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
Posted in

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...

6b12c342287d...

6b12c342287de5848fc7...
 
Forgot your password?
Username :
Password :

Poll

Will Code Avarice's Paranautical Activity make its way back onto Steam?:

Shout box

You're not permitted to post shouts.
Andrew EisenAdam McKay directed cartoon about income inequality. https://screen.yahoo.com/we-the-economy/inequality-1-unbelievable-sweet-alpacas-175411663.html10/21/2014 - 8:54pm
prh99Bit.ly Maintainance here is the original http://arstechnica.com/business/2014/10/after-gamergate-tweet-adobe-distances-itself-from-gawker-bullying/10/21/2014 - 8:39pm
prh99Adobe calls out Gawker for GG bullying and backpedals...sort of. http://bit.ly/1pyM4Yg10/21/2014 - 8:35pm
Neo_DrKefkaThanks James. Means a lot.10/21/2014 - 7:24pm
prh99Nothing that hasn't been said.10/21/2014 - 6:52pm
Andrew EisenHaven't read it yet. I'm sharing this because I love the header image. http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2014/10/gamergate-should-stop-lying-to-itself.html10/21/2014 - 3:39pm
james_fudgeYou are one of us, you're a GPer, not a GGer :)10/21/2014 - 2:27pm
james_fudgeNeo_DrKefka: half of them don't know who that is, so no worries :)10/21/2014 - 2:27pm
Andrew EisenUpdate to the Paranautical Activity story. Dev leaves the studio. http://codeavarice.com/post/100592709238/mike-is-leaving-code-avarice10/21/2014 - 1:52pm
quiknkoldI'm sure you are, Andrew10/21/2014 - 1:44pm
Andrew EisenNintendo announced the Link amiibo is compatible with Hyrule Warriors. No idea how Nintendo expects anyone to give a toss if it don't tell us what it does. Then again, maybe I'm just being curmudgeonly.10/21/2014 - 1:25pm
Neo_DrKefkaSo Gamergate compared me to leftist Saul Alnsky....ME off all the people10/21/2014 - 1:16pm
IanCWell.... quite.10/21/2014 - 1:10pm
Andrew EisenWell of course. Girls don't buy figurines and guys don't buy figurines of girls. And no, the girls that buy figurines and the guys that buy figurines of girls don't count. The money belongs on the table, thank you very much!10/21/2014 - 12:43pm
IanCI have 3 of the Disney Infinity figures even though i don't have the game (Rapunzel from Tangled, and Anna & Elsa from Frozen, purely because its the only way to get figures from those two films)10/21/2014 - 12:23pm
Andrew EisenGlad you said "Pokemon." That's the first time I've seen anyone use that abbreviation.10/21/2014 - 12:14pm
MaskedPixelanteGot my demo key for ORAS, hope I get some awesome Pokemon to bring over.10/21/2014 - 12:08pm
E. Zachary KnightNot owning a WiiU helps too.10/21/2014 - 11:39am
E. Zachary KnightI have avoided Skylanders and Disney Infinity so far, so I don't see how Amiibos will get me in their grasp.10/21/2014 - 11:39am
Andrew EisenYes, GamerGate has a lot of fair-weather friends.10/21/2014 - 11:25am
 

Be Heard - Contact Your Politician