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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Playing At War: Could Video Games One Day Help Resolve Global Conflicts?



In 1913, esteemed author H.G. Wells (a well know pacifist) wrote a book on waging war, thought it might not be the kind of war you’re thinking of. In his book Little Wars, Wells detailed a set of rules for playing war games using miniature toy soldiers and cannons, inadvertently laying the groundwork for future tabletop games such as Warhammer that today have quite a large fanbase. 

Since Wells believed that there were no benefits to actual war, he used the games and rules detailed in his book as a sort of “alternative philosophy” for solving conflicts while also having fun with friends and siblings. However, after having read the book myself, I’m left wondering if the same concepts that Wells illustrated in Little Wars could be taken to an even higher level, namely: using virtual methods (such as video games) to solve real-life conflicts in our world.

 I understand that at a glance the idea seems rather silly. I’m sure some people who are reading this are already conjuring images in their heads of political leaders all hunkered around a t.v. with controllers in their hands playing Mario Kart or setting up a LAN network of computers for a game of Counter Strike. But think about it for a second….Every year developers like D.I.C.E. (Battlefield), Activision (Call of Duty), and Bohemia Interactive (Arma II) strive to present gamers with a war experience that’s not only fun but realistic. 


Capturing the essence of war seems to be a rather high priority for these developers so why not take these same concepts and ideas they’ve worked hard to promote and elevate them to a level in which they could benefit not just gamers but people worldwide? Imagine for a second a world where family, friends, and loved ones no longer had to risk their lives in order to serve their country. Imagine if political conflicts could be settled on virtual battlefields, if bombs, tanks, chemical weapons, and machine guns that the military used were nothing more than pixels on a screen.

The funny thing is, we’ve already begun inadvertently exploring such concepts even if most of us don’t know it. The U.S. military uses popular FPS games such as America’s Army as recruitment tools and has been for years now. The Bruce Willis movie Surrogates, in which people live their lives vicariously through “surrogate” robot doubles of themselves, features a scene in which military troops use specially designed surrogates to engage in open conflict from the safety of a computer station located in their base.


So are these concepts really that far-fetched? If the military uses video games as recruitment tools, who’s to say they couldn’t one day use games and virtual simulations to not only train troops but also to wage actual wars? I’m reasonable enough to admit that such a future is probably a long ways away, but as someone who’s had his own family serve in the military, I am not afraid to dream of a future in which virtual conflict is the *only* conflict we have to worry about.

I like to think that H.G. Wells was trying to fulfill two purposes when he wrote Little Wars nearly a century ago. Not only was he trying to design and develop a fun game to be played with your friends, he was also trying to show us that war doesn’t have to cost as many lives and resources as it did back then and as it still does today. If two men could settle their differences over a game of miniature war, why couldn’t two countries do the same in a virtual landscape?

Follow me on Twitter at @NateHohl and check out my other work at vgutopia.com and rantgaming.com

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