Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
22 January 2006
Military news site: games make American soldiers more proficient
The point of this Strategy Page post titled "The Geek Advantage" (filed under "Military Blunders") is that American soldiers, raised with videogames and electronic gadgets, learn to use the newest killing machinery more quickly than do soldiers in other countries.
This extends from fire control systems in armored vehicles, to new radios, electronic rifle sights and training systems (which are very similar to those video games.) Many other countries have to spend a lot more time training their troops to use this stuff, and the proficiency of the troops is never particularly good. This effect is often seen when this high tech American equipment is provided to foreign troops who didn't have such an electronic childhood.
As far as I can tell, this is anecdotal, as no sources are given nor are any actual military folks quoted. Also, is the "Military Blunders" angle that kids in other countries don't have as much videogame experience? Seems odd to me.

Still, when two branches of the American military, the Army and Navy, have their own videogames, it's not a horribly big leap for the author to make. Heck, Full Spectrum Warrior has been used for tactical training for precisely the kind of environments American soldiers are currently facing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So, custom-made videogames are used directly for educating soldiers and videogame experience indirectly contributes to an incoming soldier's technical proficiency.
How far are we now from those same games, used in an unguided environment, contributing to violent acts committed by children?

I'm just asking.
--Matt Matthews at 17:38
Comment [ 9 ]

Comments on this post:

Last year's Close Combat: First to Fight was designed with the assistance of some active-duty members of the US Marine Corps., although like FSW is not "officially" sanctioned.

By Anonymous gatmog, at 23 January, 2006 09:49  

Unless gangs are going to start using HUDs, squaddie radios and tactical maps ... I'm not too worried.

If you want to know how to shoot a gun, you'll still need to learn off a real one.

By Blogger Josh, at 23 January, 2006 10:14  

I think my problem with what I read on our side of the fence (as opposed to, say, Jack Thompson's) is that much of the defense takes the form "videogames are harmless and/or blameless". Without having done any head-counting, most gamers appear to me to take the view "I'm ok, therefore it can't be the games", which discounts that they might be a contributing factor for other folks.

I think that's wrong. The can be, and probably are, a contributing factor.

I think the question has moved from "can they be a factor?" to "how much of a factor are they?" Thompson is going to say they're all-important, and others will say there isn't any connection, and I think the real answer is somewhere between and person-dependent.

To quote Ruffin from two years ago:
So, please, let's stop arguing that violent games don't make our world more violent. They do. It's time to stop dodging the issue by acting like it's something that can be drawn in black and white and time to start talking realistically about degrees of harm, freedoms, and responsiblity.

By Blogger jvm, at 23 January, 2006 11:52  

Hm.

I think you may have given that original article more credit than was due – it seemed pretty disposable to me.

What I find interesting is the increased involvement of the U.S. military in game development – see War Games, Project X, Ender’s Game. Is it reasonable to suggest that these games are effective training tools for those whose military backgrounds are limited to Desert Combat and Medal of Honor? Will future wars be fought on virtual battlefields?

I just figured we could avoid that whole “violent video games breed killers” argument, because I think as gamers we’re all pretty much on the same well-worn, wrinkled page.

By Anonymous gatmog, at 23 January, 2006 12:21  

See, I think my comments and yours show that we aren't necessarily on the same page. A well-worn argument need not have been resolved. You're invoking a straw man when you say "violent games breed killers", since I never said that, and am in fact saying something a bit different: games may contribute to violence. "Contribute" is different from "cause".

That the military has such an interest could be purely functional: they want folks to be better acquainted with tactics and working as a team. However, I'm suspicious that they also benefit from the violence itself. Will players still have to be trained to fire a gun? Yes. Will they have already imagined at some level the effect on another human when they do finally have the gun in their hands? Quite possibly. Will it be easier to pull the trigger on an enemy as a result? Perhaps, and if so, it would be nice to know how much the game contributes.

Now, why won't the same idea apply to a kid playing AA at home who just happens to learn to shoot guns with his father? I doubt games will cause him to act out violently on their own. But if someone is disturbed enough to act violently, might not videogames play a part in how the violence manifests itself?

As for virtual wars, I'd just like to point out that one of my favorite old-school SF authors, Cordwainer Smith, had the first "virtual" war story that I'm aware of: War No. 81-Q written in 1928. It's even watched by spectators.

By Blogger jvm, at 23 January, 2006 12:44  

Ah, The Straw Man. He's a popular fellow, isn't he?

I never attributed the comment "violent video games breed killers" argument to you; I merely used it as something to represent the dead horse. I also never disagreed with your comments about violent video games being a contributing factor, because they can, along with many other factors present in an individual's life. A person that plays no video games at all still has the potential to act violently.

So I think we are on the same page about the violence issue, I just happened to find another aspect of this issue worth discussing.

I will be checking out that book, it sounds intriguing.

By Anonymous gatmog, at 23 January, 2006 13:07  

Ah, ok, gatmog. I'll agree (for now, heh) that you and I appear to be on the same page. I am not sure that everyone is, but perhaps I'm too hard on the average gamer. ;^)

Good news is that War No. 81-Q is a short story. It can be found in at least a couple Cordwainer Smith collections. While you're reading, check out Scanners Live in Vain, Alpha Ralpha Boulevard, and The Ballad of Lost C'Mell. Do note that it's really odd SF, a good bit of which predates actual manned spaceflight. Therefore his speculation that travel in space would be accompanied by intolerable pain will seem very unusual.

By Blogger jvm, at 23 January, 2006 13:40  

"I think that's wrong. The can be, and probably are, a contributing factor."

I generally think along the lines of "video games can be used to train for certain things." Just like books, movies or even comics. Ignoring that fact is just tossing aside an entire genre of educational media which does, in fact exist, and does, actually, have a factor in people learning things.

So certainly playing a military simulator might make someone a better soldier, just as playing a racing game might make one a better driver, etc.., though much of this will pale compared to real world experience.

Like learning to fly a plane. They don't necessarily start you out with the real thing, but you sure don't go solo without it.

And certainly, content of a certain nature can have an emotional impact on people. Of all ages. We hope games can have an impact on people. It usually means it's a good game.

So could playing a lot of a violent video game make a kid more violent? Probably. The kid could be more aggressive, less sensitive to violent images and might even have learned a few moves from WWF.

Sadly, that's not what the anti-game peeps are saying. They're saying playing GTA will make you a gangster. You'll start stealing cars and killing cops and doing drugs.

GTA might make a kid more violent, but it's not going to cause any new violent crime. "More violent" and "criminal" are swaths apart, as the fact that many of us avoid jail time daily shows. Even when we're tired, cranky and feeling angry.

Guys like Thompson go even beyond "criminal" to "brainwashed sociopathic murderers". But that's because he is batshit insane.

By Blogger Josh, at 23 January, 2006 15:47  

But if someone is disturbed enough to act violently, might not videogames play a part in how the violence manifests itself?

If someone is disturbed enough to act violently, his or her bowl of cereal can play a part in how the violence manifests itself.

Past a certain point, nearly anything can play a part.

In that regard, games can certainly be the cause for murder.

Or it can be coincidence.

Or it can be a symptom of the underlying behavioral, mental, and/or emotional problem. Need For Speed might cause a person to drag race. But also if you get a drag racer to play a video game, might he not gravitate to something like Need for Speed?

And at what point do you draw the responsibility line? At what point are people responsible for their actions despite outside influences? Someone who kills a homeless person because of peer pressure from his friends likely won't get off, but should GTA be a more valid excuse for such behavior?

By Anonymous Baines, at 27 January, 2006 03:31  

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