Video games with violence and first-person shooters as the main objective are increasingly present and have been shaping aspects of American culture for decades now. The popularity of such games could definitely be observed as having increased after 9/11. An entire generation of mostly teens and young adults are engaged in virtual combat, fighting all kinds of enemies ranging from invaders from outer space to terrorists. A fair portion of players seem to play just for the pure joy derived from virtually killing whichever enemies they encounter in the game. Others seem to gain internal rewards from playing on a team and completing the specific tasks and challenges proposed within each game.
The US military interestingly has become an advocate of first-person shooter games. The type of virtual combat is thought to serve as training both while on and off active duty. This is not the only instant of the US military resorting to games for teaching wartime strategy. Before the development of these virtual combat games, officials had encouraged their soldiers to war-themed board games.
Virtual combat games apparently allow soldiers to bring their own duty experience home with them and to keep practicing. A few important questions arise: Is such blending of realities between the battlefield and a soldier´s home life beneficial? Or is it in fact harmful? Do these combat games depict what life is actually like on the battlefield? And are they effective for recruitment and training purposes?
Virtual versus real life battlefield
One study attempted to help answer these and related questions. 15 former as well as currently enlisted members of the military were interviewed regarding the role combat games played in their recruitment and whether such games could be considered training. The interviewees ranged in age from 25-35.
Most of the interviewees shared the belief in the importance of mentally maintaining a connection with their combat life. Some of the soldiers interviewed described the virtual reality of these violent games as intense and relatable to real life combat situations and tactics. Researchers having conducted similar studies do not share this belief based on their findings. In these virtual realities, there are neither legal nor ethical components. The reality of having to deal with, for example, losing a fellow quad member and consequently having to contact his family and attending the funeral are missing from a gamer´s experience. The actual experience of killing, death and loss is not something that a video game can prepare one for.
Three psychologists conducted a different research study involving brain scans. Their findings supported that playing violent video games desensitizes players to the suffering of another and actual real-life violence. So much for the training and “value” of this generation of hyper-realistic, violent video games.