Thursday, July 3, 2008

J.C. Herz, "The military-entertainment complex," Joystick nation: How videogames ate our quarters, won our hearts, and rewired our minds

J.C. Herz, "The military-entertainment complex," Joystick nation: How videogames ate our quarters, won our hearts, and rewired our minds (Boston: Little, Brown & Co, 1997), 197-213

Readings for this class do not get much more straightforward than this chapter from JC Herz's book on videogames (referenced yesterday by Dr. Steinkuehler, incidentally). Herz, herself, has, interestingly enough, worked as a consultant for industry and for defense concerns, which I found quite salient.

At any rate, this chapter has as its goal to point out and then document the profound interlinking of the videogame/entertainment and defense industries. The interest the two share is technological, financial and even philosophical, to a certain extent. Earlier in class, it was pointed out (perhaps by Dr. Halverson) that the need to synthesize and analyze great deals of information presented dynamically and simultaneously is growing ever important in our information economy, and the case is the same for military applications. Herz notes that "most modern warfare takes place behind the screen, anyway," with controls and gadgets becoming secondary to their virtual information displays. She also points out that the use of videogame technology does a great deal to validate it (whether positively or negatively is a personal interpretation) outside of the confines of wasteful passtimes in video arcades - although it is worth noting that the entire chapter is characterized by a sarcastic, cynical tone. Perhaps Herz's knowledge of the inner workings of both industries, independent of each other as well as collectively, is to blame.

The type of gaming most often relevant to military applications, as we have already learned, is simulation ("M&S," it is called), and this article simply underscores that point. She was also able to glean interesting insights from some important industry insiders in the defense contracting, military and gaming industries, all of whom cited the relationship among them as being critical to military advance and success and game and technology development. In short, Herz suggests, all one need do is follow the money trail to establish this relationship.

Also of note is another point we have discussed previously, which is that there is a reality threshold that designers and military personnel are aware of, in which, on the one hand, games become unplayable for entertainment purposes due to being too realistic, and the realism in the military arena becomes counterproductive to the ends of training soldiers to kill (i.e. empathy for the enemy is inadvertently instilled if the enemy appears too real).

The bottom line for this chapter is simply that there is an intrinsic relationship between military and gaming development (and, arguably, with all digital technology development, really). Perhaps awareness of this fact is the important first step in being able to develop mindful critiques of them both. Herz does not offer a particularly hopeful solution to this situation - in fact, she might not see it as problematic, per se, in the first place - but the direct connections she has drawn among the various players involved are important for any student and scholar of video games, and for any social critic interested in a broader picture of how technologies are developed in our society.


Jasun said...

The link to "Toys" synopsis on IMDB:

Adrian said...

Is anyone else scared by some of this stuff? I don't remember who brought it up, but what exactly is Herz positioning herself as? Snide outsider.


I remember Sarah bringing up the question of letting Sims die as protest. Right on! That comment really underscores my question mark as to what Herz is doing. Thanks, Sarah.

Nick S said...

This is how I like my articles, interesting and short!

I actually didn't know before taking this class that the military had anything to do with video games. It only makes sense to use realistic simulations to get troops ready for combat.

Kinda makes you wonder what they're cookin up right now.

Eric M said...

I didn't know either that the military was this heavily intertwined with the video game industry. This article raised some questions for me, like how long will it be before video games are used as simulations for other careers. How long before we get games that are real simulations of the stock market, how to run your own business, etc? Maybe these real life simulations already exist and I just don't know about them. It's interesting to think about how the role of video games may change in preparing us for every aspect of life. I definitely think the potential is there.

Marlon Heimerl said...

I enjoyed how the issues raised in this article tied into what we covered on Thursday with the screaning of "America's Army" on tour. It is interesting that an American soldier's grandma today can explore the technological interfaces used by her beloved in the war of tomorrow--or as ever morrow as it can be.

Would it be easier for the soldiers if the enemy appeared as asteroids on a 2D intergace, while the direction of their cannon matches the orientaiton of a revolving digital rectangle's longest point? Or is such a quesion in poor taste in the first place?

I have read of American tank driver's in Iraq delivering full platoon's of the enemy from life while listening to "Let the Bodies Hit the Floor!" on high power speakers. Is it hard to dehumanze killing through video games or is it harder to humanize a blipping light on the radar scope of an armored cannon a mile away the target, in today's remaining world after the geometric growth in warfare fire power capabilties?

Jon72585 said...

First of all...I used to love the movie "Toys." I haven't thought about that in a long time, but it does make sense with this article.

Some of my friends believe pretty firmly that video games, especially games like call of duty 4, were made to desensitize kids to violence in an effort to make war a more acceptable idea. I fell that this might be a little bit too "conspiracy theory" for my taste, but the sentiment is definitely out there. As is the fear that the military is willing to work through clandestine methods to indoctrinate its own citizenry.

Jasun said...

I would like to note that this really isn't much different from training with lasers or paintball and allows for more comprehensive evaluation and feedback. But at the same time, the America's Army phenomenon really creeps me out.

Anonymous said...

All this article could make me thing about is the movie "Toys" with Robin williams. The scene when a handful of kids are flying planes unaware of the fact they are real. Hopefully video game and military relations will not get to the point of the anonymous killer, but the technologies definitely run together for other various aspects. Flight simulators are definitely a big advantage for the army and use in their spy planes which are controlled without a human pilot. This does strike me as a scarry topic, but i'm pretty confident my avatar in Call of Duty 4 hasn't killed thousands of humans.