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Film: War Games

Video game promotes America's manifest sense of victory one explosion at a time

By Aaron J. Maier · December 12th, 2002 · Movies
  Black Hawk Down promotes a myth of an America that ultimately wins its battles.
Black Hawk Down promotes a myth of an America that ultimately wins its battles.

The deep-voiced call to arms came from my television set: "Some people pledge their allegiance. Only a selected few have the opportunity to prove it." The words did not belong to President Bush or some political war hawk rallying the people via a CNN interview. The tag belonged to an ad promoting the video game Conflict: Desert Storm, and it hit right between shows on Comedy Central.

The ad made its intended impact. I set out to learn more. Conflict: Desert Storm offers its players -- its would-be soldiers -- the opportunity to participate in a virtual war against Saddam Hussein in a digitally created Iraq, complete with Scud missiles and a crumbling downtown Baghdad.

The game makes its players a member of the U.S. military forces invading Iraq during Desert Storm. The intention is to recreate 1991's easy victory, but it's hard not to make a connection with current U.S. plans for another Iraqi invasion. Conflict: Desert Storm is meant to be a game focused on reliving the past, but I see it as a slick ad for present-day warmongering. Conflict: Desert Storm is not your father's GI Joe action figure. This is a game with teeth.

The game is one thing, although it's the flag-waving ad that continues to stick in my mind. The commanding voice, a baritone that could only belong to Uncle Sam (or perhaps Charlton Heston) tells me that to be a true patriot I must fire a mortar shell straight at Saddam's nose. Only then am I worthy of being labeled a patriot. Those peaceniks who question the President's calls for a war with Iraq, well, they can play Sorry. Conflict: Desert Storm is too good a game for their wishy-washy hands.

Historians will tell you that Operation Desert Storm set a new precedent for allowing much of its invasion to be televised. But did these same pundits realize that it would also become the source for realistic war games targeted at America's consumers? Imagine the public relations benefits. Some game fanatic opens his Christmas present and pulls Conflict: Desert Storm out of the box. Before long, he's an expert at the game and soundly beating Saddam in record time. It's no wonder he expects nothing less from the news footage that he watches on TV. In this armchair soldier's mind, all wars have become good fun, because that's how they are when he's behind the joystick.

There have been other violent and ultra-realistic video games -- Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto -- come to mind, but none of them promote military action like Conflict: Desert Storm. My point is that few people are worried about the consequences of an impending war with Iraq because games like Conflict: Desert Storm paired with recent war movies like Black Hawk Down, Behind Enemy Lines and Windtalkers promote an America that never loses.

In fact, the game Conflict: Desert Storm would have us believe that Iraq and Hussein are easy targets. Just turn the switch on and off with no mess to clean up. As the TV voice instructs: "Prove your allegiance." Play Conflict: Desert Storm and buy into the sales pitch of an America that never loses. This cultural arrogance bothers me. We need to look closer at what is entertainment and what is truly propaganda. ©



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