The Real Consequences of War Fought Virtually

The blowup this week over gun-camera footage showing an Army operation raised comparisons to "video game-like" behavior by the men pulling the triggers. NPR's "On the Media" looked at this controversy and the relationships among games, tactics and weapons systems.

"On the Media" spoke with Clive Thompson of Wired for 10 minutes. "I'm a little uncomfortable judging the behavior," of the soldiers involved, Thompson said. But he did acknowledge the footage's similarity to the mission "Death from Above," in the first Modern Warfare.

If I'm reading Thompson and his host correctly, the discomfort people have with this kind of behavior is the fact it's completely depersonalizing the taking of another's life, regardless of whether it looks like a video game or not. "There is a moral and ethical aspect to the way weapon systems are designed," Thompson said, meaning the ease of killing they deliver, the distance they place between a human operator and his target, and the manner in which they depersonalize that target it or make it seem less real in life.

Thompson discussed games that actually sensitize players to the concept of death and violence, mentioning an example from God of War III in which players see Kratos through the eyes of his victims as they're killed.

On the whole it's a balanced examination of both games and military operations that keeps the purpose of both in their proper contexts. It's worth the 10 minutes of your time. Thanks to reader NINgod for sending this along.

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Virtual War [On the Media]