Game criticism website Medium Difficulty recently posted an article, “Call of Apathy” by “W”, an ex-Marine-turned-military-contractor who is concerned with the way soldiers are presented in war games. W states that the US military is 100% volunteer, and so (at least in the Marines and Special Forces), about 80% of the military is made up of people who like to kill things (i.e. sociopaths). Games, on the other hand, depict the modern-day version of the Hollywood hero, the stone-cold loner who can take on the world, but does everything for good old American values. As W states:
None of the stereotypes exist. They are put in place by a media and a military that hates the wars we fight but loves the men fighting in them.
While W is speaking from a particular perspective and basing his information on real-world experience from that perspective rather than systematic analysis, this raises an interesting point.
America is at war and has been for more than a decade now. The military is all-volunteer, with no draft, and there is no war tax, so the average American doesn’t have to give anything for it. This has resulted in a sharp division between the soldier and the civilian where the civilian has no clue of what the military actually does.
At the same time, support for the war in the Middle East has dwindled while the respect the average American has for the US serviceman continues to rise. Support the troops, not the war, appears to be the new slogan.
However, while we profess to hate war, our media is saturated with it. While part of it is there is a war going on, and whatever happens to be going on at the moment is whatever is picked up by the popular media, the other part is that while we say we hate war, we sure love to play it.
And this is the crux of the matter. The games we play tell us a lot about who we are as a society. What does it mean when modern American masculinity is partly defined through the vicariousness of simulated and TV soldiers (and football players)? What does it mean when a culture wants to end a war yet sells more copies of Modern Warfare 3 in a month than the Bible sold all of last year?*
War games may not be realistic, and W certainly gives us some idea of what a realistic war game would actually be like. However, if realism is defined as a quality of a good war game, but war itself is not fun, then at what point do we hedge the realism for the sake of entertainment? The term ‘realism’ ultimately ends up as another word to sell things.
*Note, if you doubt this, Google the sales figures. MW3 really did outsell the Bible.