Why Videogames are not Real War

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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