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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