) In addition, killing may cause an exulting effect on the combatant. The reason is that killing in war is the initiation of the power of sparing lives and killing others weaker than him. In fact, certain veterans confided that holding a gun or a machine gun was “a magic sword or even Excalibur. ” (Bourke, 4) Bourke quotes the part of a letter from a soldier telling his family how he enjoys fighting exercises (Bourke, 58): “Today we had our first bayonet class – it is quite a weapon – we all left the field thirstier than hell – all of us had the same idea, like
a child with a new toy, to try it. That is the way we were all growing to feel about combat in general – we want a taste of it. ” It is disturbing to realize after reading these words that the man in question is so excited by the idea of using a weapon, like a new toy. In a strange way, it parallels what war video games have become for adolescents and young men today. They can play war safely at home, enjoying the excitement that seems to exist in combat. In addition, video games can transform the player into a ‘real’ hero just like on TV or in a film.
One real hero of the Vietnam War was Sgt. Benavidez who had distinguished himself jumping from a helicopter running quickly, dodging bullets until he got hit in his right leg, face, and head. Despite his injuries, he continued his mission, which was to rescue a few other comrades of arms. He carried ½ of the team on his back to the aircraft while again dodging bullets. Since the team was involved in a secret mission, the documents had to be retrieved. Benavidez rushed back, still gravely injured, to pick up the dead body of the team leader and retrieve the classified documents.
As he reached the body, he got hit again, this time by a bullet in his abdomen and shrapnel from a grenade in the back. Unfortunately, the pilot of the helicopter had been hit and died on the spot as the helicopter crashed to the ground. Benavidez took the documents, went crawling back to the aircraft, helped the wounded out of the wreckage, and organized them into a defense perimeter. Then, he proceeded to distribute rations and water, still under enemy fire while injured! As if that was not enough, he called and directed air strikes to dampen enemy fire and call for another rescue.
Incredibly, he received another bullet in the thigh while he was administering first aid to a wounded member of his team. A second helicopter landed and Sgt. Benavidez again transported his wounded team members to the aircraft. During a second trip, an enemy soldier ran after him and clubbed him on the head. Hand to hand combat ensued with Benavidez killing the enemy after having received more wounds to the head and arms. That was not the end. Two enemy soldiers ran, approaching the aircraft from an angle that the gunner could not reach.
Benavidez killed these two men as well, subsequently returning to the perimeter to make sure all the documents had been taken and to get the last wounded men out. After the war, Sgt. Benavidez received numerous medals for his bravery, which was qualified as being of the highest traditions of the military service. (Leonard, 67-69) This account is truly extraordinary and is worthy of the greatest war legends passed down in many cultures, including our own. This is the story of all the heroes in Hollywood movies that make young men dream that they could be like that, not only admired for their bravery but famous and legendary as well.
In effect, Sgt. Benavidez is a bona fide model of courage and altruism. Still, are these concepts familiar to these young men involved in their video game world? Bernard et al. mentions the idea of human motivation; the motivation of sacrifice for an ideal. (Bernard, Mills, Swenson, Walsh, 40) Sacrifice for an ideal belongs to the real world, not video games; many of these young players would never be able to do what Benavidez did in the real world because of their lack of understanding of what sacrifice and altruism are.
Still, they can pretend to be sacrificing and altruistic in any war video game; not only do they get a high score for their bravery in the virtual world that looks so real but they get to live another day without worrying about their health or the effects of these virtual bullets on their body. At the end of the challenge, they just swallow a few ‘magic pills’ and they are good as new! They can either continue the carnage or turn the game off and watch TV some more. Did they really experiment the reality of war?
The video game only gives the player the enjoyment and excitement that soldiers may feel, the proverbial rush that soldiers tell about when going to combat. Yet, war is more than that. For example, can they really kill another man if they were fighting as soldiers? Can they empathize with the plight of the victims, innocent men, women, and children? Could these young men stand killing innocent women and children or sustain their looks of misery? How about peer pressure about torturing and killing prisoners?
How about hand-to-hand combat with someone they do not know, realizing that this is the part when the enemy is killed right there by their own hands, not by a machine gun far away? Where is the video game for that part of the war? Young men are being enlisted not knowing what is in store for them. All they know is that it will be awesome, exciting and fun to go to war and kill people. These tendencies have been especially exemplified by the Iraq war. This war comes at a time when virtual reality is so prevalent among adolescents and young men and women.
The Washington Post published a story back in February 2006 about video games and how they are used by the military to train soldiers. The military uses these training techniques all the time according to the article. It even has helped design video games: “Full Spectrum Warrior is one of them. The weapons used in video games are exact replicas of existing weapons. One of the interviewed soldiers in the article relates that when he had to kill a human enemy for the first time, “it did not even faze me” he said. “It felt like I was in a big video game” he added. Playstations and Xboxes were found everywhere in the soldiers’ barracks.
The comments of the Pentagon computer simulation officer in charge were that video games have revolutionized the way soldiers are trained. Adding on the experience of the soldier who was mentioned above, he stated that when it came time to fire his weapon, he was ready for it, he did not hesitate in fact because he had done it so many times before in the video games. In addition, a high ranking officer confirmed that the soldiers are not as inhibited to kill as previous generations who did not have video games. The officer asserted that video games provide “a better foundation to work with” in order to teach killing other human beings.
In fact, the U. S. Army set up a game online “America’s Army” that is used as a recruiting tool. (Vargas, 1) The young men who were interviewed in the Washington Post did not seem psychologically affected by what they did. In fact, they gave the impression that they are completely detached from the situations they encountered when they had to kill. Still, some soldiers cannot live with the fact that they killed a human being. The realization or the enormity of the act may come quickly or later, depending on the person. In previous wars, it had a tendency to come quickly.
Siegried Sasson in Pat Barker’s Regeneration, was a well-known decorated war hero in Britain. In 1917, he decided to refuse returning to the battlefield because he felt strongly that the war was a useless slaughter. His conscience was strongly affected by the war and the cruelty displayed while defending the trenches. As a result, he was so misunderstood that he was thought to be mentally ill. His ‘diagnosis’ was determined to be shell shock. The reasoning was that everyone should want to go to war and kill enemies. So, if someone did not want to, there had to be something wrong with them.
Consequently, he was sent to a mental hospital where he was taken care of by Dr. Rivers whose goal was to send him back to combat. Siegfried was a poet, not a soldier. He was not ‘equipped’ emotionally to deal with killing human beings. Yet, there was so much peer pressure to conform that it took strength and resolve to stand up and refuse to go back to the field. Tragically, he was looked upon as a threat to the morale of the troops. (Barker, 4) In fact, this is what happens to conscientious objectors who are jailed for refusing to fight.
Shell shock was a very serious psychological problem for soldiers coming back from the trenches during WWI. The psychological traumatic experiences gave these men hallucinations and nightmares while causing several physical symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and headaches. Other symptoms were materialized as muteness, inability to walk, and other strange effects. Trauma in war is also seen today and it is as shocking as before. The situation, however, is different. Before the age of the video games, soldiers had to acclimate without having ever been in the situation of killing another man.
Ironically, today this is no longer the case. As admitted in the Washington Post article, the games teach to kill. Curiously, there are still young men who cannot kill, even after having done it hundreds of time in the virtual world. This was particularly evident when the young soldiers in Iraq commented on the horror they saw: people dead, children dead, and blood everywhere. These men realized that they were forced to kill innocent men, women, children that were not mere characters of videogames. Grossman commented in his book On Killing that the Army teaches killing but does not teach their soldiers to deal with killing a man.
(Grossman, 97) Killing is real and the trauma resulting from this act will haunt many soldiers after they return to their homes. Shell shock is equivalent to what is called PTSD today (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). In July 2004, it was reported that the number of suicides had clearly gone up among soldiers in Iraq as well as severe psychiatric disorders. The Army had not addressed this problem early enough and discovered it then. Back in 2004, seventeen percent of soldiers were assessed to be suffering traumatic stress, depression or anxiety and were deemed to be “functionally impaired.
” Of that group, about three-quarters said they had received no help at any time in Iraq from a mental health professional, a doctor or a chaplain. (Holloway, 36) Iraq has been the latest examples of prisoner abuses and indiscriminate attacks during bombardments. Unfortunately, soldiers assaulted men and women while their houses were searched for traces of insurgents. These events clearly violated the Geneva Conventions on Human Rights during conflicts. (Protocol I, Art. 77, sec. 1; Protocol I, Art. 75; Protocol I, Art. 51, sec. 5a & 5 b; Protocol I, Art.
48) It is foolish to think that soldiers in combat, with their brain stuck in primal instinct modes and having no rationality capacities left, can reflect on the fact that they should follow the Geneva Protocols of Human Rights. Only after they are done with fighting can they reflect on what they have done: there is no video game in the world that will be able to erase the committed deeds of the soldier who is ordered to kill. In the end, one can ponder over the U. S. Army and the morality of its commanders that allows the comfortable idea to use video games and entertainment as ways to teach killing.
The disillusion of the soldiers after combat is that they must kill others, they must see suffering, and they cannot turn it off. The virtual reality used to portray war is false; the only grounds of these games are the weapons, uniforms, and environments as replicas of reality. However, this is just superficial whereas pain is real. Conclusion The reality of war is death and suffering. The role of video games has been hijacked to promote war, violence, and easy killing ‘skills’ promoted by the U. S. Army’s use of these games and clever ad campaigns to get recruits.
Even though there may always be the ‘tough guys’ who are not bothered by killing, it is still disturbing to see that many young men are not bothered by killing based on the fact that they seem unable to make the difference between the real world and virtual reality. However, the ‘sensitive types’ will always exist too. They are the ones who suffer the most since their world of illusion created by the video games is destroyed when they realize the reality of war, which is killing and destroying while causing pain and misery to innocent people. Their illusions of patriotic glory and excitement are shattered forever.