I probably heard of the Catholic Worker newspaper before today, but I think today is the first time I’d seen a copy of it. There were several copies out on a table at my church, and they had one article in particular circled–it was entitled “Hegemony’s Joystick” by Matt Vogel. I was hoping to find it online, but no such luck. Anyway, it was about the “America’s Army” video game that was developed by the armed forces as a recruiting tool. Here’s a bit of the article (gee–transcribing really feels like hard work when you’re used to copy and paste).
There has been much research on the effects of violent video games on children, and there are many studies that report a high correlation between playing violent video games and exhibiting “aggressive behavior”. While concerns such as these may relate to “America’s Army”, what separates this game from others is that it does not only desensitize people to and sanitize killing, it desensitizes people to and sanitizes war. Not only does this game not show what happens when somebody has been shot, or when somebody is dying, it doesn’t show that war does to people and to communities. It teaches players not to be critical thinkers, to not ask why, but instead, just to do, to follow orders. War ceases to be both a tragedy for humanity and a moral failure, and instead becomes a commonplace fact of life.
Don’t worry, both players and the Army say, people know the difference between what is real and what is a game. Yes, of course they do, but that is not the point. The point is that the game breaks down inhibitions, making war, even killing, less likely to be questioned, let alone resisted or challenged. Jonathan Dee, in “Joystick Nation!” in the December 21, 2003 issue of The New York Times Magazine, sums it up nicely, “If there’s anything disturbing about the relationship between video games and actual homicide, it’s not that the games have become too realistic; it’s that killing…has become far too much like a video game.”
Regarding the part at the beginning of this excerpt, before anyone points it out, let me tell you that I teach psychology and I can probably say the words “correlation does not equal causation” in my sleep at this point. So I do understand that there is no evidence that playing violent video games causes otherwise nonviolent people to become more aggressive. But the desensitizing that goes on all around us is a concern for me. The fact that, because it can further their agenda, the powers that be are exploiting our abililty to desensitized to the horrors around us, is pretty troubling to me. So is the decline of critical thinking. And, once again, because it suits their agenda, we have people in power exploiting that decline rather than trying to reverse it. One more excerpt from the article…
This game is more than a recruiting tool, it is a highly effective vehicle for propaganda. “America’s Army” doesn’t teach people to kill as much as it reframes reality and shapes how players view war. What players learn about the Army and war in the game becomes the new reality, becomes how they are accustomed to understanding and seeing the Army and what it does.
Here is the link to The Catholic Worker web site.
As I mentioned above, this article is not online there, but there are some other articles that are worth checking out in the archives.