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Apr. 7 2010 - 10:24 am | 1,535 views | 1 recommendation | 7 comments

Is the Military Training Soldiers to Think War is a Video Game?

Top: Actual Apache gunship footage. Bottom: Modern Warfare 2

On Monday, the internet was rocked to its foundation when a video from the website Wikileaks surfaced that showed an Apache gunship accidentally decimating two Reuters journalists along with about a dozen other Iraqis (including a pair of children) who were mistaken for insurgents.

The video, which is surprisingly still up on YouTube, shows the cam from the Apache and records the voices of the pilots, gunners and command during the incident. The first group, thought to be holding weapons, is lit up by a 30 cal cannon once the greenlight is given and then when one survivor is about to be transported away by rescuers in a van, they level the vehicle and everything around it, all the while not realizing it was a bunch of journalists and children they just nuked from orbit.

There has been much debate about the rules of engagement of this video, like how likely it is to mistake a camera for an RPG, or the appropriateness of firing on a vehicle that’s clearly attempting a rescue, but that’s not the first thought that came to my mind when viewing it. After briefly comprehending the horror of what I was witnessing, I, like many other gaming civilians, immediately, and uncontrollably, thought of the Chopper Gunner perk in Modern Warfare 2, where players are given control of an Apache gunship with a camera mount nearly identical to the one we see in the video.

The whoops and hollers the crew of the real life Apache let out while firing upon the men are much the same exclamations I make when I’m taking out a dozen insurgents in-game. Except their game is real, even if they don’t seem to realize that in the video. From their behavior, I’m surprised the army hasn’t rigged up the Apache camera to pop up with little +100 point notifications every time a target goes down.

The military has been using the promise of “video game-like” warfare as a selling point of recruitment for years now. Like killing terrorists in an Apache in Call of Duty? Well, try it on for size in REAL life. You’ll be serving your country AND it’s totally awesome.

I’m not making this up. First, it was the Army developing their own video game “America’s Army” that was given away free or cheap to anyone who wanted it. It was a standard military shooter, but was really the first step in the military’s modern recruitment efforts. Something which has recently been upped to another level entirely.

Behold, the Army Experience Center:

As the video shows, the place is more or less an arcade, where helpful Army recruiters just happen to be standing around, ready to answer all your questions about how close gaming is to real life, and I’m guessing they’ll hint that it’s similar. There are FPS stations galore, and for a whole other level of immersion, “combat simulators” which have players hold replica assault rifles and put them inside tanks and the aforementioned Apache gunship, supposedly to learn about “teamwork” and not at all about how cool it feels to blow people to pieces from 2,000 feet in the air.

So once these young gamers are signed up and their heads shaved, why should we expect them to act any differently in situations like the one we’ve seen in the Wikileaks video? It’s the exact same screen they’re looking at, and it barely registers that the people in their crosshairs are living and breathing. I’d probably be cheering too if after four years rolling around a desert, I finally got to kill those bad guys that were promised to me when I signed up.

I must caution here that I do not believe this is the vast majority of the military. Most members joined for all the right reasons, serve their country with honor and fully understand the impact of their actions. It’s just that with video games getting more and more realistic, and war looking more and more like a video game, the military is blatantly exploiting the connection to recruit new members by giving them a very false impression of what war is like. Ask any real soldier and they’ll be quick to tell you war is nothing like Call of Duty, and “fun” is not a word that EVER should come up in combat.


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  1. collapse expand

    It is unfair to compare a soldier’s attitude to a video gamer’s. As my analyst, an Iraq war vet, points out, those helicopter pilots are in grave danger, as are the troops on the ground whom they are supporting, while fighting against an enemy that routinely breaks the Geneva convention and the rules of engagement.

    However, the takeaway lesson of this mess is that war ain’t pretty. At a time when these types of attacks (air born strikes guided by grainy camera images) are on the rise in Pakistan, there are still folk who would like to see us get involved in wars in Iran. We should learn, by now, that when there is war there are mistakes. People die. And when that happens, U.S. image plummets, which makes it harder for the boots on the ground to do their job. We should remember that when the Sarah Palins of the world bang the war drum again.

    I do worry that anti-war protesters will confuse the warriors with the war mongers. The people who get us into wars aren’t the people who fight them. These arguments detract from the real stories.

    Wikileaks was right to report this story, but to call the incident “murder,” or to editorialize their reporting in the way that they did, undermines the journalism that needed to be done.

    Believe me, I’m no Iraq War apologist, but the criticism of the pilots is unfair. This is a tragedy, and the incident should be studied, but pointing a camera at an attack helicopter in a combat situation is a dangerous business. It’s easier to Monday morning quarterback.

    Read the analysis of a war vet here: http://www.dissectednews.com/2010/04/wikileaks-monday-morning-quarterbacking.html

  2. collapse expand

    “Most members joined for all the right reasons, serve their country with honor and fully understand the impact of their actions.”

    The problem is that everyone who seems to know what their talking about says that this video is what is happening all the time in Iraq. The only difference is that there happened to be Reuters journalists that were killed, so the story got bigger than it would have been if there were others gleefully killed liked this.

    Moreover, it’s a bit disheartening that nearly every article on this disgusting video has to including a “rah rah” pro-military paragraph. We don’t see those sorts of things as often when we’re talking about egregious wrong doing from, say, a corporation.

  3. collapse expand

    I’m glad you’re talking about this, Tassi. This is a conversation gamers should be having. My friends and I talked about this when MW2 launched and it has come up again since the Wikileaks video was released.

    Modern Warfare 2’s gameplay and story are mostly desensitizing propaganda, albeit really cool and fun to play. However, I must give the developers credit for something that almost nobody talked about: in the story, when you’re betrayed by your commanding general who proceeds to burn your character alive as you watch, the mission goes completely off-rails.

    At that point in the game, you become a terrorist and your mission is to kill a US general: and not just that, you have to cut through a battlefield where Americans and Russians are fighting, killing both along the way. At the end of that game, nationality is erased and everyone on the battlefield simply becomes a man with a gun who needs to be put down.

    Many criticized the narrative as completely unbelievable and wildly exaggerated. I’m thinking they didn’t take this perspective into account. Even though Infinity Ward created perhaps the most financially successful piece of propaganda in human history, they also succeed in negating the overall message their visual and auditory simulation conveys.

    And to answer your original question, of course the military is turning war into a video game. That’s where all the real talent is these days. It’s just like Solid Snake said in Metal Gear Solid 4. I can see a day coming soon where private military companies will be sponsoring the development of this sort of software, maybe even giving copies away for free in exchange for all the player data and recruitment leads.

    When you take the humanity out of war, it becomes nothing but a game: something this Wikileaks video makes painfully clear.

  4. collapse expand

    My best friend’s dad once said that if pain and death weren’t involved, war would be fun.

    That’s the only real difference, if you think about it.

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