War Games

Video games have come a long way since Pong. They’re
more sophisticated and more realistic than ever, and that’s been
cause for concern among many lawmakers and parents navigating the
worlds of sex and violence portrayed in popular games like
Grand Theft Auto. On the other hand, a new wave of
specialized video games are plugging into the technology to help
people. Video games are an interactive medium that highly depends
on the intentions of the developers; some use it for violent,
sexual entertainment, others use it for peace. ‘This is the price
of free speech,’ says Aaron Delwiche of the
San Antonio Current. ‘There is no
surefire way of preventing people from voicing (or coding)
objectionable ideas, nor should there be.’

Examples of the technology’s dual nature abound. When Muslims
got frustrated with the wave of anti-terrorism (read anti-Islamic)
video games, a few Muslim video game developers set out to create a
more sympathetic game. The result, according to Rhonda Roumani of
Christian Science Monitor, was the game
‘Al-Quraysh’ depicting the early years of the Muslim religion. Just
like history, the game contains violence, but according to Roumani
the idea behind it is ‘to correct the image of Islam, alleviate
tensions with the West, and stoke pride among young Muslims.’

The flip side of that coin is Special Forces, a video
game that’s been circulating around the Middle East for a few
years. According to Toby Harnden of the
Telegraph, the game, developed by the
Hizbollah Internet Bureau, is a first person-shooter that
encourages the gamer to assassinate prominent Israeli figures
like former prime minister Ariel Sharon and other members of
‘the Zionist enemy.’

If such video game renditions sound far-fetched and far-flung,
consider a homegrown variety: Left Behind: Eternal Forces.
Michael Standaert of the Guerrilla News Networkreports that the game, from a creator of the
Left Behind series of apocalyptic fiction, bears a
striking resemblance to the ultra-violent Grand Theft
. The difference is, according to Standaert, ‘[i]nstead of
bashing hookers’ heads in and blowing away cops, in Eternal
you’re killing evildoers for the Lord.’

According to Scott Duke Harris of
The San Francisco Chronicle, the
problems and the benefits lie in the interactive format of video
games in general. Video games are a ‘lean-forward’ technology
because they encourage user participation, as opposed to TV,
which allows users to lean back. When the interactive format is
put to good use, the results can be positive. Harris reports
that video game technology has been used to help victims of
terrorism by allowing them to explore safe, interactive
environments that resemble the place of the attack. He also
reports on the game PeaceMaker, which encourages gamers to find
a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (The
game recently took home first place in the University of
Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy’s
Games and Public Diplomacy Contest.)

For the San Antonio Current‘s Delwiche, the problem
comes down to media literacy. As technology advances and different
groups appropriate video game technology, the results are ranging
from helpful to disturbing. But regulation should be based on a
solid foundation of knowledge, rather than knee jerk reactions to
violent outcomes, Delwiche argues: ‘[M]any Americans — even
intelligent politicians? — lack the fundamental digital media
literacy skills required to make informed policy decisions about
games.’ In other words: Leave the decisions to the experts.

Go there >>
Game Theory

Go there too >>
Healing Games

Related Links:
Senators Clinton, Lieberman Announce Federal
Legislation to Protect Children from Inappropriate Video

Video Games Seized From Teen’s Home

Related Links from the Utne Archive:

Games Get Real

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