Virtual Combat and Evolving Perceptions of Warfare

Call_of_duty_2_screenshot Never before have individuals seeking entertainment had so many options.

As technology improves, gamers can engage in photorealistic and increasingly tactile simulations across a wide fantasy spectrum.

As a recently-released war simulator surpasses $300 million in sales, The Washington Examiner asks why millions of players are interested in virtual war and why the answer may have a wide impact on the future of combat.

Pixels and Policy investigates.

Battle.NET vs. Battleground

The Washington Examiner wonders why millions of gamers spent hundreds of millions on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. The entire idea may seem silly – questioning why an entertaining, hyped multiconsole release did well – but the question deserves deeper analysis.

The trend of huge-selling combat simulators hasn't gone unnoticed. Several years ago the United States Army released the first-person online shooter "America's Army," a platoon-based combat simulator similar to Modern Warfare 2 and replete with recruitment advertising from the armed forces.

The Washington Examiner article cites growing military interest in transitioning skilled combat gamers into military roles:

Gaming companies have spent tens of millions of dollars developing
technologies designed to re-create battle, as well as easy for the
average teen to use. More importantly, these teens enter the military
already "trained up" in a certain way.

A former F-15 pilot described the
younger generation of remote drone pilots with awe. They had less
training and experience than him, but he felt their years of video
gaming had made them "naturals" to the fast-moving, multitasking nature
of modern warfare.

Are Armchair Warriors Combat-Ready?

The hand-eye coordination, gaming-as-training idea is an oft-repeated line, but Pixels and Policy remains skeptical. Operating a Predator drone via remote control in a high-pressure environment is certainly psychologically different than playing a warfare simulator from the comfort of an office chair. Self-confidence aside, do the skill sets translate?

A 2003 University of Rochester study showed a positive correlation between extended periods of first-person shooter gaming and hand-eye coordination. But this still doesn't explain whether such a correlation exists between casual gaming and the extremely technical work atmosphere of the active military.

Right now the evidence doesn't back up the claim, and despite being an avowed techno-optimist, I can't bring myself to advocate someday recruiting top-ranked players from war simulators into the armed forces. Just as hype might be damaging the legitimacy of augmented reality, overinflated expectations for the transition from virtual combat to real warfare could jeopardize lives.

An Air Force Colonel referenced in the Washington Examiner article gives voice to some of these concerns:

"The video game generation is worse at distorting the reality of it
[war] from the virtual nature. They don't have that sense of what
really going on."

He went on to tell that he thought the virtual nature
of the games, which gave such skills, also made it harder for some to
weigh the consequences of their acts. "It teaches you how to
compartmentalize it."


Until further research can show how gamers versed in casual simulated warfare respond in real-world warfare situations, it might be best to leave the virtual commandos to simulators.

One thought on “Virtual Combat and Evolving Perceptions of Warfare”

  1. The most interesting thing about this post is the utter absence of any consideration of the ethical implications implied by the linkage of gaming with actual military training.
    Particularly disturbing is this comment: “I can’t bring myself to advocate someday recruiting top-ranked players from war simulators into the armed forces.” Would it really be a good thing if this COULD be advocated? Do we really want to think of video gaming as a sort of unacknowledged means of training a future generation of soldiers? Frankly, I find this subject, but more particularly this article’s approach to it, absolutely chilling.
    It is an index of the amorality and unthinking blandness of this feature that the closest thing we get to an ethical consideration here comes from an Air Force Colonel:
    “He went on to tell that he thought the virtual nature of the games, which gave such skills, also made it harder for some to weigh the consequences of their acts. ‘It teaches you how to compartmentalize it.'”
    I suspect he’s right. Certainly of this article seems to have managed to “compartmentalize” very effectively in just this way.

Comments are closed.