Stop the war games jingoism! Readers respond to Wagner James Au's "Weapons of Mass Distraction."

By Salon Staff

Published October 14, 2002 7:30PM (EDT)

[Read the story.]

As a fellow gamer, I have frequently enjoyed the insight into our shared culture that Wagner James Au's articles have attempted to impart to the nongaming community. Having just suffered through his jingoistic, poorly written and ill-reasoned rant on the subject of America's Army, however, I feel pressed to declare that he no longer speaks for me. Most specifically, his empty-headed attempt to blame "Islamofascism" for Arab terrorism completely misses the mark, dismissing a complex sociopolitical climate as its own root cause. If Au is going to compare totalitarian Arab regimes to the Nazis, perhaps he should look to the actions by foreign powers that allowed both to flourish: petty reparations or sanctions that paralyzed economies and ruined lives, the wholesale theft of land, humiliating territorial incursions and a consistent international climate of vindictiveness and disrespect.

Neither is Au convincing in explaining how America's Army will demonstrate "the moral application of lethal force on behalf of liberal values." (Whether this particular quote is a contradiction in terms I leave to the reader to decide.) Brushing away memories of Columbine, presumably as being too distasteful, Au nevertheless shows a giddy willingness to reimagine real-life mass killings as new scenarios in a video game. Incredibly, he even seems to argue that we should embrace the "fun" apparently inherent in participating in this violence, be it in reality or in a digital simulacrum, as some sort of American cultural triumph.

Capt. Amerine's disturbing testimony suggests that even he has had some problems differentiating between the adolescent fantasy of the game and the grim reality of war. Au's dangerous and immoral glorification of this confusion shows just how tempting the fantasy can be.

-- Joel Palmer-Lowe

I would like to take this moment to welcome Wagner James Au to the right side of America and all the irrationality, hatred and jingoism that comes with it.

While in the midst of trying to push through Au's incoherent, candy-coated and extremely naive rantings on the benefits of educating our nation's youth in the delightfully entertaining world of American warfare! I wonder if players of the discussed video game can assume the role of American bomber and destroy villages full of civilians. Maybe they can take on the mantle of a Pentagon official and deny that these casualties took place, or express "regret" over them, or even better -- blame them on the Taliban. Or maybe they can take on the role of a video game reviewer who thinks he knows a damn thing about what really went down in Somalia or anything about the "benefits" of American warfare.

Keep this crap out of your magazine and nurture whatever dying dignity Salon had before Sept 11.

-- Randeep Walia

How refreshing to see a departure from your usual liberal anti-military sneering stance toward those who make your snobbish elitism possible! Thanks, and keep coming back!

-- Jim Powers

I have to say that I am appalled by what I have read in this article defending blatant U.S. military propaganda. To say that 1) creating violent video games such as America's Army is something that should be encouraged because it teaches kids how to synthesize large amounts of visual information at once and 2) that this is an acceptable recruiting tool is incredibly outrageous. I have no problem with this sort of technology being used in boot camp or on base -- the people there have chosen to be there and are now U.S. property, so the government can pretty much do as they will. I do have a problem with children (and I include teenagers in that category) being exposed to this propaganda masquerading as a harmless video game. They don't have the skills of critical thinking that adults do and for that reason I find it highly inappropriate.

Furthermore, I highly doubt that Mark Bowden's reluctance to collaborate on the Delta Force game based on his book, "Black Hawk Down," is because of some sort of cultural generation gap. I am a product of a childhood that had ample access to video games and have no real memory of time without computers at all; however, I am no more sympathetic to these games than someone from my parents' generation. I think it has more to do with what is deemed acceptable in the household in which one is raised and one's natural predispositions.

However, my main point is that I find the United States Armed Forces (and before anyone says that I know nothing of it, my father is a physicist working for the Naval Research Laboratory, my brother is enlisted in the United States Navy, my cousin is a retired captain in the United States Navy and my father-in-law-to-be is a retired surgeon who right out of medical school was a doctor in the United States Navy, so we have a strong "naval" atmosphere in my family) to be incredibly reckless with this sort of plain propaganda. And if we are going to try to say that this video game is not propaganda, tell me this: Why is it called America's Army? Why can the player not take on the persona of terrorist? Why is the enemy in this game referred to as "terrorist"? Let's at least be honest about intentions here.

As for the author of this essay, well, I can only say that the goal of journalistic objectivity must be lost on you.

-- Alexandra Goroch

The article "Weapons of Mass Distraction" violates the ICCD (International Covenants of Civil Discourse).

I made it as far as "Even now, antiwar advocates prattle on about the 'root causes of terrorism'" before retiring from the battlefield in disgust.

No cognitive short circuits in Salon, please! That "prattle" phrase and the rest of the verbal cluster munitions in which it was embedded stopped me in my tracks like a well-steered TOW missile. Mental land mines of that sort are dangerous material, the sort of writing designed to bully dissenters into silence while filling unwitting victims with irrational mental shrapnel. Plenty of lightweight munitions like that in circulation elsewhere. Surely Salon can muster some smart bombs?

Game over, try again.

-- Doug Bostrom

I liked your article on first-person shooter games and how they are training the next generation of potential soldiers.

One thing, though: I don't think Wolfenstein 3-D was actually the very first FPS ever created. I remember as a child having a Mattel Intellivision video-game console, and one of the games was Dungeons and Dragons: The Treasure of Tarmin. That was a very low-resolution 3-D shooter where you invaded the castle of the Minotaur and fought creatures down through the levels until you reached the Minotaur on level 256. This game came out in 1981 or 1982.


-- Charles Primm

What the hell is this article about? The jingoistic claptrap expelled here runs the gambit from America's superiority, through the familiar "video games are art" pleadings, all the way to insulting and disregarding those who haven't gained extensive experience playing first-person shooter games. Are we expected to take this seriously, when Au's paranoid defensiveness about any dissent or even questioning of our government is so pervasive? I can't believe I'm writing this in response to a video game profile article! Au's rhetoric negates much of his credibility, not to mention it just sounds infantile. Now is the time for more coercive propaganda to create a much-needed wartime culture of blind acceptance and suicidal volunteerism? And that last paragraph completely destroyed the very boundaries of sense and reality! Did he really say "heat-packing humanitarians," or was I hallucinating? What a neat little technologically compact world Mr. Au has retreated to after our country's innocence and naiveti was shattered last year. He seems to feel so reassured and safe. Too bad he's only playing a game.

-- Kevin J. Estes

What a bizarre article on computer games and the War on Terror. It was sort of a ridiculous piece, especially the end passage about Arab culture flowering again, thanks to the pinpoint joystick accuracy of the digital generation. I suppose the point of most war propaganda is to desensitize the audience to their enemy's humanity, to help them see them as inhuman, incomprehensible enemies. In the case of your writer, it seems to have worked. I think he's spent too much time playing computer games. Put the joystick down, son, and step away from the console ...

-- Jules Evans

As a political moderate, I may be among the more conservative of your readers. However, I am surprised that you ran the completely one-sided article "Weapons of Mass Distraction."

As just one example of how blindly supportive the author is of anything military and pro-American: There has only been one notable use of computer games as preparation for combat. That was the apparent use of Microsoft Flight Simulator by the pilots who flew airplanes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. This deserved mention in any reasonable article on this topic. And didn't it occur to this author -- and to Salon's editors -- that America's Army might be used the same way?

I'm disappointed in the quality of the article as an essay and in the one-sided approach it takes. Printing unbalanced screeds on both sides of issues is not, in itself, balance. Please try for rationality and fair-mindedness within your articles even as you widen the range of viewpoints you present.

-- Bud Smith

And all this time I thought weapons of mass distraction referred to the Bush administration's frantic campaign of ever-changing Iraq invasion rationales and misinformation, currently being aimed at the American public in order to confuse everyone enough that they'll nervously just go along with his must-kill-evil-before-the-election resolution.

-- John Horn

Join up, Mr. Au. If you truly believe our soldiers can and should spread liberty and democracy in the Middle East, then go and join the good fight. Or is that just for the saps who earn your heartfelt gratitude while you sit at home, safe in your virtual courage, tapping the keystrokes of war?

-- Kathy Showalter

Wagner James Au should stick to writing about the relative merits and quality of video games, and not bother trying to talk about political issues. His comments on the "war on terror" reveal him to be completely ignorant of some of the most important realities of the situation. For example, he says we "desperately need" a "wartime culture," so that we can deal with Islamic militants "and the countries that back them (starting with Saddam's Iraq)." Good God!! Does Au have any conception of who al-Qaida actually is, and what their goals are? If he did, he would know that unseating Saddam's secular regime, along with the insufficiently Islamic governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc., is primary on their list of goals. Au has no reason to say that Iraq "backs terrorists," unless of course he's just doing his part to "create that wartime culture." Disgusting.

-- Sam Brody

Salon Staff

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