A clip caught my eye this morning over at Military.com, titled “Taliban Ambush On Videogame?” Apparently it’s from something called Project Reality: Battlefield 2 Mod, which admittedly looks pretty cool. But what’s kind of/sort of/maybe controversial is that in this clip, the player looks like he’s a member of the Taliban, ambushing what looks like an American convoy. The clip is “produced” to feel like a piece of jihadist propaganda, too,with the Islamic chanting/praying in the background. The insignia in the bottom right hand corner looks an awful lot like Al-Jazeera’s, a nice touch.
If I said I was disturbed by this video, I’d be lying. Games like this have been kicking around for years now, and it’s no surprise that they’re getting more and more sophisicated. (A quick Googling tells me Project Reality launched in ’05, and the latest version just came out on June 2oth, which explains why this video was just posted on Military.com.) But I’m surprised someone–those people who seem to get indignant over things like video games and what not–aren’t disturbed. Have the enemies of video games finally waved the white flag? Is it not even worth the trouble to get upset about a game where you can go ambush Americans, while Americans are actually getting ambushed in real life? Or, is it the fact that the U.S. military itself has embraced videogaming’s first person-shooter technology, so the usually easily offended anti-Grand Theft Auto crowd(assumedly conservatives of the flag waving variety?) don’t want to go there?
Should any of us be disturbed by this? I do think it points to the tremendous disconnect between the two ongoing wars that America is involved in and how the American public relates to those wars. (But, I’d also bet a number of the players are active/former military.) As a country, would we have been so willing to embrace a game where kids played Japanese soldiers bonzaiing over the hill at Guadalcanal a year after Guadalcanal? Where there might have a been a kid from your hometown who’d been killed there? Or a game replaying the Tet Offensive, from the VC-side, in 1971–a game where you could sneak around the jungle, setting up Tiger traps, trip wires and the like? Seems unlikely that it would have gone over well. It’s one thing if it’s a game where you’re supposed to kill the Japs, or Charlie, or the jihadists–that makes sense, that’s what war is about, killing the Other. But a game where you play your country’s enemy to kill yourself?
This last point is on the half-baked side, but I do think our ability to play these kinds of games with no qualms points to a “larger issue.” How our technological progress has made war feel so distant, so otherly, so not real at all–not only in how we fight wars as a country, but also how we consume the wars we fight.