Friday, January 09, 2009

Rules of War

Computational media critic Ian Bogost has reviewed Raid Gaza!, an online game about asymmetrical warfare between Israelis and Palestinians, and describes it as a news game that serves a particular editorial function by encouraging players to participate in its cartoony simulation of a one-sided arms race. A critic for The Guardian also argues that such games serve as appropriate vehicles for political satire, although many might take its mockery of tragedy to be tasteless.

To the tune of music from the song "Close to You," the player can expend sheqels on tank barracks, missile bases, infantry, and airports stocked with fighters. Bonuses are earned from striking police stations and hospitals.

In my first game I served as an industrious "commander," strategically testing every kind of military option and engaging in elaborate war construction projects. Although achieving a score of 6.8 Palestinians killed for every Israeli might seem like a form of victory, I was chided after the bloodbath by Ehud Olmert for failing to reach the real-life ratio of twenty-five to one in comparative casualties experienced by the two sides. However, when I replayed by focusing only on erecting a single military building as my entire infrastructure and only firing missiles until public funds ran out, I "achieved" a much more impressive 48.5:1 score that was praised by the Israeli head of state in the game. One wonders if the anti-war message would be as effective if other players had the "cheat code" and tried this tactic, so that real-life warriors seem relatively disadvantaged by the enemy.

Whatever this particular game's merits as a political protest, it is certainly true that the real rules of what constitutes just war and war crimes are considerably more complicated. This online video from Israeli peace activists presents a more nuanced doctrine from legal theory that also draws on a long cultural tradition promoting philosophies that avoid civilian casualties.

Of course, there are also many pro-military examples of Israeli digital rhetoric, such as the YouTube channel of the Israel Defense Forces. However, as I argue in a recent article about government YouTube in the collection Video Vortex, U.S. military planners have found covering their side of the war in Iraq can be complicated when urban destruction and civilian casualties are involved.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home