Monday, May 09, 2016

Military Propaganda in Video Games?

I think someone jumped into the booze barrel a little early today with their gaming story. The Daily Review has published an article by Matthew Sainsbury, which should be labeled as an opinion piece, that makes me wish I had some of that secret drink in my coffee this morning. But it's par for the course based on his history of posts with Review.

The doozy of a piece today is pretty straight forward: Video Games Are the New Medium for Propaganda.

I'll let that settle in your brain for a moment and wait for the "WTF" face to cross your features before I continue.

In defense of the crazy thesis, if it can even be justified as such, video games are a powerful marketing tool. See Mountain Dew and the success it is has by linking up with Microsoft and cross promoting with Halo and Call of Duty. And this isn't something new. You can go back to games from the early 90's to see Cool Spot, the 7UP dot, that took marketing to an ultra wide level we haven't seen since, thank goodness. I don't know if I can take a game about Colonel Sanders seriously - at least on a gaming console. Or the more subtle way that is more commonly see is with games like Daytona where billboards posted on the race courses would advertise a variety of products, just as one would see on a real race track.

Product placements in games have been refined over the years to a level very similar to Hollywood. You may see a Coca-Cola drink can on a desk in the background, or a roll of Bounty paper towels on a kitchen counter. Or you can give Snake an Axe t-shirt, because that was totally a thing in the 1970's. It works and it's proven to work, else they wouldn't keep doing it.

But military propaganda? Not so much.

Sainsbury's argument is that the industry and the U.S. Army is attempting to "gamify" war. Call of Duty and Battlefield, according to the writer, are designed in a way to make joining the military more appealing. And that the U.S. army is creating simulators to publish to the public for the same reason.

I don't know what game Sainsbury is playing, but I never looked at Call of Duty and thought "Gee, that looks awesome! I should join the army!" As much as I dump on the current life cycle of CoD, one thing it does really well is look incredibly realistic and gritty. It's painful to watch at times because you can visually see the pain of war. You hear it in the gun fire, in the screams of civilians, the destruction of cities - there is nothing about this that is enticing and to argue otherwise is asinine.

Do these games tend to focus more on the U.S. side of the wars? Sure. Those are interesting stories to tell and based on centuries of studies with all entertainment mediums (from theater, to books, to movies, and beyond) people prefer watching war stories that center around their countries. Everyone wants their nation to look like the good guy, in some form or another. But the games Sainsbury calls out are known for providing historical accuracy to the wars of yesteryear, and for being completely nonsensical for the "future fake wars" that seem so unrealistic that no one can claim it as being glamorous.

Is the U.S. military creating gaming simulators? Sure. They have been for a while. Mostly within the confines of said military branch. Over the years they have seen how recruits have responded to games before entering into a test, or real life, combat situation and their improvements in results by using gaming methods over traditional training. The browser based games available through the U.S. Army are fairly basic - target practice and a top down "dodging" game that resembles an Atari football game. There is nothing exciting or entrancing about them. You're not shooting terrorists or Russians from the Cold War. You are hitting cutout targets that have no defining characteristics. I don't know how that's propaganda, but I didn't have any special sauce in my coffee today.

Again, I don't know what games Sainsbury has been spending with in his free time, but CoD and Battlefield are not propaganda filled, war-making machines. The chances of these games encouraging you or your friends/family to join the military are slim to non-existent because guess what: we all know that these games are not real! Gasp! Who would have thought we all had the ability to distinguish reality from fantasy? So go enjoy your Doritos and Mountain Dew while you play Homefront with the comfort of knowing you're not being brainwashed - at least when it comes to wanting to join the army. Marking? A different, and much bigger, ball of wax to tackle.


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