I have a love/hate relationship with war games…always have and I probably always will. I am a bit of an aggressive gamer. I like to run and gun. Shooting things after a long stressful day usually makes me feel better. I am a sucker the CoD:MW# games. I like going on foot for my combat. Vehicles be damned. Keep your Battlefield to yourself.
But, combat games have their problems. Usually big problems. The depictions of the unnamed enemies are stereotypically and (very) thinly disguised (cue the Arabic theme music, sandy environment, pseudo-Arabic language, and dusky skin tones), but we aren’t supposed to know who the “bad guys” are…even on American soil. War is glorified as the reward of every red blooded American boy who has the good sense and patriotic desire to fight for his county. And note that I said boy because there are no female soldiers in military shooters. Women don’t see combat, if you see one at all they are usually causing trouble of some kind (ie in Modern Warfare 3 the Russian president’s daughter gets captured and tortured by the bad guys only to have Delta Force come in and save her). This is, in my opinion, a huge insult to our female soldiers who put their asses on the line every day and night to provide us with the self same freedoms that their male counterparts do.
One might even argue that this contributes to the problem of sexism in online play of these games. To the sexist, racist, misogynistic gamers (of all ages) who taunt women in game, take them out early, or send them obscene messages that transcend the realm of the actual gameplay it only makes sense that women shouldn’t be playing the game, because there are no women in the game (and I don’t count GoW because I’m thinking about “realistic” military combat games). This is not to suggest that conditions for female gamers will improve by the simple addition of female soldiers into Call of Duty or Battlefield, but that the representation of women in game can be an enlightening thing for male and female gamers alike. I for one would like to see myself represented in game rather than a dirty, mildly brown hand holding a weapon. Women die for their country every day. This should be acknowledged by those who want a “realistic” combat experience.
Penny Arcade’s recent article about Cross Assault, the reality show about fighting games, offers insight into how some male gamers see it as their duty to verbally assault and humiliate female gamers as a part of the competitive process. This is something that goes on in the realm of fighting games where there are female avatars (oversexualized, scantily clad, and underpowered though they may be). When the men in the community see racism and sexism as being a part of the community, silence female players when they try to speak, and even call for the “rape” of female characters we have to admit that the problem runs much deeper than the lack of female avatars. Industry giants, like Capcom who sponsors this show, have to step the fuck up and put an end to this. While “The views and opinions expressed by cast members in the live internet program “Cross Assault” do not reflect those of Capcom. As a company, Capcom believes that everyone should be treated with respect,” sounds like a good party line it’s all just lip service if they don’t pull their support from the players who make the sexist, racist, and homophobic comments to begin with. Especially when the woman who is the victim of the verbal assault that gets documented in the episode from the article is contractually bound to stay with the project for a full week with the assholes that make the rape jokes and constantly make reference to her body parts (even the men in the online chat join in by taking usernames that reflect parts of her anatomy) until she rage quits a match and leaves the room. This is rape culture at it’s worst. Just a newsflash folks, this kind of behavior is usually only an integral part of hate groups and not gaming communities.
And then there is America’s Army. AA was originally released in 2002 for the PC and was meant to be a basic training and combat simulator provided by the Army of the United States of America. It’s intent was supposedly to get potential soldiers familiar with the inner workings of the US military, but what it was (and is) is a glorified recruitment video meant to draw in more young, unsuspecting men and women who will ultimately have a very white washed view of life in the military. The army does these young folks a disservice by claiming to give them a realistic view of life in the military, enemies dies easily, honor and valor are rules of thumb, and your fallen comrades lie calmly and wait to be evac’ed. The army is on to something that games theorists/researchers/aficionados don’t like to readily admit. Video games can be great tools of propaganda, especially for those who are easily influenced because of age, lack of social standing, feelings of exclusion, etc (think about the rhetoric of recruitment for hate groups and other gangs). When Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, the young man who was sentenced to death by the Iranian government for being a US spy, made a jail cell “confession” that he was a video game designer for the CIA (N.B. his former employer made a combat game but does not hold a contract with the CIA), it became even clearer that there are other folks in the world that think that video games can be used for nefarious purposes as well. A recent article over at Foreign Policy magazine details why video games don’t make good propaganda devices (but I see these same reasons as being support for why they would…but that’s a different post and I’m not sure that I want to disclose just how far my tin foil hat conspiracy theories go). This is not to say that AAA titles do any better of a job with conveying the real experience of war, but at least they are not claiming that this is what they are doing.
Not that I believe everything that I read on the internet (or anything for that matter), but the folks over at Medium Difficulty recently posted a story by an ex-soldier turned mercenary about the nature of war and combat games. This soldier who M.D. calls W goes into great detail about the brutality of war and warns of the dangers of believing that what we see in combat games is true to life. W gives statistics on the number of young soldiers who come home after a tour of duty with PTSD because of what they have seen and done. There is definitely something to this. No matter how many civilians I kill in airports, on the streets, or anywhere else PTSD is not a real concern for me because my murderous spree goes on in the safety of my own home.