On Playing Soldier and Being a Soldier
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Benjamin Busch, a former Marine Corps infantry officer who served two combat tours in Iraq, writes a challenging essay for NPR on the nature of war games — with toy soldiers, in video games, on the battlefield:
“When I was a boy, I was given plastic army men. I arranged them in the sandbox behind our house, and I killed them. I voiced their commands and made the sounds of their suffering. I imagined their war — and I controlled it. But I lost those magical powers as a Marine in Iraq.
We know children are immersed in digital interactivity now, and the soldier of today has grown up on video games. It is becoming a new literacy of sorts. Playing and risking your life are different things. In the video war, there may be some manipulation of anxiety, some adrenaline to the heart, but absolutely nothing is at stake.
I honestly don’t like that Medal of Honor depicts the war in Afghanistan right now, because — even as fiction — it equates the war with the leisure of games. Changing the name of the enemy doesn’t change who it is.
But what nation or military has the right to govern fiction? Banning the representation of an enemy is imposing nationalism on entertainment. The game cannot train its players to be actual skilled special operations soldiers, nor is it likely to lure anyone into Islamic fundamentalism. It can grant neither heroism nor martyrdom. What it does do is make modern war into participatory cinema. That is its business.”
Photo courtesy of Benjamin Busch