The talk began by looking back to war and strategy games in history. The Japanese had them, the Greeks and the Romans. From ‘Go’ to ‘Kriegspiel’ both the army and civilians have enjoyed war games across the centuries.
The computer itself of course developed rapidly as a result of WWII and the need to break codes and track missiles. The talk then reviewed the first games and their use of war as subject matter starting with SpaceWar and moving through an array of early arcade games with lurid posters and graphics.
By the 1980s war had become more than mere subject matter. Ed outlined how the US army bought the rights to Battlezone from Atari back in the 1980s although he was unsure if they ever actually used it to train soldiers. Moving on a couple of years and the army actually produced a version of Doom called Marine Doom which removed all unrealistic weapons from the game and introduced 4 man fire teams as the army would have in reality. Flight Simulator was used in a similar manner. By the 1990s it appears that training simulators were used widely in the US army and were seen as ‘new generation friendly’, i.e. the new recruits like them.
Of course things moved on somewhat when €44M in funding was given to a group of Hollywood executives, game designers and business men to establish a ‘think tank’ on future combat systems, subsequently named the Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) at the University of Southern California. The army also spent $7.2M on producing America’s Army, a PC game available free for download, and clearly an effort aimed at producing a positive perception of the army and increasing recruitment. Apparently it has been very successful and it incorporates real image footage from actual battles. The culmination of this trend must be the development of ‘Full Spectrum Warrior’ at ICT, a game which will be both a training game for soldiers and available commercially sometime this year. I am sure the budget will make us all green with envy.
The focus of the talk was not so much a chronology of war games so much as an attempt to uncover the how the military is trying to build up a positive brand image and provide a sanitised view of modern warfare. We all know about the links between military spending and the origins of the computer and the internet but what Ed was trying to do was to unpack the implicit promotional messages of some military games. The propaganda word wasn’t used but it could have been. Indeed there are few female soldiers in these games, no friendly fire and as far as we could see no abuse of prisoners. This is war but not as soldiers know it.
The final part of the talk looked at some new commercial war games and home made and art games. From the utterly bizarre KUMA WAR which is a subscription based ‘reality games’ site where you can play short games based on recent news stories – yes capture Sadam, kill his sons, you get the picture – to Under Ash where you can fight as a Lebanese soldier against the Israeli army. The art games included Velvet Strike an anti-war group whose aim is to disrupt counter Strike sessions to September 12 where one cannot succeed in killing terrorists without killing civilians as well.
There were more examples than I can remember but if you want to find out more check out Ed’s funky website at www.edhalter.com/ The final discussion unfortunately seemed to miss Ed’s key point – the American military is creating war games to improve its brand image and to promote American foreign policy – I wonder will we see government health warnings on these around the world?
1. Kuma War
2. America’s Army
3. Under Ash emessage.htm emessage.htm
4. Velvet Strike velvet-strike/www.opensorcery.net/velvet-strike/
And an article on them on Salon
5. News games and September 12
6. Institute for Creative Technologies at USC http://www.ict.usc.edu/ http://www.ict.usc.edu/