February 19th, 2006

Are Shooting Games Breeding Better Soldiers?

We've heard the claims before. Video games cause desensitization to violent images. The military uses video games to inhibit their soldiers' aversion to killing. Cranial menus, learned reactions, "zombie-like state", etc. But does it *really* work?

The Washington Post attempted to answer this question by interviewing US troops in Iraq.

At first glance, they discovered that games like Halo, Full Spectrum Warrior, Ghost Recon, and many other military-themed games were favourites during downtime, and many troops compared day-to-day situations to those in-game.

Sgt. Sinque Swales told the Post, "It felt like I was in a big video game. It didn't even faze me, shooting back. It was just natural instinct." He compared his reaction to a scene in Halo. "The insurgents were firing from the other side of the bridge... We called in a helicopter for an airstrike... It didn't even seem real, but it was real."

Movies like Saving Private Ryan, Full Metal Jacket, and Apocalypse Now were also favourite viewing material among the troops.

The military has acknowledged games as a useful training tool in a society where the new generation of soldiers finds "Ctrl-Alt-Del as basic as ABC." Retired Rear Adm. Fred Lewis notes: "Live training on the field is still done, of course... but using simulations to train them is not only natural, it's necessary."
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First Amendment Scholars Weigh in on Utah "Games as Porn" Bill

"...the right issue and the wrong solution."

That's the conclusion of noted constitutional law experts Clay Calvert (left) and Robert D. Richards in a review of Utah Rep. David Hogue's notorious "games as porn" bill, now before the state legislature.

Writing in an op-ed for today's Salt Lake City Tribune, credit Hogue for being concerned about youth violence, but take issue with his proposed solution.

The pair, who happen to be co-directors of Penn State's Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment, see clear First Amendment problems for Hogue's bill. Reminding readers of the sorry history of such legislation, they write, "The weight of judicial precedent.. is overwhelmingly against Hogue's bill, which would be caught up in an expensive taxpayer-funded legal battle to defend it in court were it to become law."

Calvert and Richards also question Hogue's focus on video games.

"Even setting aside the trampling upon parental rights and the fatal First Amendment flaws in Hogue's measure, any such law would be entirely ineffective in accomplishing its purpose. Minors are bombarded with violent images from myriad sources, including movies, music, books and even continuous coverage of war-related devastation and terrorist torture tactics on television news."

Their conclusion? Leave decisions about what children play to their parents.

"The lesson for the Legislature, then, is that some issues are better dealt with in the home rather than the House."