Game Politics (gamepolitics) wrote,
Game Politics

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."

Simulations like "Asymmetric Warfare - Virtual Training Technology" teach troops how to coordinate complicated missions. "Indoor Simulated Marksmanship Trainer" uses an M16, a laser instead of bullets, and a giant screen, in order to teach and improve weapons handling.

David Bartlett, creator of Marine Doom, thinks today's soldiers are are more knowledgeable about weaponry than their predecessors, and have "a basic skills set as to how to use them."

But even though the "video game" generation troops seems to be more willing to point their weapons at human targets, are better skilled at reacting to developing situations, and have a better understanding of military hardware, an age-old problem lingers.

Even soldiers who grew up playing first person shooters were still able to distinguish reality from fantasy, and were not automatically pulling the trigger. "You just try to block it out, see what you need to do, fire what you need to fire. Think to yourself, This is a game, just do it, just do it," says Spec. Trevino. "Of course, it's not a game. The feel of the actual weapon was more of an adrenaline rush than the feel of the controller... But you're practically doing the same thing: trying to kill the other person. The goal is the same. That's the similarity. The goal is to survive."

Evan Wright, author of Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America, and the New Face of American War, thinks many PS2-playing soldiers aren't as battle-ready as they think.

"When they actually shot people, especially innocent people, and were confronted with this, I saw guys break down. The violence in games hadn't prepared them for this."

Still, some find the violence a little too real. Sgt. Stinetorf used to play Grand Theft Auto III, several first-person shooters, as well as James Bond-themed games. But since returning from Iraq, he feels uncomfortable playing or even watching such games.

"It just doesn't appeal to me anymore... I found the easiest way to release all the violence, to walk away from it all, is not surround myself with it." Others, like Sgt. Swales, can't get enough of the military sims now that they've returned from Iraq.


Tags: conditioning, fps, generation kill, jabrwock, military
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