The problem is that the premise for war games acts as its own excuse. Nina Huntemann, director of the 2000 film Game Over: Gender, Race and Violence in Video Games, describes how some military games rely on the narrative of neutralizing a terrorist threat without questioning what makes someone a "terrorist" or why we should "neutralize" them. Though BF2 includes little narrative, the idea that there could possibly be a military conflict between the Middle East, China, and the United States is so obvious and predetermined that none of these types of questions even come to mind.
I don't fault Digital Illusions, BF2's developer: It's difficult to sell sensitivity, but it's easy to sell explosions. I blame a general immersion in entertainment that is predicated on the lie that fantasy is divorced from reality. The fantasy that we are removed from the war in Iraq is one of the things that allows the reality of it to continue.
Video games haven't just become more like war – war has become like video games. I'll never forget the moment in Fahrenheit 9/11 when a kid talks about how he listens to the Bloodhound Gang while he sits in his tank and shoots at people. That sounds a lot like what you do in BF2. The war in Iraq is at least partly being fought by kids whose first ideas of war were shaped by video game simulations before they experienced the reality. Like the tactics of dehumanizing the enemy to ease the ethical hang-ups involved in killing them, this extra layer of detachment enables kids to reconcile participating in potentially traumatic events.
Even the US Army actively tries to sell war as a video game. Recently I've caught Army recruitment commercials of guys working at computers and coordinating attacks from the comfort of a tent, perpetuating the idea that war can be fought on a flat screen without real-world messiness. Naturally, BF2's commander screen, on which you can zoom in on different parts of the map and order squad movements or artillery strikes, looks a lot like the graphics flying around an Army commercial.
The Army also invested more than $6 million in a g ame called America's Army, which it released for free over the Internet in August 2002, less than a year after 9/11 and seven months before war was declared on Iraq. Possibly one of the most sinister forms of propaganda to fly under the media's radar, America's Army essentially indoctrinates players into military life through a graphically advanced action game. Openly billed as a recrui tment tool, the game has players make their way through virtual boot camp and then move on to military operations.
Of course, games have always revolved around war and violence, from dodgeball to capture the flag. War is about strategy, problem-solving, and competition, just like most video games. Its popularity as a theme for video games is no surprise, just as it's no surprise the Army wants to tap into that recruiting pool. These games aren't desensitizing kids to real violence or instilling them with a lust for it. But the games' latent values feed an unquestioning acceptance of the United States' current militarism and normalize it for future generations. I don't know if we – or the world – can afford another detached generation. Until we find a way to give kids, and, for that matter, adults, a real context for the fantasies provided by the entertainment industry, the enabling disconnect will continue.
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