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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Cheater87Look what FINALLY came to Australia uncut! http://www.gamespot.com/articles/left-4-dead-2-gets-reclassified-in-australia/1100-6422038/09/02/2014 - 6:49am
Andrew EisenHence the "Uh, yeah. Obviously."09/02/2014 - 12:53am
SleakerI think Nintendo has proven over the last 2 years that it doesn't.09/02/2014 - 12:31am
Andrew EisenSleaker - Uh, yeah. Obviously.09/01/2014 - 8:20pm
Sleaker@AE - exclusives do not a console business make.09/01/2014 - 8:03pm
Papa MidnightI find it disappointing that, despite the presence of a snopes article and multiple articles countering it, people are still spreading a fake news story about a "SWATter" being sentenced to X (because the number seems to keep changing) years in prison.09/01/2014 - 5:08pm
Papa MidnightAnd resulting in PC gaming continuing to be held back by developer habits09/01/2014 - 5:07pm
Papa MidnightI find it disappointing that the current gen of consoles is representative of 2009-2010 in PC gaming, and will be the bar by which games are released over the next 8 years - resulting in more years of poor PC ports (if they're ever ported)09/01/2014 - 5:06pm
Andrew EisenMeanwhile, 6 of Wii U's top 12 are exclusive: Mario 3D World, Nintendo Land, Pikmin 3, Mario Kart 8, Wonderful 101, and ZombiU. (Wind Waker HD is on the list too but I didn't count it.)09/01/2014 - 4:36pm
Andrew EisenLikewise, only two of Xbox One's top 12 are exclusive: Dead Rising 3 and Ryse: Son of Rome (if you ignore a PC release later this year).09/01/2014 - 4:34pm
Andrew EisenNot to disrespect the current gen of consoles but I find it telling that of the "12 Best Games For The PS4" (per Kotaku), only two are exclusive to the system: Infamous: Second Son and Resogun.09/01/2014 - 4:30pm
MaskedPixelantehttp://www.joystiq.com/2014/09/01/beyond-two-souls-ps4-trophies-emerge-directors-cut-reported/ MMM MMM, nothing quire like reheated last gen games to make you appreciate the 400 bucks you spent on a new console.09/01/2014 - 4:24pm
Andrew EisenThat's actually a super depressing thought, that a bunch of retweeters are taking that pic as an illustration of the actual issue instead of an example of a complete misunderstanding of it.09/01/2014 - 4:20pm
Andrew EisenObviously, the picture was created by someone who doesn't understand what the issue actually is (or, possibly, someone trying to satire said misunderstanding).09/01/2014 - 4:10pm
Papa MidnightPeople fear and attack what they do not understand.09/01/2014 - 4:04pm
Papa MidnightWell, let's not forget. Someone held their hand in a peace sign a few weeks ago and people started claiming it was a gang sign. Or a police chief displayed the hand signal of their fraternity and was accused of the same.09/01/2014 - 4:04pm
SleakerEither people don't understand that what the picture is saying is true, or the picture was created out of a misunderstanding of what sexism is.09/01/2014 - 3:52pm
Sleaker@AE ok yah that's where the kind of confusion I'm getting. Your tweet can be taken to mean two different things.09/01/2014 - 3:51pm
Andrew EisenSleaker - No. No, not even remotely. The pic attached to my tweet was not made by me; it's not a statement I'm making. It's an illustration of the complete misunderstanding of the issue my tweet is referring to.09/01/2014 - 3:13pm
Papa MidnightIn other news, Netflix states why it paid Comcast: http://money.cnn.com/2014/08/29/technology/netflix-comcast/index.html?hpt=hp_t209/01/2014 - 3:10pm
 

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