First person shooter games – exactly what we feared they’d be

During the waves of ecstasy about “education” and “democracy” that accompanied
the rise of the personal computer and Internet, many parents and teachers who saw
what was actually going on who voiced dismay about the kinds of info products heavily
marketed to children. Foremost among these were the violent, first person shooter video
games that became the daily pastime for millions of kids. Hours and hours of
bang-bang-bang-boom-bang-bang…. So much for the “wonderful educational tool”
and improved “access to information.” Many asked: “What will become of youngsters
who spend endless hours wasting enemies on the screen?”

One answer appears in news reports about a Pentagon recruitment tool, “America’s Army,”
a state-of-the-art video game that offers more than “harmless diversion.” A story in
The Nation gives the sad, gory details.

“The universe of online computer games is home to 200,000 players at any time. It's also
where you can find the newest innovation in military recruiting. Check out America's Army, a
state-of-the art computer game featuring 3-D graphics, surround sound and the most
advanced gaming technology available. It's as entertaining as current favorites Counterstrike
or Doom, but there's a different agenda at work. Unlike commercial games designed to make
big money, the aim of this taxpayer-funded project is to generate Army recruits.

In 1999, recruitment numbers hit their lowest point in thirty years. In response,
Congress called for "aggressive, innovative experiments" to find new soldiers, and
the Defense Department jacked up recruitment budgets to $2.2 billion a year.
Hence we have America's Army, one of a number of new initiatives designed to help
the military reach America's youth. The game consists of two parts: "Soldiers: Empower
Yourself," a role-playing segment that instills Army "values," and the more violent
(read: entertaining) "Operations: Defend Freedom," a first-person combat simulator
where players engage in virtual warfare over the Internet. ….

But there is a difference between realistic detail and actual reality, and as a depiction
of Army life America's Army is, to say the least, misleading. Despite the game's
neurotic commitment to accuracy elsewhere, the small detail about killing people
is brushed over gingerly. "We were very careful on the blood thing," says Boyce.
There are no sound effects when players are shot; only a small red blotch appears,
similar to a paintball hit. The sanitizing of violence also aids marketing efforts by earning
the game a teen rating.

Players learn, in this army, that war is fun.”

* * * * * * * * *

The game sheds light on an old controversy: Do violent video games encourage violent
behavior among those who use them?

Perhaps the broader context has something to do with it. Are we talking a society
that routinely supports rituals of violence and death in its core institutions? If so,
the game is just another feature of what amounts normal practice.