Video and computer games are no longer a nascent entertainment technology just for kids. It’s a $7 billion industry aimed at an average player who is 33 years old. In fact 69% of players are older than 18. So it should come as no surprise that an industry born to entertain is now reaching maturity. Violent video games have existed since the beginning. But innovation in gaming is allowing a wider range of viewpoints to use video games to reflect their own reality, recruit people to their causes, and even to mix foreign policy with virtual reality.
Early video games such as fighter jet flight simulators were developed in the private sector. Some simulators such as F-16 Fighting Falcon were so realistic, that the Air Force classified aspects of the game and started using them for training their own pilots.
The U.S. Department of Defense has used several video games over the years to train and recruit new soldiers. The line between government and commercial games is increasingly blurred. The Army game, America’s Army was first developed with U.S. government dollars. Now it’s available for Xbox. More recently, the government has flipped the investment equation, using venture capital money to fund video games, hoping that commercial sales will subsidize the classified versions of their strategy and war games.
But such public-private partnerships are a thin line to walk. Pandemic Studios, the creator of Mercenaries 2, has previously developed training aids for the US Army. Their most recent commercial release of the video game Mercenaries 2 features a presumably fictitious storyline about a group of ragtag mercenaries on their way to Venezuela to oust Hugo Chavez. Apparently this hit a little too close to home and there are accusations from the Venezuelan government that the game is propaganda from the U.S. Intelligence Community. Dreamy rockstar/activist, Bono, an investor in a parent company was even swept up in the controversy.
Resistance and terrorist organizations have also developed video games that tell their side of the story. Special Force is Hezbollah’s response to American video games that portray all Arabs as terrorists. In another video game, Under Siege, players violently fight the Israeli army in game apparently based on a true story of Palestinian repression and resistance.
And finally, domestic extremists have utilized video game technology to extol their own twisted values. The game Border Patrol has a deceptively innocent, cartoon-like interface. The object of the game is anything but innocent: gun down families crossing border between Mexico and the U.S. An even more technologically complex and disturbingly sinister game is blatantly named Ethnic Cleansing. The neo-Nazi goal is to wipe out all non-whites.
For the baby boom generation it is easy to ignore video games as child’s play. They are not. As you can see from the screenshots below, video games are effective tools of resistance, terror, war and death. But as much as gaming reflects the dark side of humanity, they are also showing signs of redemption, peace, and diplomacy. Stay tuned.
Commercial War Games
Real War: Rogue States
About: A commercial release where a player can choose between two player profiles: the United States and the Independence Liberation Army, an amalgam of terrorist groups with access to heavy weaponry. Based on the game Real War, an official Joint Chiefs training game, all jets, ships, and ground vehicles are taken directly from today’s military – with a few special items right off the Pentagon’s drawing boards.
Developer: Rival Interactive
Mercenaries 2: World in Flames
About: Players drop into Venezuela to help settle an oil dispute, take on “a power hungry tyrant,” and blow up lots and lots of stuff. Though Mercenaries 2 is based on a fictional scenario, the plot is “realistic enough to believe that it could actually happen,” a Pandemic rep told the AP.
Supporters of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, an outspoken critic of American policy, are not amused. “[Mercenaries 2] sends a message to Americans: You have a danger next door, here in Latin America, and action must be taken,” said lawmaker Gabriela Ramirez. “It’s a justification for an imperialist aggression.” Ramirez also said that Mercenaries 2 could be banned from the country by laws intended to protect children from violent games….
“I think the US government knows how to prepare campaigns of psychological terror so they can make things happen later,” said Venezuelan congressman Ismael Garcia. – Source: gamespot.com
Developer: Pandemic Studios
Web Site: http://www.pandemicstudios.com/proj_mercs2.php
Government War Games
F2C2 (Future Force Company Commander)
About: The Army’s war game and recruiting tool for Future Combat Systems (FCS).
From army.mil: “F2C2 is a real-time tactical strategy game that allows you to learn about the Army’s FCS program by giving you command of a Mounted Company Team in the year 2015. Through gameplay, F2C2 shows how FCS is designed to give the 21st Century Soldier unprecedented situational awareness and the ability to see first, understand first, act first, and finish decisively.”
First to Fight
About: First to Fight is a tactical first-person shooter in which you lead a four-man fire team in close-quarters urban combat in the streets and buildings of Beirut. It was created with the help of more than 40 active-duty U.S. Marines fresh from firefights in the Middle East and will be used by the United States Marine Corps for training.
Developer: Destineer & U.S. Marines. In-Q-Tel has invested in Destineer to develop additional training and simulation games for the intelligence community.
Web site: http://www.firsttofight.com/html/
About: America’s Army is a tactical multiplayer first-person shooter owned by the U.S. government and released as a global public relations initiative to present an image of the current U.S. Army and help with U.S. Army recruitment. A different version of the game for Xbox and PlayStation 2, America’s Army: Rise of a Soldier, is being developed by Ubisoft in collaboration with the U.S. Army. The Xbox version was released in November, 2005.
Developer: MOVES Institute at the Naval Postgraduate School was contracted by the U.S. Army to create the game
Funding: U.S. Department of Defense
Commercial Developer: Ubisoft
Funding: U.S. Government – three years and $7.5 million
Reach: 5 million registered users as of May, 2006
Price: Army version is free; XBox version America’s Army: Rise of a Soldier is $19.99
Web site: http://www.americasarmy.com/
Resistance War Games
Hezbollah’s Special Force
About: Special Force is a first-person shooter military video game, published by the militant Islamic organisation Hezbollah. Special Force allows the player to take the part of an armed member of the Islamic Resistance to the Israeli invasions of Lebanon and to attack Israeli positions and Israeli politicians.
It carries a deliberate and specific political message, that is pro-Islamic and anti-Israel. On the cover of the game’s box, a message to users says “the designers of Special Force are very proud to provide you with this special product, which embodies objectively the defeat of the Israeli enemy and the heroic actions taken by heroes of the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon.” It adds: “Be a partner in the victory. Fight, resist and destroy your enemy in the game of force and victory.” – Source: Wikipedia
Reach: game sold out of first run of 100,000 copies
Web site: Official website in English (Inactive as at 20 July 2006)
Video of game being played: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yvmj7wj1UOw
About: Under Siege is a sequel to the video game Under Ash. It is a first-person shooter, with the option of playing the game as a third-person shooter. The game focuses on the lives of a Palestinian family between 1999 and 2002 during the second Intifada. The player shoots at Israeli Defense Force soldiers throughout most of the game. However, shooting at civilians or otherwise hurting them ends the game. The game has been described as a docugame, since all the game levels are based on on the lives of 5 Palestinian family members during the second Intifada 1999-2002. – Source: Wikipedia
Developer: Afkar Media in Damascus, Syria
Cost: About $100,000
Web Site: http://www.underash.net/en_download.htm
Hate Video Games
About: Credited to the bigoted neo-Nazi Tom Metzger, puts you in the role of a hunter/murderer who patrols the southern border with Mexico. Your objective: “Keep them out…at any cost!” “Them,” by the game’s definition, are the “wetbacks” trying to cross the border from Mexico.
Developer: Tom Metzger
About: Created by the fringe neo-Nazi organization National Alliance, this elaborate and incredibly offensive video game seeks to extend the reach one of the most extreme viewpoints in American culture.
A description from the Anti-Defamation League: “The player roams the streets and subways murdering ‘predatory sub-humans’ and their Jewish ‘masters’ thereby ‘saving’ the white world…. The game has a high level of background detail and various National Alliance signs and posters appear throughout while racist rock blares on the soundtrack.”
From the resistance.com: “The most politically incorrect video game ever made. Run through the ghetto blasting away various blacks and spics in an attempt to gain entrance to the subway system, where the jews have hidden to avoid the carnage. Then, if YOU’RE lucky…. you can blow away jews as they scream “Oy Vey!”, on your way to their command center.”
Developer: National Alliance