GP Book Review: From Sun Tzu to Xbox

December 9, 2006 -
From Sun Tzu to Xbox by Ed Halter

-reviewed for GamePolitics by Jeff McHale

Ed Halter, frequent contributor to The Village Voice, explores the relationship between war and games - not just video games – in his 334 page tome, From Sun Tzu to Xbox. Although somewhat ponderous in style, the book fits squarely into the realm of game-related history texts and deserves a place on the politically-aware gamer's bookshelf.

Halter starts by researching ancient games, such as chess, the Chinese Go, the Egyptian Senet or the Greek Petteia.  Interestingly enough, skill at these games was held in high regard, much as professional athletes players are admired in today’s sports-oriented culture. And like sports, these ancient games were viewed as outlets for aggressive and competitive urges.  In a time when one-man rule was common, such pastimes provided an outlet for such emotions without sparking a real war.

By the time of Napoleon, medieval chess had in some ways begun to resemble the complexity of today's real-time strategy games. Complete with Warhammer-like figures, Napoleonic war games tried for realism by simulating actual troop movement rates, ballistics and terrain.  Some games required so many mathematical computations to randomize battle results that an early version of the modern game master was needed. This overseeing function is remarkably similar to the role played by CPU in today’s strategy games.

Those who follow the political hurly burly on GamePolitics may be surprised to learn that game controversies are nothing new. In every era, people worried that strategy games glamorized war by abstracting the real-life negative consequences. Some were concerned that military games and toys were harmful to children and would encourage violence. Others attacked games as childish, harmful or time wasters.  Halter finds these issues to be generational in nature, and eerily similar to the concerns echoed by modern critics.   

Such is the hidden brilliance of From Sun Tzu to Xbox.  By remaining historically accurate, Halter paints the current struggle against video games as a generational fight. Nor does the author make light of anti-game arguments posed by critics. Halter relates both sides of the issue and cites research supporting the opposing positions. This objectivity enhances the book’s credibility. Despite the author's background covering games, his work can’t be simply written off as a pro-video game propaganda piece.  

Halter also provides a subtle view of the history and relationship between real war and games simulating war.  He explains how some games grew out of the necessity to train soldiers.  Of particular interest to gamers, he notes that video games were first created on computers that were entirely funded the military.  It's clear that video games, the military, and war have more common roots than most gamers would suspect.  America’s Army, the U.S. military’s mainstream recruiting game, portrays this kinship in sharp relief. 

Halter spends some effort detailing the idea of a virtual war between Islam and the West.  This modern militaristic game play constitutes an odd dialogue of sorts between those who don’t speak the same language or share the same religion, and whose governments are either at odds, or trading lead. 

The bottom line? The plethora of facts, details, history and anecdotes from influential figures – both gamers and military – provide enough substance to make From Sun Tzu to Xbox worth a second look.  

Reviewing from the foxhole that only exists in my head, Jeff McHale a.k.a. ~the1jeffy
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Comments

Jeffy is correspondent? i've never seen him or the euro guy right a story...

Looks like this will be my xmas pressie then....

I think Go is japanese

Dan - Go is Chinese: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Go_%28board_game%29

Grahamr: Jeffy has done a couple of book reviews for us. The other one was Ian Bogost's Unit Operations a while back.

About time this review came. Sounds like a very interesting book, especially if it is true that people once considered games such as CHESS to be promoting violence.

@ Terminator44

Sorry 'bout that. This is a history book, and not really my strong genre. It wasn't a book that I could mow through, or as my brother and I have taken to terming it: "I can't just Harry-Potter my way through this one." Hopefully it was worth the wait!

I hope that some folks who have read it stop by to add their input, too.

~~All Knowledge is Worth Having~~

I read that book a few months ago. It was very interesting to read the similarities between the criticisms of war games from 100 years ago and today.

I actually am reading this right at the moment. Found it at random in Borders a few weeks ago. It really is a captivating read for anyone interested in video games. I would appreciate seeing more literature that deals with the on going debate of video games. Debate leads to action.

GamePolitics/Dizzies/VH1...

Gamepolitics has at long last posted their review of From Sun Tzu to Xbox. There's also some interesting input in the comments section from others who have read it. Elsewhere: championed by VH1 Game Break and shouted-out by formidable bookmeister...

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ConsterDon't 'beauty rags' already get plenty of criticism?02/27/2015 - 9:02am
ZippyDSMleeEh still rather subjective… the haters would be better off going after teen and beauty rags and magazines than fiction, fiction follows reality and going after fiction tends to turn into a bullying fest’s… plus its fiction its unrealistic to start with….02/27/2015 - 1:10am
MechaTama31That's a pretty difficult anatomy to break.02/26/2015 - 11:09pm
MechaTama31"the way her animations repeatedly break her anatomy" <-- I'm sorry, but we are talking here about the woman who can roll up into a little ball and live to tell the tale, yes? ;)02/26/2015 - 11:09pm
Andrew EisenAs far as examples that could be culled from female game characters though, that one's pretty mild.02/26/2015 - 9:11pm
Andrew EisenNot as much the heels or the suit in and of themselves but certainly the way her animations repeatedly break her anatomy to show off her lady bits.02/26/2015 - 9:10pm
E. Zachary KnightWell, Samus's heels are certainly impracticable, but I wouldn't really call her Zero suit objectified. I don't really feel that the new Lara Croft is objectified either, but that is my subjective opinion.02/26/2015 - 9:08pm
Andrew EisenTomb Raider: No but we haven't seen much of anything yet. Samus: Yes.02/26/2015 - 9:07pm
ZippyDSMleeWould you call the new tomb raider objectified? WOuld Samus Aran from the new Smash bros be objectified?02/26/2015 - 9:02pm
WonderkarpI'm hoping they put the rest of the comic book ghostbusters in there. Ortiz and Rookie(From GB the game)02/26/2015 - 8:38pm
Wonderkarpghostbusters board game is doing great. getting close too a 3rd extra playable Character. Ron Alexander.02/26/2015 - 8:37pm
Andrew EisenSmurfette is not subjective. If there's more than one female character, it's not Smurfette. Anyway, as with everything on the list, Smurfette is, in and of itself, not necessarily a bad thing.02/26/2015 - 8:32pm
Andrew EisenI think there's 5 women (out of 15, I think) but other than one being a bit more "hippy" than the others, they pretty much all have the same body type. Especially when compaired to the huge variety of male body types.02/26/2015 - 8:31pm
Wonderkarpso I dont see Smurfette as a bad thing. Unless like all your female characters are Smurfette. remember the Smurfs also had Sassette02/26/2015 - 8:29pm
E. Zachary KnightOne good example of the larger issues is one Anita used in the presentation, Blizzard's Overwatch game. There are a dozen men in the game with a dozen body types. But there are only 4 women with 2 body types, but 3 of them have the same one.02/26/2015 - 8:28pm
Wonderkarpthe smurfette thing is subjective to how many female characters you have. Take Sonic for example. You have Amy, who is obvious smurfette, but there's several other female characters now without that. Including the original animated seriescomics with Sally02/26/2015 - 8:28pm
E. Zachary KnightAE. Very true. I think that is where I was going, but it didn't come out right. Jack Harkness is sexy but not objectified. Whereas, a women would have to be objectified in order to be "sexy" in most games.02/26/2015 - 8:26pm
E. Zachary KnightAnd as Andrew pointed out, there is a big difference between a sexualized man, and an idealized man. But for some reason, there is no distinction between women in games. For the most part.02/26/2015 - 8:25pm
Andrew EisenI think one of the issues we run into repeatedly with these conversations is the confusion over "sexy" and "sexually objectified."02/26/2015 - 8:24pm
E. Zachary KnightYet, for some reason, in orde rto have a sexualized women, she must be wearing lingerie or a bikini. Can't women be sexual and still dress for the job at hand?02/26/2015 - 8:24pm
 

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