The real problem with bin Laden killing games

Once again, the Pentagon is co-opting electronic entertainment to sell us on the military

Topics: Video Games, Osama Bin Laden, Terrorism, U.S. Military,

The real problem with bin Laden killing gamesA screenshot from the video game "Kuma War"

Of late, the video game world has been making headlines with the release of two games — “Counter Strike” and “Kuma War” — themed to the killing of Osama bin Laden. Cue the now-standard debates over the effects of such a simulation on young childrens’ minds. “Is the bin Laden kill game cathartic, educational or just ghoulish?” asks Kokatu. “Are video game re-creations of bin Laden’s compound in poor taste?” wonders U.S. News and World Report. No doubt, we may soon see a rehash of the never-ending back-and-forth over whether such video games makes kids more violent (data suggests they don’t).

These are certainly important short-term questions — but they ignore a far deeper examination of the militarization of video games in general, how the Pentagon has embedded itself into the video game industry, and whether that means video games are selling a longer-term martial political ideology to the nation’s youth. They ignore, in short, the far more important video-game story of the last few weeks — the one briefly reported on this weekend by the Washington Post:

This month, the Office of Naval Research will roll out the military’s first-ever online war game open to the public, crowd-sourcing the challenges of maritime security to thousands of “players” sitting in front of their computers… It aims to replicate a traditional military strategy session on an exponentially larger scale… Through virtual simulation and social media tools made popular on Twitter and Facebook, players will work together to respond to a series of make- believe geopolitical scenarios set off when private ships are hijacked off Somalia’s coast.



This is only the latest chapter in the story of what Wired once called the Military-Entertainment Complex and how it underwrites the video game industry. It is a story traced by books like “From Sun Tzu to Xbox”, “Smartbomb” and “All Your Base Are Belong to Us” — a story that started way back with the first video games being developed by national research labs and defense contractors, then with the Pentagon subsidizing Atari’s Battlezone and then with the military’s creation of the Institute for Creative Technologies.

Out of all this came not only military-themed games from commercial firms, but also programs developed and promoted by the Pentagon itself — projects like the Army Experience Center — a massive recruitment-themed video-game arcade embedded in a major suburban mall — and games like like America’s Army, which according to its official product description, was developed by the military “as a global public relations initiative to help with recruitment” via a “a virtual web-based environment in which [kids] can explore [an] Army career.” Now we get the Navy’s maritime security game looking to crowdsource the ins and outs of counter-piracy tactics. Next month, it’ll inevitably be something else.

We can, of course, continue the habit of pretending video games are just frivolous apolitical accoutrements of low culture — and indeed, that’s what we do when we focus critical video game discussions exclusively on the violence or obscenity debates.

But as evidenced most recently by the Post, the military sees video games as serious business in shaping the larger politics and ideology of the national security state. That means along with questioning a certain game’s graphic nature or individual violence, we must also question whether we want video games being used by the Pentagon to promote the idea that society should deify, heroize and organize itself around the military — aka. the purveyor of institutional violence.

Maybe in the era of “USA! USA!” chants, that is something we want. Then again, maybe not, considering polls on military spending and saber-rattling suggest we aren’t nearly the militarist culture the media portrays us as. Either way, the ethics, morals and implications of the Pentagon-video-game nexus deserve far more attention than they’ve received.

In other words, it’s time to finally admit and then honestly address what video games have become — as much entertainment products as precision weapons in the Pentagon’s propaganda wars.

David Sirota

David Sirota is a senior writer for the International Business Times and the best-selling author of the books "Hostile Takeover," "The Uprising" and "Back to Our Future." E-mail him at ds@davidsirota.com, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 17
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    John Stanmeyer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.

    Lu Guang

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China

    Carolyn Cole/LATimes

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti

    Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    “Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA

    Google Earth/NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.

    Garth Lentz

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada

    Cotton Coulson/Keenpress

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway

    Yann Arthus-Bertrand

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.

    Stephanie Sinclair

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.

    Mike Hedge

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million

    Google Earth/ 2014 Digital Globe

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.

    Daniel Dancer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon

    Peter Essick

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.

    Daniel Beltra

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico

    Ian Wylie

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Slide 13

    Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.

    R.J. Sangosti/Denver Post

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>