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When Game Violence Forces Us To Think

Sometimes game violence forces us to ask a hard question.

[this is a repost of my original gameranting post]

 We are all used at seeing violence in games, it's fun and should be harmless since we are only killing of virtual enemies who do deserve their death.  But sometimes game violence can hit us square in the face, case in point the Longbow flight simulator released shortly after the first gulf war.

Longbow, developed by Jane's Combat Simulations, puts the player in the cockpit of the AH-64 Apache helicopter during the first Gulf War.  Many of the missions involve night flights attacking radar posts and command centers.  Usually these targets are protected by anti aircraft missiles and soldiers.  Hellfire (laser guided missiles) and unguided rockets are ideal for destroying bunkers, tanks and radar dishes, but a bit expensive to kill Iraqi soldiers, thus  the 30 mm canon becomes the weapon of choice to dispatch these infantry men. 

During the night the player can only see the infantry men through a heat seeking camera.  The image is displayed in black and white one of the cockpit screen (in the game the player can zoom in on these screens).  As the player pulls the trigger the muffled sounds of the canon revibrate through the virtual cockpit.  To the player it seems almost to be real.

Then the first gulf war documentaries were released.  During the war itself we saw many footages of laser guided bombs hitting bridges and bunkers.  Each time the military promised us that this was a surgical war and no innocent people got hurt.  But some of the documentary footage showed shocking imagery, which looked very familiar to flight sim players.

This footage came from the gun cameras of a Apache helicopters during the first night of the war.  In black and white the outlines of an Iraqi radar post are shown.  Superimposed on the radar is a caret, indicating that the Apache gunner is designating the target with his laser.  Moments later we hear the whoosh of hellfire missiles leaving their hard points towards the marked target.  Few seconds pass as the missiles fly through the air, then the radar disappears in a (black and white) plume of flames. 

As soon as the radar dish explodes small stick figures emerge from nearby tents.  The Apache pilot moves his gunship closer (but still out of range of the enemy gunners) and the stick figures turn out to be Iraqi soldiers. 

Cross hairs swing over one soldier, there's the muffled sound of the onboard canon and the soldier disappears in a plume of flames, sand and blood.  Nearby soldiers drop to the ground.  But with their night camera's nothing can escape the Apaches.  A cross hair moves over to the next soldier, again the gun rumbles and a second soldier meets his end.

Personally the gun camera footage shocked me. Not because its violence and the execution of Iraqi soldiers but because the developers of the longbow simulation had perfectly simulated such footage.  Besides the lower graphics, there was no difference between in game footage and these real gun camera shots.  Suddenly I could no longer claim longbow to be a fancy game.  What I did in the game, other people did in real life.

Looking back I wondered why the violence in the longbow game shocked me, while I happily dispatch people in GTAIV.  I never have run over a pedestrian, violently beat a mean to death or watched such acts on television. 

Yet I saw three Iraqi soldiers been torn apart by 30mm shells.  They were not killed in a fair fight, they were executed.  If I can do the same thing in the virtual world, I am then not the same cold blooded killer like that helicopter pilot?

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