Games In Context

As part of my University course "Computer Games Programming" I took part in a module called "Games in Context and had to write a 1500-2000 Word essay on a given topic. My topic I chose from the list of area's we were given was: "Describe how the Military (and, if you wish, global politics) have influenced the development of digital games."

As an avid Military fan, I jumped on this topic. Written in 2011, I know a lot more now than I did then so I may re-write this essay with my new knowledge, updated information and new sources I can use on the topic. 


Games in Context

As part of my end of year coursework, I have been asked to write a one thousand five hundred (1500) to two thousand (2000) word essay surrounding five different points; out of these points I have decided to choose something that I believe I have a good sense of depth in. The point I have chosen to write an essay about was “Describe how the Military (and, if you wish, global politics) have influenced the development of digital games.” In this essay I will show that the gaming industry has not only influenced the development of digital games but also created the gaming industry from the very first digital game; However to show the sheer grasp the Military has on the gaming industry, one must look back to a time before digital video games and deep into history.

The very first known games, even some that exists even to this day and age; most likely began as a military simulation, for instance; the simple game of chess. A game where one player faces another player and moves several pieces on a board that anyone can play was once a game that only noblemen, knights and clergy knew how to play; a game that stayed this way until the Soviet Union during world war 1 decided that chess should be known by anyone so that anyone can be tactical. Chess was made to simulate two opposing armies meeting on a battlefield, evenly sided the leader would have to use tactics and guile to win a game. There are many other games that at first glance are simple games but demand the need for tactics and guile, even a simple game like Noughts and Crosses has tactics.

Moving forward to the start of the age of the computer; the military has always been the first to develop the best technology, if not then they quickly swoop it up for military and combat uses. The first computers were created for the military and after a while the first game was developed; this game was created on a device called an Oscilloscope, a simple dot that moved up and down along wavelengths was all the user could see; one scientist managed to tune the device to send the dot back and forward, much like tennis. This game would later be marketed as “Pong” and be the start of what would turn out to be the Digital Gaming industry; a simple movement of a ball and two bats moving into a huge game industry it was today. The Game industry grew from there and so did technology, some technology coming from the military side. It wasn’t until digital games began to become more then stand alone entertainment games on single levels and changed into an actual narrative that the Military began to use video games.

Over the years the video game industry began to grow and new technology was pushed to be used solely to improve gaming, but the military had always been one step ahead with technology and if not they quickly adapted it to their own needs. The Army began to use military simulators instead of putting new trainees into dangerous situations; such as training a pilot they would put them in a simulator instead of risking the life of them, the instructor and the destruction of an expensive plane. These simulators are simply just video games that have been tweaked to represent the real world.

There are other examples on how the military have affected the games industry and gave development; examples such as Politics, Wars and International relations have heavily affected the creation of digital video games since the introduction of 3d modelling. The first mainstream 3d game, Doom, was just about killing monsters and aliens; this did not bring much controversy until the release of Wolfenstein 3d which introduced the Nazi Germany soldiers and even a robotic Hitler. Using Hitler as one of the boss was greatly affected by WW2, seeing Hitler as a big bad guy that was hated by everyone, the game designers used this hate in their game.

Wars have also been replicated in the digital games industry, starting with the release of “Medal of Honour”; a game that had been initially created to be a game of Saving private Ryan but was turned into a WW2 based game. Wars have always been seen as a devastating and costly endeavour but to play a game based about wars seems to be enjoyable purely for the action and shooting. People do not want to risk their lives going to war just for the action and rather have it safely in their own home; video games used this need to sell more and more. Games such as “Call of Duty”, “Medal of Honour” and “Battlefield” have profited greatly from wars and the military.

But the use of violence in video games has been greatly contested, even resulting in several court cases claiming that video game violence has caused real life deaths and is too dangerous to be allowed to be used in games. This claim is the most widely used claim and is always backed up with lists of deaths that have occurred thanks to people (usually children) playing a game and then killing someone or claiming they were inspired by the game. I could greatly argue this point but that is not the point of this essay. Even though this claim by the American courts; the United State of America’s own military actually hired and created their own in-house video game to sell on the market; this game called “Americas Army” was created for the sole purpose of trying to attract kids to the Army and when they turned legal age for them to Enlist.  The entire idea is rather ironic; The United States of America courts and Government claims that video game violence is appalling and should not be allowed, yet their own Army are trying to entice and enlist children and young adults to the Army by creating a video game which actively puts the player into a war zone, handed a gun and told to shoot that target. Other countries have also tried to follow suit and currently China are in the middle of creating their own video game based on their army to entice their own populous to enlist to their own military.

Although the Military has affected the games industry, it has also brought even more controversy. A Recent Video game series released a new game in the “Medal of Honour” series. This game is based on the Afghanistan conflict with American and NATO soldiers fighting against the Taliban. In the single player the player takes the role of several soldiers on the American – NATO side of the conflict, this has not been contested in controversy but it wasn’t until the multi-player was announced; being developed by another developer, that the controversy began. In every video game multi-player you usually have the sides from the single player vs. each other, such as in the Call of Duty series “Call of Duty 5: World at War” You have Russians vs. Nazi Soldiers, Americans Vs Japanese etc. In Medal of Honour you have the American – NATO alliance vs. the Taliban; this was the controversy.

Complaints began to filter about the naming of the “enemy” team as the Taliban and people began to get angry at the fact kids could play as the Taliban and fire at American soldiers; even killing them. I myself have no quarrel with this as the argument was never thought about in World War 2 games. Why does no one complain at the fact that you can play as Nazi soldiers killing Russians? Americans? The main argument to this is “that it was so long ago, no one living now may have family living family or lost someone close to them in that war” and that wars such as Afghanistan and Vietnam are so relatively soon that it isn’t right” I believe that it was a rather pitiful excuse but the game was changed so that the Taliban in multi-player were renamed as “OPFOR” which is the Abbreviation of “Operational Foe” A Censored term for the multi-player name even though the single player experience still pits the Americans – NATO soldiers against the Taliban but I guess it is okay to play as an American and kill Taliban then it is to do the opposite.

Other such controversy that were brought out from video games and military action was the Call of Duty’s “Call of Duty 6: Modern Warfare 2” ‘No Russian’ level. A level that involves the player taking control of a CIA Undercover agent in a terrorist cell in Russia, forcing the player to open fire on civilians on a busy airport, killing police and people with ease with a heavy Machine gun. This level although shippable by a pop up that comes up and tells the player they can skip this and it is violent, was a centre of a controversy.

As the video game industry grew, so did military technology. When the Military did something, the video game industry made a game of it. The Military was a key part in the start, the running and the controversy of the Digital game industry