Monday, April 5, 2010

Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2

The American people are isolated from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in a manner unprecedented in the history of warfare. Technology makes it possible for us to wage war in two theaters simultaneously, and yet still commit fewer troops then the number used in the first Gulf War. Instead, we rely on unmanned Predator drones and chopper crews to do the dirty work. And because so few of us have any real connection to the wars, we rarely see moments of horror such as this video released today by WikiLeaks (WARNING: extremely violent and NSFW):

What is so horrible about this video? Certainly, the fact that innocent people are being slaughtered, to the seeming amusement of the helicopter crew, is difficult to stomach. The element of technology makes it especially hard to watch; it is shocking to see how one person can cause such rapid destruction. But this video shows only the type of violence that happens in Iraq and Afghanistan every day. The U.S. military has done an admirable job of shielding the public from the reality of constant warfare, but now WikiLeaks has shown us a glimpse of the truth. If this video achieves nothing else, it will help the American public understand the human cost of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Videos like this one will reach a greater percentage of the public, and perhaps ultimately shift public perception on those wars.

In light of this news, it would seem in poor taste to play games like Modern Warfare 2, which allows the player to operate the very same 30mm Apache machine gun turret used in the above video:

And perhaps in the context of MW2, the Chopper Gunner (and similar killstreak rewards, such as the AC-130, Predator Missile, and Tactical Nuke) are in poor taste. However, I think that these gameplay elements might be used to create an educational game in which players are encouraged to engage in a dialogue about the use of these weapons in modern warfare, as a means to better understand the frightening (and often secret) means by which the United States perpetuates its hegemony over the world. Perhaps if people were encouraged to play a game in which they were viscerally exposed to the horrors of a Predator missile barrage, they might become more opposed to the war effort.

I plan to write more about this in the coming days, but I thought that the release of this video would be a good occasion to start a conversation about how video games like Modern Warfare 2 might be used positively, to expose people to the horrors and true human toll of modern warfare.