VIDEO GAMES OR POLITICAL AND MILITARY TOOLS? – LAURA RUBIDGE

Image: Kabita Darlami (Unsplash)

There are numerous studies which interrogate the impact of military video games on the behaviour of the player due to their excessive violence. There is increasing academic interest into the other implications of military video games. This article will examine the possible influence that military video games can have on politics through the perpetuation of a particular narrative of how or why certain events occurred. Thereafter, there will be a discussion on the use of military video games as a recruitment tool for the US (United States) military. Finally, the links between military video games and military drone operation will be examined, including the possible impact this can have on drone warfare. 

The recent controversy around the video game entitled ‘Six days in Fallujah’ has raised questions about the political and ideological impact of military video games. Most first-person shooter games are situated in fictional situations, by contrast this one aims to recreate the stories of US soldiers and Iraqi civilians during the US led assault of Fallujah in 2004. The game was initially announced in 2009 but due to widespread criticism, it was cancelled. The game has since been given a new release date in 2021. The criticism of the game emerges from the concern that by perpetuating a specific narrative of the Iraqi War it will suppress alternative narratives and could contribute to the normalisation of Islamophobia. The Council for America-Islamic relations has criticised the game for glorifying the violence that took the lives of hundreds of Iraqi civilians, justifying the illegal invasion of Iraq and reinforcing Islamophobic narratives.

Much of this game will be portrayed through the perspective of the US military members. Rodger Stahl contends that military video games which position the player as a representative of the US state, mobilise certain rhetoric and perspectives, often consistent with the Bush administrations ‘War on Terror’, this is done by making the player an actor in the low-intensity warfare used during this ‘war’. Additionally, the enemy is placed as a ‘rogue state’ which is outside the bounds of reason and diplomacy, substantiating the use of force. Although this particular framing of the situation in a fictional situation, somewhat relating to the US’s ‘war on terror’, can be seen as problematic, it is increasingly concerning when it is applied to a true historical event which is estimated to have resulted in the killing of more than 800 civilians. 

Nick Robinson particularly focuses on the concept of US exceptionalism being developed through military video games. The idea of US exceptionalism has emerged in the post 9/11 era which portrays the US in a uniquely vulnerable situation, which justifies the US to employ an exceptional response which is not constrained by the rules of the ‘normal state’. Robinson interrogates several video games including Homefront, Call of Duty, and Battlefield, identifying a common theme which portrays the US as having the responsibility to protect threatened countries and as being uniquely capable of responding to the threats. In addition, these games reject rule bound negotiation process as a possible response because of the rogue nature of the enemy, thus releasing the military from the international conventions and allowing the use of exceptional measures to respond to the threats. 

Military video games have also been used by the US military as a marketing and recruitment tool. One of the most played military video games, ‘America’s Army’ was the first game to be developed and designed by the US military. The game aimed to support military recruitment by identifying players with high-tech aptitude and skills, and raise the public perception of the military to increase recruitment. The game propagated army values to potential recruits and other gamers. The game also directed players to recruiting websites and according to Peter Singer, it has been more effective for recruiting than any other method.  A study found that 30% of all Americans aged 16 to 24 had a more positive impression of the Army because of the game. 

Although most military video games are criticised for their excessive violence, this game was criticised for its unrealistic portrayal of violence and its impact. A study by Anderson and Kurti demonstrated that the lack of realism, portrayed war as ‘clean’, which subsequently lead to the positive feelings reported by young players towards their acts of killing. Only 1 out of 62 teenagers reported bad feelings about gameplay killing. 

Downplaying the devastating cost of war is not the only technique which has raised concern about the desensitisation of military personal, the likening of drone operation to video gaming can have the same effect. The US military forces have sought drone operator recruitment in gaming-locations, hosted video game drone simulators for online players and even re-fitted military drone simulators to be similar to Xbox and PlayStation equipment. This likening of military drone operation to video gaming can be considered a contributing factor to the concerns that the military’s use of drones can create a ‘pathologic emotional detachment’ of a drone operator. Testimony from former drone operators have described the people below the drone as “black blobs on a screen”. Drone warfare is being used increasingly because it reduces the loss of war, for the operators who are far removed from danger. However, it does not fully remove casualties, there are many reports of civilians killed by drone strikes, including children. The concerns about the likening of drone operation and video gaming, increasing the use of drones, and further removing the realisation of the devastating impact of war, is therefore understandable. 

Laura has a degree in BPolSci International Studies from the University of Pretoria and is currently completing a level 4 NALP paralegal diploma. She hopes to complete her honors in International Relations and pursue a career in the field of Public International Law and Human Rights. Laura is one of the permanent members of the writing staff at The Art of Politics.


One Comment on “VIDEO GAMES OR POLITICAL AND MILITARY TOOLS? – LAURA RUBIDGE

  1. Thought provoking and insightful. A really interesting read.

    Like

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