Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Shake Rattle and Roll

In the Virtualpolitik book I write about how the digital rhetoric of military videogames and virtual reality simulators is often aimed at convincing the general public of the efficacy of technological solutions to difficult cultural and political problems abroad rather than toward the stated goal of the software to improve specific coping skills for the battle readiness of individual soldiers. Often the media encourage this enthusiasm by running one-sided stories about the latest gee-whiz technologies for the military with little reflection about the agenda they are pushing.

A recent story in the New York Times, "Simulators Prepare Soldiers for Explosions of War" attempted to provide at least a fig leaf criticism, although no actual detractors are quoted or named in the article.

The effectiveness of the new technology is still being studied. But some critics warn that computer games and virtual reality systems used for training are only as effective as their software, meaning that programs that underestimate the creativity of the enemy may leave even the best-trained troops with a false sense of mastery.

After this brief disclaimer, there is no serious exploration of what some have called the "military-entertainment complex." I may not always agree with people like James Der Derian who don't necessarily reflect the complicated forms of deliberation at work in creating military media and who may also overemphasize the presence of the most simple-minded of boosters to make their point about the economic and political might of military culture.

Of course, the introduction to the RL Leaders website, which represents one of the companies described in the article, is almost a parody of itself with its deep-voiced narrator, cloudscape background, and phonetic parade of corporate inspiration speak words. (See above.) This approach to the IED problem through simulation technologies that it describes is actually not particularly new. For example, I wrote about the multi-player game Ambush! in the Virtualpolitik book. But you can see more about current initiatives here.

To check out how Hollywood some of these projects have become, check out this coverage in Variety.

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