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Should War Video Games Keep Ignoring Civilian Casualties?

  • by
  • September 13, 2011
  • 1:30 am
Should War Video Games Keep Ignoring Civilian Casualties?

In light of the recent Supreme Court case on violence in video games — and the shocking scientific evidence that showed that violent games cause users to become more violent — people have started to become much more aware of the dangers posed by war games. It looks like there is another reason to be worried about violence in video games: two new “realistic” military-based video games do not show civilian casualties.

In an eloquent review of the new video game Battlefield 3, Slate writer Michael Thomsen describes it as a “shooting game whose dysphoric realism borrows from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan… Its visuals are remarkable, among the most convincingly detailed war environments ever created in a video game. Yet there is one thing that’s curiously absent: civilians.” It is shocking in and of itself that a game that would try to recreate a realistic war-like experience yet fail to account for the fact that civilians are all-too-often caught up in the violence of a battle. What is especially curious is that Battlefield 3 is set to have levels that take place in schools, checkpoints, and subway stations — places where non-combatants tend to be.

To make matters worse, the highly problematic mercenary outfit Blackwater’s founder Erik Prince is set to release a new video game called, originally enough, “Blackwater.” As if the name alone was not terrifying enough, the games developers brag that the game will feature technology that will allow players to mime holding a weapon and firing. CNN reports, though, that much like Battlefield 3, “the gameplay does not put players in situations where civilians or noncombatants are targets.” Sadly, ignoring civilians is business as usual for Blackwater; as Talking Points Memo reminds us, the company “became infamous after four employees were charged with the deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians after allegedly opening fire in Nisour Square in Baghdad in 2007.”

Thomsen adds that though these games are new, they are continuing a trend in video games to remove the horrors of war from “realistic” war games. He finds that whenever civilians are present in a game, they are to be shot at directly and used as cannon fodder such as in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. He notes, though, that it does not need to be this way — video games could easily include informational sections about civilians or at the very least stop the level every time the player hits a non-combatant.

These reforms, though, have yet to take hold. Since these kinds of games are so popular, it is quite plausible to assume that a generation of soldiers was raised on games that minimize the horrors of civilian casualties, and the difficult decisions soldiers must make. They also obviously completely sidestep the more philosophical question of who “enemy combatants” are in the first place, and what it means to be an enemy. War games can therefore be seen as just another tool that turns anything foreign into the scary “Other” — in these game worlds, everyone in the sniper’s eye is an evil enemy. Sadly, that is so rarely true in the reality of war.

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Photo credit: PopCultureGeek's Flickr stream.

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52 comments

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3:24PM PDT on Jul 11, 2012

A well-written article. Very refreshing to see intelligent analysis instead of kneejerk calls for censorship.

On one level these are just games and you can't expect them to go in depth any more than kids playing cops and robbers are making a statement on policy brutality or gang warfare. There is a huge double standard regarding video games that seems mostly rooted in technophobia; when you make comparisons to the actual entertainment media of the past the argument unravels.

On the other Jose is right, the game makers have copped out. Not in comparison to movies or books or the distant past but in comparison to previous generations of video games. The games of the 80s and 90s featured moral dilemmas and complexities you don't tend to see as often now.

Children in games are great example. Time was you saw kids in video games but the squeemish couldn't handle that they could die under certain circumstances or even be killed by the player. No matter that killing children was depicted as so reprehensible that the most evil characters in the games would turn on you, people just couldn't handle it being possible. Several countries placed bans. Now you don't see children in video games much and if you do they are magically immune to all damage. Now I don't know about you but I found the old "kill a child, loose your soul" approach more realistic and reassuring than games in which children can survive a fireball that tears people around them to shreds. I hope no kid is actu

11:33AM PDT on Sep 18, 2011

hey everyone. let us see what is on Newgrounds!
wait, what if the civilans are trappers! then it's ok to kill them if they hunt fluffy little animals, or perhaps they have a racehorse? if we pretend the civilans in these games reserch test on animals, then "so what?" right? maybe one of them fights dogs/cocks/horses/spiders/beetles

if i learn anything from here and PETA, is people want games where you kill hunters, vivicectors, race horse owners, dog/cock/horse/beetle/spider fighters.
perhaps one is a Kosher butcher? or leather workers...loggers.

who wants to make good money by making this game? trust me. people will pay you in child souls for one.

3:33PM PDT on Sep 17, 2011

I CANNOT IMAGINE any justification for these video to EXIST much less be defended. Anyone buying a GAME named BLACKWATER has either just emerged from his UNDISCLOSED LOCATION or is in desperate NEED of one.What in the world is wrong with us as a people? In the last ten years,The United States has ATTACKED and wared against TWO completely innocent countrys! NOW we make games to celebrate the atroceous behavior we"ve perpetrated. The whole IDEA is sickening with or without civilian carnage!

12:10PM PDT on Sep 17, 2011

Thanks.

12:00PM PDT on Sep 17, 2011

It's actually kind of sad. I remember playing games where there were civilians around, and killing them always came with a penalty. You just don't see that anymore. It would actually be interesting to see them added as an option that you can turn on and off, but with a potential for higher scores when it's on because of the increased difficulty. Hardcore gamers wouldn't be able to resist.

As for the broader issue, I have nothing against people who dislike violent games, but misrepresenting the data is not going to help. The vast majority of evidence shows only a correlation between games and real-world behavior, but there is NO solid justification for the idea that the link is causal. The research routinely admits that violent games have little or not effect on kids with low risk factors. The effect is limited in even the high-risk ones because they typically use more than just video games to act out their impulses. Frankly, I would think it's easier to spot ticking time bombs when they spend hours a day shooting people on a screen than if they're out on their own, secretly blowing thinks up or torturing small animals. If anything, video games have provided a better method for analyzing the inner thoughts of our children (because it's not like anyone has the time and energy to actually TALK to them).

4:53AM PDT on Sep 17, 2011

when people did not play the game. but do the real thing. what does that say about them? In reality if you are told to bomb a village, you bomb that village if you are in war.
if you feel bad about it, you are a good person.

simulated civilian killing when you won't get introble with superiors would be done for sheer enjoyment right? you would need a very very good simulation that would have a reason. such as if those civilians feed your foe in war. if they are to busy fighting to cook. you starve them. or cut off rout to any delivery of necessity. or their doctors.

that is why you could do it? or you kill the civilians so their are no backups. festering revenge and replacing soldiers, cut off the backup.

that is why you would INTENTIONAL target them? maybe 700 years ago,

the internet is my "war game". very very hard "to win".

the only "war game" that comes close to one I played, was the RPG "Suikoden", where plots feature a nessesary war plot.

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