Notes on Counter Militarism

Young Canadian Quakers on war & recruitment

Militainment: insidious influences in media and games

Workshop on Militainment (military and entertainment) with Michael Schutz von Glaßer

Michael, an author on militarism, entertainment and media — and part of the WRI team — began the workshop with an overview of how the German military is portrayed in the media. Films have been produced in the past in corroboration with the military as propaganda to convince people that the German army needs to participate in international conflicts. An example is Mörderischer Freiden, which painted German soldiers as heroes intervening in Kosovo. TV “reality” shows, such as Operation Afghanistan, purport to show the positive effects of German military involvement in Afghanistan and focus on the “humanitarian” response – building schools, dispensing first aid, etc. There has also been a controversy over two different films about PTSD in the military: one sponsored by the military, which portrays soldiers as victims, and one produced without military involvement, which shows a much more complex picture of the PTSD soldier suffering not only from the atrocities he witnessed but also from the atrocities he committed.

During a brief discussion about film, militarism and nationalism, I brought up the rather strange habit that we Canadians have, of producing military films that focus almost exclusively on WWI as a “defining” factor in constructing Canadian identity. More recent conflicts are mostly avoided, possibly because Canadians feel uncomfortable with the idea that Canada is involved in actual combat warfare, as they have been in Afghanistan.

UPDATE: The Harper government seems to have taken to the idea that the War of 1812 (not a real war, simply a series of disorganised skirmishes) was also instrumental in defining Canada as a nation. From what I know about the War of 1812 which was hardly even touched on in Canadian history when I was in school this idea is bollocks and nationalist propaganda. However, that has not prevented the Harper government from capitalizing on the anniversary with major advertising, media and re-enactments.

The main topic of the Militainment workshop focused on military video games, particularly Battlefield 3, released last fall. As a casual gamer with a brother and a husband who are avid gamers, I have seen the gameplay of many different combat-style games. Military-based video games represent an enormous share of the video game (both console and computer) market. Combat game franchises, such as Call of Duty, Command and Conquer and Battlefield, release new sequels every couple of years, and capitalize on online game play, wherein different users play together remotely in a real-time gaming environment.

While there is a long history of military involvement in video games (the game America’s Army was actually produced by the US army as a recruiting tool), Battlefield 3 reached a new level of extremes, both in gameplay and in advertising. Many war or combat-style video games include an element of fantasy – such as a zombie apocalypse or an alien invasion, or even a historical setting where the enemies are generic Nazi or Soviet soldiers. But Battlefield 3 reaches a level of realism in visual graphics and in plot that eclipses its peers. Elements of fantasy and absurdity are absent, and the user takes on the persona of soldier carrying out realistic missions, variations of which have actually been carried out by military forces in the past.

The game was produced with the cooperation of the Swedish military, which provided sound effects. Marketing involved the display of military equipment at video game conventions and advertisements on actual tanks in the streets in the US. Three million copies were pre-ordered and 10 million sold within the first week of release.

The effect of very realistic war games like Battlefield 3 not only serves to desensitize users to the killing and extreme violence portrayed, but also functions as a “training ground” for potential recruits in future warfare – warfare that is defined by drones and technology, in which killing is as simple as aiming and firing through a user interface at a target thousands of miles away.

Another aspect of games produced for entertainment in developed countries is the effect on those in developing countries. During the discussion, Dominos (a former Jesuit priest who has worked with child soldiers for many years) told of how he had seen men come into a rural village in volatile regions of Africa, set up a generator and a computer, and charge local children a fee to come watch the gameplay of a combat-based video game, in order to prepare them for a military recruiter. When the military recruiter arrives, many young people want to join, eager to encounter the exciting and glamorous life they have seen in the game.

A major part of the discussion was the question of why there are not more peaceful alternative games. Explicitly anti-war video games do exist (Warco, Palestine, September 12), but they function more as political commentary rather than popular playable games. Producing a high-quality video game is hugely expensive, and the popularity of combat games means that companies are interested in producing more of the same. They may even receive government funding to do so. There are, however, many alternatives to explicitly military games: quality puzzle and exploration games are often produced by independent studios, and fantasy games (that may involve killing but in a highly unrealistic setting) like Blizzard’s World of Warcraft and Diablo are also very popular.

So, how do we “combat” the influence and popularity of these games? In North America, particularly in sparsely populated areas of Canada with long, harsh winters, the problem is that online gameplay with popular combat games is one of the primary ways that isolated kids interact with their friends. For children in rural communities whose parents work, who don’t have access to public transportation, playing popular online games is the only way they have to connect with others. Discussion and education at home can go a long way, but endemic issues in Canada – from lack of funding for after school programs and recreation to simple geography – mean that the military and game production companies can and will continue to capitalize on a young, eager audience.

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This entry was posted on July 5, 2012 by .
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