World War Gaming

Photo: reviewsphere
by Caroline Malcolm-Boulton

In 2016, western society watches as conflict and violence continue to erupt around the world.

This year alone, we have known the extremist presence of Isis, the fleeing of thousands of refugees from the Syrian Civil War and devastation in Aleppo.

But man’s destruction of itself is not just confined to our time, but is ever present in the history books. In the past century alone, we have brought forth: The First and Second World Wars, civil conflicts, dictatorships of fascism and communisms, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, threats of terrorism, and uprisings or invasions in the Middle East.

Each of these has been a platform for the unanticipated horror witnessed globally through evolving mediums such as: the news, personal journals, photographs, documentaries and blockbuster films.

But, even although the world gasps for a moment-we do not seem to learn; the memories always proceed to fade and we enter into another conflict with a strange sense of fresh confidence and reaffirmed notions of necessity.

It is because of the continuous state of war that the world seems to be in, I am left wondering about the level of consideration placed into the mass production and distribution of violent video games.

Statistics from those such as Statista, Essential Facts, Big Fish and Ukie, show that mainly people-but predominantly boys and young men-play games that have no other objective than to practice aggression and assert a state of power, fuelled by an egocentric depiction of supremacy.

Photo: Jeroen Thoolen
Photo: Jeroen Thoolen

Such games-old and new-include: Call of Duty, Saints Row, Hit man: Absolution, God of War: Ascension, Shadows of the Damned, Alekhine’s Gun, Carmageddon: Max Damage, The Culling and Homefront: The Revolution.

In all of these, the methods of winning are vicious and require one to deny all moral sensibility or sensitivity in order to conquer or kill.

The players seek a sense of thrill; gunning their way through the levels, they feel a rush of: glory, power, enrichment, masculinity, achievement and most of all-fun.

But I do not see honour, I only see questions: What if this was real? And is the casual manner in which these games are played having a concerning influence on our understanding and relationship to violence, and ultimately war?

If these players were placed into the conflicts belonging to the past hundred years, would they feel glorified, enriched, successful, amused or even manly? Would they see it as a no strings attached call of duty?

No, I believe they would feel humbled, petrified and confused. Without their footrests, snacks by their side, can of beer and comfy chair, they would become no more than little boys playing a big boy’s game.

I have never sought to master these games, so maybe I simply possess the naive, uneducated opinion of an outsider. Perhaps such games are simply a form of harmless leisure in an obviously false world which the player leaves behind in a clear fantasy.

But studies conducted globally reveal that such gaming ultimately annihilates two things in the players: reality and empathy.

Dr Hizmar Rhonjen from the University of California, believes that those who engage in violent video games lose a sense of reality and venture into a place where their character and their perspective of life and death has been distorted or is under appreciated.

Likewise, Christopher Bartlett at Iowa State University states that despite many contemporary combat games involving unrealistic enemies such as zombies or aliens, many do still stimulate a degree of agitation and normalised everyday violence.

Photo: Maria Luisa Gutierrez
Photo: Maria Luisa Gutierrez

Both researches note that such games commonly follow either inner city street gangs or military objectives. Dr Hizmar Rhonjen explains that the patterns of behaviour seen in 2016 relate to young men traveling abroad to engage in terrorism, or those in communities committing racist or anti-religious acts, can often be connected to a history of violent gaming which weakens the human emotive connections required for compassion.

Furthermore, studies conducted by statistic forums show that despite the games having an age certificate, to try and ensure they are accessed by those emotionally mature enough to process their content, the games are still being seen or played by younger people.

There are concerns that all manner of age groups are engaging with visual concepts that are distorting their relationship to violence, and as they grow, this is instilled in their psychological and cognitive make-up.

However, despite the opinions of these experts, I know that combat games are a very complicated past-time, and while many applaud them and many condemn them, there is strong evidence to support each school of thought.

Still, my suggestion is not to ban violent video games. No, it is to ask that 102 years on from a War that was meant to end all wars, and knowing the destruction of life that has been met from that time to this-let us only think.

When we play our violent video games, remember the men and women; soldiers and civilians that died and continue to die, did so not in fun, or entertainment, but in pain and loss.

Their end was not a virtual pretence. They could not leave their computer when they were bored or tired, reload, fail the level and then just start again. Their end was their end.

Maybe just once, we should look at our screens and stop; stop and question our true perception to reality and empathy.

Let us remember those who died long ago, and those who are dying today, and simply respect the tragic fact, that for so many: war is not a game.

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