March 29th, 2006

FPS Experience a Plus with Army's New Weapon System

Can you learn to be a real-world marksman by playing first-person shooters? Not really, but what if there was a gun designed to mimic a first person shooter's controls?

Say hello to CROWS (Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station), an interchangeable weapons platform developed by Recon Optical of Barrington, IL. CROWS is controlled from the relative safety of the armored vehicle on which it is mounted. Rather like a first-person shooter, this bad boy, currently operational in Iraq, is operated via joystick and video display. A promotional video boasts military-speak benefits such as minimal collateral damage, maximal force protection, and guaranteed first round effectiveness (a polite way of saying "one-shot kills").

"The guys operating these systems grew up playing video games," says Strategy Page columnist James Dunnigan. Military board gamers fondly recall Dunnigan as one of the founders of wargame publisher SPI as well as its Strategy & Tactics magazine. Although Dunnigan has long since moved on to real-world military consulting, his influence on strategic simulation games remains evident.

"They developed skills in operating systems (video games) very similar to the CROWS controls. This was important, because viewing the world around the vehicle via a vidcam is not as enlightening (although a lot safer) than having your head and chest exposed to the elements, and any firepower the enemy sends your way. But experienced video gamers are skilled at whipping that screen view around, and picking up any signs of danger."

Due in part to its success with enlisted gamers, the U.S. Army hopes to obtain over 9,000 of the $260,000 systems. They are currently taking delivery on only 15 per month.

A CROWS basic skill trainer is being developed on the America's Army platform.

-Reporting from his armored fortress in San Diego, GP Correspondent Andrew Eisen

GP: A military-issue shout-out is awarded to GP reader Danny Seif for tipping us off to the CROWS story.

Senate Subcommittee Holds Video Game Hearing

The video game/political axis shifts back to Washington, D.C. on Wednesday as a subcommittee of the powerful Senate Judiciary holds a hearing titled What's in a Game? State Regulation of Violent Video Games and the First Amendment

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) chairs the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights and will gavel the hearing to order at 2:00 P.M. Brownback, rumored to have 2008 presidential aspirations, is no stranger to video game content issues. As reported on GamePolitics last Decemeber, the conservative senator raised game industry eyebrows by urging retailers to display video game ratings, including ratings other than those of the ESRB.

Brownback is also a co-sponsor of Sen. Hillary Clinton's Children and Media Research Advancement Act (CAMRA), which calls upon the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to undertake a massive study of the effects of media on children. CAMRA was approved by the Senate's Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions earlier this month.

Witnesses for the hearing are a varied lot and include speakers both pro and con with respect to video game content and First Amendment issues. They include:

Reverend Steve Strickland, brother of Fayette, Alabama Police Officer Arnold Strickland, who was murdered by "GTA killer" Devin Moore in 2003. Strickland is a plaintiff in an ongoing lawsuit against Sony, Take-Two, Wal-Mart and GameStop.

Elizabeth Carll, Ph.D., Chair of Interactive Media Committee, Media Psychology Division, American Psychological Association.

Dmitri Williams, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Speech Communication University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

David Bickham, Ph.D., Research Scientist, Center on Media and Child Health, Harvard Medical School

Patricia Vance, President, ESRB

Rep. Jeff Johnson, Assistant Majority Leader, Minnesota House of Representatives

Attorney Paul Smith, partner, Jenner & Block LLP (has represented the industry in recent state-level First Amendment cases)

Kevin Saunders, J.D., Ph.D., Professor of Law, Michigan State University

California Assembly Speaker Leland Yee, whose appearance at the Game Developers Conference sparked controversy in recent days, was originally scheduled to testify at today's hearing, but an aide told GamePolitics that Yee was required for Assembly businss in Sacramento and will submit written testimony to the subcommittee instead.

Alabama Top Court Denies Industry Motion to Dismiss GTA Killer Suit

The Associated Press is reporting that the Alabama Supreme has rejected an appeal by video game industry defendants to dismiss the so-called "GTA Killer" case in which 18-year-old GTA gamer Devin Moore killed two police officers and a police dispatcher. Upon his arrest, Moore told investigators, "Life is like a video game; everybody has to die sometime."

In November, Fayette County Judge James Moore rejected the industry's motion for summary judgment (i.e. - dismissal) in the $600 million suit brought against Sony, Take-Two, Wal-Mart and GameStop. Lawyers for the game companies appealed Moore's decision to the state Supreme Court, which backed the circuit judge, who has been described to GP by one knowledgeable observer as a firm but fair old school conservative.

The justices issued their decision without comment, which will allow the case to proceed to trial. The court did, however, agree to hear arguments from the game industry as to whether Alabama courts have the power to hear the case, Strickland vs. Sony.