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.”
The Virtual Journey to Enlightenment Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer
Here’s a preview of video artist Bill Viola's in-progress video game “The Night Journey.” Viola, who has been described as “a Rembrandt for the video age,” has built a career on making video art that’s contemplative, metaphysical, and sometimes spiritual — and this “game” seems to be no exception. From its description on the USC Interactive Media Web site:
Narrative inspiration for this project includes the lives and writings of great historical figures including: Rumi, the 13th century Islamic poet and mystic; Ryokan, the 18th century Zen Buddhist poet, Shankara; the 8th century Hindu mystic and commentator on the Upanishads; and St. Anthony, the 3rd century Christian desert father.
It’s an interesting project, and while it does have some game-like elements like goals and levels, his professed intention is to “explore the universal story of an individual mystic’s journey towards enlightenment.” His video work (which you can see some examples of here and here, as well on his Web site) has often been presented in an immersive, experiential environment. So maybe an interactive experience is a logical next step.
I do wonder, though, how much can this sort of technology evoke a deep metaphysical and/or spiritual experience? Can one really explore spirituality with a joystick?
Coming soon:Speaking of Faith: The Game. (Kidding, of course. I think.)