Why Videogames are not Real War

October 11, 2010 -

While critics of videogames would have you believe that they are efficient little murder simulations, an NPR editorial from Benjamin Busch begs to differ. Who is Benjamin Busch and why does his opinion carry more weight than most? Because he is an United States Marine Corps infantry officer who has served in Iraq on two combat tours.

Busch talks about the war games of youth - playing war in Brooklyn where kids played Allied forces and Germans and controlling the flow of war in a sandbox filled with army men. While the medium has changed since those days, the way war is played has not.

Busch points out that the reason that video games can never be like real-life war is that they do not usually contain elements that are unfair like real-life "invisible snipers" that pick off your friends. Here is a portion of what he says about that:

When I was a boy, I was given plastic army men. I arranged them in the sandbox behind our house, and I killed them. I voiced their commands and made the sounds of their suffering. I imagined their war — and I controlled it. But I lost those magical powers as a Marine in Iraq.

We know children are immersed in digital interactivity now, and the soldier of today has grown up on video games. It is becoming a new literacy of sorts. Playing and risking your life are different things. In the video war, there may be some manipulation of anxiety, some adrenaline to the heart, but absolutely nothing is at stake.

Busch goes on to say disparaging things about Medal of Honor, but also defends it in the same breath:

I honestly don't like that Medal of Honor depicts the war in Afghanistan right now, because — even as fiction — it equates the war with the leisure of games. Changing the name of the enemy doesn't change who it is.

But what nation or military has the right to govern fiction? Banning the representation of an enemy is imposing nationalism on entertainment. The game cannot train its players to be actual skilled special operations soldiers, nor is it likely to lure anyone into Islamic fundamentalism. It can grant neither heroism nor martyrdom. What it does do is make modern war into participatory cinema. That is its business.

Read the rest at NPR. Image credit: NPR by way of Benjamin Busch.

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Comments

Re: Why Videogames are not Real War

It's about time we heard a take on the matter from someone who has actual experience of war, rather than someone speculating from behind a desk claiming to have soldiers' best interests at heart.

No matter how realistic, visceral or engaging entertainment is, nothing can prepare you for the realities of war but war itself.

I think the only part I disagree with is 'it equates war with the leisure of games', that assumes that people cannot separate fiction from reality.

Re: Why Videogames are not Real War

Uh, I don't know if you've been paying attention, but there are those of us who have been doing precisely that. In fact, I've done offered my perspective as an Iraq veteran on several occasions here on GP.

 

-- Dan Rosenthal

-- Dan Rosenthal

Re: Why Videogames are not Real War

I'm glad to hear it. It just seemed to me as if the majority of commentators were only too quick to speak for people of who they had very little understanding.

Re: Why Videogames are not Real War

Tangentially, I remember Scott Sharkey did a tongue-in-cheek feature on 1up awhile back where he talked about realism in games and mentioned that unfairness is one thing you definitely DON'T want to depict realistically.  As an example, he suggested that if World of Warcraft were like real life, people would randomly be denied promotions to the next level even though they'd met the experience requirements.

Re: Why Videogames are not Real War

Tch. Can't imagine Blizzard would hold onto many of their millions of subscribers for every long that way. I see people bitch enough about how long it takes them to get enough experience for the next level.

Game Message: "Sorry, though your hard work is appreciated, and the World of Warcraft continues to value you as a dedicated participant, we regret to inform you that the level of 30 will not be bestowed upon you at this time."

WoW Player: "What the fuck? Lame..." *deletes account*

Re: Why Videogames are not Real War

I completely agree... and I usually say that there's a line from Patton (some may recognize it from The Simpsons):

"When you put your hand into a bunch of goo that a moment before was your best friend's face, you'll know what to do!"

That experience will never come from a video game, so the player will never "know what to do" when it comes to war from playing a game.  

And ironically... from watching Patton.

------- Morality has always been in decline. As you get older, you notice it. When you were younger, you enjoyed it.

Re: Why Videogames are not Real War

My old man was a marine. 20 years in the service, and he sides with this guy completely. God bless 'em.

Re: Why Videogames are not Real War

tbh he needs to watch how he phrases things.

 

"I imagined their war — and I controlled it. But I lost those magical powers as a Marine in Iraq. "

such things as that could be easily used to convince the uninformed that games desensitize kids to what real war is, and further the claim that video games and such are terrible mind games to trick kids into joining the military (and tbh i don't see why joining the military is a bad thing to begin with, but okay hippy folk, i'll just take yer word on it)

its just to easy to have what you say misconstrued, or even cut up and presented in bits that don't make the right message when taken without the rest of the words before and after present.

Re: Why Videogames are not Real War

 True, people could take that and twist it around, but these are the same people who have completely shut their childhoods out of their minds. They don't ever want to acknowledge that they either played with toy soldiers or play guns, or they just don't want to admit that they ever thought about it. It's too bad they just don't watch the kids and see how they react to things. 

 

Of course, nowadays if any government official actually saw children playing with G.I.Joes or Super Soakers, they might throw them in an institution claiming they'll be a murderer when they grow up. 

Re: Why Videogames are not Real War

That's exactly why super soakers only come in one ugly bright orange color these days.

...With a rare special edition in bright electric blue.

Re: Why Videogames are not Real War

So this further proves that the people who can't separate the fiction for mthe reality are the people trying to make the fiction go away.

Re: Why Videogames are not Real War

At the risk of trivializing:

>But imagine how frustrating this game would be if, just as you began to play it, an invisible sniper shot you dead every time.

...has he never played Call of Duty?

/b

Re: Why Videogames are not Real War

His entire point was that i nreal war you don't jsut responw at your latest save.

Re: Why Videogames are not Real War

Couldn't have said it better Marine, excellent work. Semper Fi!

I'm certain that this opinion would be found quite prevalent if assholes like Jack Thompson, David Grossman, and Hillary Clinton were to ever take the time to ask people who have actually seen combat how well a video game can train someone to kill.

Hell, I've never been shot at, or shot anyone else, and I can tell you right now that a few hours of Halo isn't going to prepare me for either. You set me up with full tactical gear and drop me off in the middle of Iraq, I guarantee you that if I make it back to American soil, it'll be in a big black bag.

 
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