Can Video Games Prepare Someone for War?

In the article, “Not Playing Around: Army to invest $50M in Combat Training Games,” Seth Robson details how the army plans to utilize the technology of video games to prepare troops for combat. Specifically, the army’s use of video games aims to prepare soldiers for ambushes and roadside bomb attacks on convoys. Although the more violent video games are based on combat, the idea of reversing this order–of combat being influenced by video games–is altogether radical. I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. Despite the obvious connections between virtual reality and reality-reality (clothes, terrain, etc), there is one glaring discrepancy: the consequences of a person’s actions are more permanent than those of a player’s.

With that in mind, one particular quote from the article stuck out to me: “Soldiers will be able to drive virtual vehicles, fire virtual weapons, pilot virtual unmanned aerial vehicles and do “most anything a soldier does” in a virtual battle space as large as 100 kilometers by 100 kilometers, she [McManigal] said.” Although these technological capabilities are impressive and certainly useful for training, they are not equal to “most anything a soldier does.” By saying that, she ignores the fact that playing a soldier is entirely different from being one. The stakes are much higher in war than they are in video games. You do not get an endless number of lives in reality, and neither do the other soldiers. That being said, can a video game aimed to prepare someone for war ever really do its job?

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4 Responses to Can Video Games Prepare Someone for War?

  1. Susana Gil Del Real says:

    I was thinking the same thing when I read the article. There is only so much that a video game can prepare us for the reality of what it represents. I guess the Army’s approach could maybe take training a little farther, but at the end of the day, a video game is not real life, and war is not a game. I don’t think training through video games is a good idea, and I don’t think it will prepare soldiers for what they will actually experience. A video game is impersonal, it gives second (and third, and fourth, and fifth) chances, and it provides a safety net that is definitely not present in real war.

  2. Sienna Brancato says:

    Hannah’s blog post struck a chord with me because of my brother’s near obsession with video games, particularly violent video games. I don’t have much experience playing video games myself, but my brother listed his favorite games for me over break: Rainbow Six Siege, Battlefield 1 & 4, and Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 & 3. My brother doesn’t exhibit violent or aggressive tendencies or anything directly attributable to his love of video games. However, as a high school junior, he has just entered the process of applying to college. Out of the blue, he expressed interest in applying to military prep schools such as the Naval Academy and West Point. When asked why, he cited a few legitimate reasons, but he also provided some reasoning that seems problematic to me. In a half-joking, half-serious tone, he said that because he plays a lot of war-related video games, he knows what it would be like.

    The article, “Not Playing Around: Army to invest $50M in Combat Training Games,” detailed the expansion of the use of video games in war training. I worry because, while video games may be useful in the development of strategic skills in soldiers, I am unsure that they are adequately able to prepare soldiers for the emotionally charged environment of war in real-time. Nothing can prepare a soldier to see their friends die in front of them or witness civilian casualties of war. War potentially entails unimaginable horrors that soldiers are somehow expected to deal with, and their experiences can leave lasting damage. A soldiers’ expertise at training video games may provide him or her with a false sense of security.

    As Hannah mentioned, the idea that combat could be influenced by video games and not the other way around fills me with the chills. In video games, situations can be reset, and while mistakes may result in penalization, no lives will actually be lost. In real war, there are no do-overs. One mistake could result in catastrophe. Soldiers’ actions have consequences that could cause ripple effects. I agree that it is essential to send our most prepared soldiers into battle for their own safety and the success of the operation. However, I worry that, through the use of video games, potential soldiers could form unrealistic conceptions of war. As Hannah says, “playing a soldier is entirely different from being one.” Video games can prepare people to a certain extent, but they should never be considered failsafe preparation or afford anyone with a false sense of security as they enter a real battlefield. The argument can be made that preparing for war through the use of strategic games can make soldiers better at predicting unpredictable situations and therefore avoiding casualties or surprises, which may be true. However, nothing can separate war from its inherent violence and unpredictability.

    In a movie called “Ender’s Game,” virtual reality video games are used to prepare for war. Children train from an incredibly young age to combat an abstract, demonized enemy. Because the games separated the children so entirely from the enemy and the reality of the war, the main character, Ender, is able to commit an astounding act of violence at the end. He believes it’s all part of the game. In reality, all the children’s “practice” games are revealed to have actually been real attacks against the enemy. At the end, Ender comes into direct contact with the supposed enemy and sympathizes strongly. The plot of this movie can definitely be allegorized to the effects of virtual reality video games on war-making in our world, and what I saw scared me.

  3. Caroline Wachtell says:

    Hi Hannah,

    Your blog spoke out to me since I have a lot of the same concerns. I agree that it is deeply concerning if the military starts using games as training for the soldiers. Even though, a lot of video games these days have replicated a close to impossible reality it seems that we will never achieve a complete replication. As you mention, the consequences and stakes are much higher in real life compared to in a game.

    The simulation games give us a false self-esteem since there is no free will in the game. In fact, everything is determined beforehand, and the player is simply a puppet. A programmer has already defined what happens if you press a certain button, or if you turn right versus left. Everything is determined beforehand, so can it give us a realistic view of reality, where people are not pre-programmed in their actions.

  4. Stella Leitner says:

    I found this article to be a little disturbing for the same reasons. I really do believe that violent video games undermine the value of human life. While reading about the army’s use of video games, I couldn’t stop thinking about something that Galloway mentions in his essay; he says that in Metroid Prime, “firing one’s weapon is used interchangeably both to attack and to open doors” (24). Can you imagine a world in which extinguishing a human life requires the same effort as does opening a door? Quite frankly, I don’t want to. It is already alarming to think that civilians are playing games which cheapen human life. But to think that soldiers, people who are trained to kill, are becoming accustomed to treating life with the same expendability is almost frightening.

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