I’ve written here and elsewhere about the role of the video game, specifically the First Person Shooter (FPS) in military culture. As a guest writer on journalist and historian Tom Ricks’ Best Defence Column, Jim Gourlay suggests that the blockbuster status of FPS releases like Call Of Duty, and their “Kill Em All” approach to problem solving, foster a worldview that is “wholly unrealistic” and he suggests that “their broadening influence on American military culture and defines thinking may be toxic.” Here’s an excerpt of Gourley’s piece in which he contrasts the FPS approach with that of “empathy games” which come closer to describing tactical and strategic situations that First World militaries increasingly find themselves in.
“An entire generation of adults grew up playing games as soldiers shooting the enemy, and they’re still playing today alongside their own children. The games have grown, as well. The gaming industry’s revenues are now on par with Hollywood, and shooters have become the game equivalent of big-budget blockbusters. It’s in this Michael Bay approach to production that an entire dimension of realism is abandoned: the reality of cultural influences on operational outcomes, the inexorable link between military actions and political consequences, and the acceptance of risk to your own forces in order to win the support of local populations. Call it COIN or “hearts and minds,” it boils down to the same thing — empathy.
But whether it’s fundamentalist terrorists, aliens bent on planetary conquest, or the zombie horde, the essential mechanic that makes FPS games so addictively fun is their “kill ’em all” approach to every situation. Whereas top American military leaders have explicitly told us that we can’t kill our way out of Afghanistan, FPS games are built on the belief that you can. Outside observers of American culture believe the games are winning the messaging war, making us more likely to enter conflict and less equipped to find a successful way out.”