Chin: Not Just A Game

by Clara Chin | 5/11/16 5:30pm

While reading a book for my class about the Vietnam War, I wondered what the typical combat attire looked like for those engaged in guerrilla warfare. To answer my question, I did a quick Google Image search. While I found many helpful images, I also came across one that was particularly disturbing. It wasn’t, however, disturbing because it was particularly violent. Unlike the other pictures, images of soldiers clad in black clothing armed with weapons, this one depicted similar figures with rice paddy hats — but they were animated. That’s because this image was from a video game. Confused, I continued my Google Search and discovered that there are video games about the Vietnam War, including “Battlefield Vietnam” and “Conflict Vietnam,” as well as a Vietnam level in the popular video game “Call of Duty: Black Ops.” But the Vietnam War is not the only real war depicted in video games. Many volumes of “Call of Duty” focus on World War II. To some, the idea of virtually shooting animated people is already disturbing. Their typical argument is that virtual warfare desensitizes us to the emotional impact of actual war. Given the literal devastation that occurs after wars like World War II and the Vietnam War, real-war video games heighten desensitization not only to general warfare, but may discourage understanding difficult times in history and empathizing with those who have suffered.

It is necessary to establish that video games, even war video games, are not inherently bad. Nevertheless, violent video games tend to have some moral implications. According to a 2011 study reported on NPR, the brains of people exposed to more violent video games were unresponsive to violent images. Overall, people were more “aggressive” and “numb.” While violent video games may not lead to blatant aggression and violence, they seem to create at the very least a subtle change in everyday behavior, even a greater tolerance and proclivity for violence. Senseless violence itself may not be a symptom of such violent videogames, but shorter temper and anger issues may increase. Games like “Call of Duty: Black Ops” that focus on real wars as well as specific war games like “Battlefield Vietnam” are also naturally violent and can lead to this same desensitization to violence in their players.

Warfare and violence in general are morally wrong and disturbing, which is why video games featuring these concepts and the adverse effects on behavior such exposure can cause are problematic. But games about real wars are made more disturbing by their historical and modern-day relevance. United States involvement in Vietnam, for example, began as early as 1950, with the first U.S. troops deployments to Vietnam in 1965 and lasting until 1973. Obviously, this war had lasting effects on Vietnamese civilians and Vietnamese and U.S. veterans alike. It is also important to the collective memory of America. Reducing an emotionally devastating and historic event in which more than 1 million people died to a video game, thereby limiting thoughts on the war to strategic thinking and cold calculation, minimizes the importance of the war and the experiences of those who lived it. Yes, cold calculations and strategic thinking were necessary for those fighting in the war. But now, since we are on the periphery and look at past wars in retrospect, it is important to evaluate our actions rather than glorify military thinking for young children. There are certain war-related issues that I feel video games encourage overlooking.

In games released from 1992 to 2011, World War II games make up about 62 percent of real-war games, while games about the Vietnam War come in second at 16 percent. For those who have actually served on the battlefield, however, war is no game. In an article on a popular gaming website, Marine Lance Corporal Anthony Andrada comments on the factors of war that video games tend to leave out, such as the feeling of real fatigue, real danger and real equipment. While Andrada reports having enjoyed playing some militaristic games, he said, “I do think that these games do have a way of making people enlist. The games do glorify us, and players want to be a part of the real thing.” Glorifying the difficult job of soldiers makes light of the real difficulties they face during and after war. Historically based video games especially encourage players to forget about war-specific trauma. In addition to the trauma that soldiers face, video games about real wars oversimplify history, often leaving out tragedies and war atrocities involving civilians. War, then, may be seen as an everyday novelty rather than for what it really is — an institution that affects and often severely damages those involved.

I’m not suggesting that people who play video games take them literally. I know that most video game enthusiasts can draw a line between fiction and reality. This, however, is precisely the problem with real-war video games; by taking out the element of fantasy created by generic warfare or generic video-game violence, real-war games blur this line. In “Call of Duty: World at War,” the game even begins with a series of facts and statistics and sometimes integrates these with archival footage. Debra Ramsay calls war “the hero” of “Call of Duty.” While she argues that “‘Call of Duty’ counters the archaic notion that the actions of the individual matter on the industrial battlefield and instead emphasizes how the destructive impartiality of mechanized warfare renders obsolete the skill and prowess of the lone soldier,” it seems as if the focus on violence serves to glorify, rather than caution against, war. Perhaps “Call of Duty” and similar games are merely that — just games. But if we play video games to relive grim parts of history, we may fail to understand or think critically about historical events that shape the way we think about enlisting, U.S. military actions and warfare today as well as how we think about those who fight, suffer and die in war.