War Games Blitz the Homefront: Halo 4, Call of Duty Livestream

Nov. 12, 2012 There’s irony noting many who’ve never served in the armed forces are in a firestorm of shoot ‘em ups with newly hyped titles lobbed into the media mix like grenades bombarding the homefront this Veteran’s Day.

Halo 4’s empty end cap display at Target shows a few remaining remnants with Mountain Dew cases supporting the cardboard promotion, picked over like a soldier’s care package from home at mail call…Microsoft’s enticing kids to blast away the hours in a month long time sink: “Play 140 or more hours and get 600 points” in the Halo 4 Combat Tourwhile American Express is touting “automatic real-time rewards” using their new ‘Card Sync Technology.’ (gee, and all this time I thought Thanksgiving, fall, and family were November’s focal point; along with a low key, pensive salute on Veteran’s Day…Silly me!)

Nov. 13, the day AFTER Veteran’s Day, we’ll be strafed by sales hype from the COD fest, as Call of Duty: Black Ops II hits the market with new livestream gameplay shared on YouTube directly from Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 game consoles. I agree with the wry tweet that came across my transom this morning:

“Wait, how is 99% of America ‘poor’ if 50% of America is currently standing in line to spend $59.99 on ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops II’?” Ahem. Exactly. Thank you sir…

Parents who KNOW underage youth are playing COD with fervor need to understand the livestream access issue.

True, the Entertainment Software Assoc says the average age of avid gamers is in the age 30 bracket, (16pp pdf of gaming stats here) but I asked ‘tweens/teens’ what was the big ‘draw’ and they knew all about it, citing the removal of barriers/logistics (special hardware gear) to share sessions in real time and watch other MMORPG players (complete with color commentary)…

Again, let’s review…Zombies. Gore. Destruction.

An ESRB rating of “M” stands for Mature —(Blood and Gore, Intense Violence Strong Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Drugs) not “M”iddle school.

One boy I spoke with hadn’t even hit double-digits in age yet…so heads up, parents.

To me, the simple translation for parents with younger kids (especially those with pals who have older siblings) is basically, “you’re hosed once again if you think hardware is your stop point for having any form of parental controls using a ‘don’t buy it approach’ to age appropriateness…the NIMBY factor is now fluid in its access point, beyond ‘playing it at a friend’s house.’

Makers of COD2 know this, and the Activision press release touts this seamless integration as an elevation of the level of competition akin to a large en masse “eSporting event.” Regardless of age guideline violations, there’s always access and free agency…

We ALL need to strap on critical thinking caps with ANY headset, to instill ‘perception vs reality’ life skills as this mega-billion dollar violent videogame industry is taking “realism” to new levels beyond ‘militainment’…

Parents need to consider the age and developmental triggers and arm their kids with media literacy flak jackets to make sure ‘friendly fire’ doesn’t blow up their world with unexpected sidewinders.

“Control the controllables,” a coach said recently, and this applies to media as well.

As one who has been blitzed with military offers for a college-bound athlete (even though she checked the box ‘no’ for recruitment materials) one has to ponder…are war games becoming hero/savior-style immersive recruitment vehicles for the military?

Or conversely, could these games be having the direct opposite effect, avoiding recruitment as they did with the younger kids we interviewed?

And what about the ongoing research updates vying for mindshare about the impact of video games and violence overall? (Highly recommend The War Play Dilemma as an early childhood education resource)

To begin to get a full sphere of understanding: NPR has a solid piece pointing to the polarity and contradictory nature of research findings in “It’s a Duel: How Do Violent Video Games Affect Kids?”

Though the AAP has firmly sounded off on playing with violence, and established studies point to the long term impact of violent video games on  aggression there are other new pertinent research questions surfacing too…

…From acceleration of pain tolerance, to therapeutic roles in treatment of PTSD and the merits of collaborative play vs solo play mitigating some of the damage from previous studies, there are slivers of positivity amidst a generally dark and brutal battleground.

Then of course there are studies debunking the “violence begets violence” studies altogether, and op-eds addressing In Defense of Offense: Why We Gamers Shoot to add even more mindfulness and an attempt at yielding balance and understanding.

With so many ‘active combat’ scenarios right now, public health researchers are fascinated by the power of immersive games to ‘undo’ brain behaviors as well,  exploring aspects of new “prolonged exposure” mobile apps to diffuse trauma, and other games to relieve angst and anger as cited in this Virtual Healing/Iraq research…particularly among young soldiers with PTSD returning from duty.

As for fresh innovations and media disruptors…

One of the most fascinating pop culture twists on the topic was the infiltration of culture jammers using gaming immersion to “fight fire with fire” texting REAL soldiers’ names in the death counts of a game’s text messaging system as Joseph DeLappe’s project “Dead in Iraq” accomplished…

…Likewise, peace activist gamers used ‘virtual spray paint’ to cover the game space with anti-war protests altering the flow of game play and shifting content dynamics like the ‘Velvet-Strike’ project where Anne-Marie Schleiner cooked up ‘intervention recipes’ like standing together in the shape of a heart to let other players shoot at them as part of the Counter-Strike game. Fascinating. Reminds me of some ‘Second Life’ antics of yesteryear…

Find out more about gaming media literacy via the films and study guides at Media Education Foundation, such as Returning Fire by Roger Stahl who also produced Militainment Inc. and gender/character analysis in films like Game Over, among others…

It’s must see media for anyone who has children or knows of avid gamers in this sphere. I hope they directly tackle some of the NEW questions arising on gender amidst violent video gaming with realism in combat conditions too, given the military’s own truths about rape and sexual assault brought to the surface with media like The Invisible War.

Meanwhile, things are purportedly changing…

How many know the Halo 4 team developers are women?

Yep. And plenty of players are too. I had a glimmer of hope seeing the recent gauntlet tossed for a permaban on sexist slurs, racial slams, and rape threats “in-game” according to a GameSpot blurb quoting Halo 4 executive producer Kiki Wolfkill and 343 Industries head Bonnie Ross, who said they “have a responsibility to tamp down or eliminate sexism in the industry” BUT it was quickly watered down and negated back to status quo/lack of enforceability in this post on GamePolitics) Alas, one of my big concerns with younger kids tossing the ratings guide out the window is that we don’t have research on the impact (short or long term) in a media superstorm impacting adolescents. Example?

What happens when important conversations are reframed with under-aged, under-studied demographics?

I’m not talking about women, I’m talking about girls.

I know the stats and stereotypes about young females comprising a serious contingent of keister-kickers playing with equal fervor, but most females also know, it takes a certain scrappy sort to pushback against some of the abusive absurdity females are exposed to in these multiplayer games, as this Slate article call to ‘mute the trolls’ gives a glimpse of a few of the problems cited in “What’s It Like for A Girl Gamer?”

Now dial down the demographic to vulnerable teens and tweens and ponder…

Will desensitization to sensory stimulation within a game impact ‘real life’ scenarios relating to violence against women? Will younger girls breaking barriers within immersive game play grow up acknowledging sexism as ‘just part of the game’ or will they inspire change earlier and flip the script to end the bias?

How many tween/teen girl gamers are currently being exposed to a level of raw, intense verbal and psychological battery inside action-based plotlines and how is it being processed? Is there ‘social norming’ of expected harassment for example, with attitudinal tolerance of a certain level of debased language, socioemotional behaviors, visuals, and sexism that continues to rage unchecked throughout MMORPG arenas?

If so, that’s an added level that kids developmentally shouldn’t have to be exposed to much less try to navigate, as it knocks down the humanity bar to a new limbo low. Other questions involve the underage users and addictive brain behavioral triggers…How are marketers enticing kids into longer sessions with, deeper engagement, at earlier ages…AND…as long as we’re talking militainment realism…

Just how real is real when blurred boundaries of active duty Navy SEALS bump up against gameplay?

“Realism” may be the hard target for video game success, but when does a gaming consulting gaffe cross the line into intelligence breach? What about real life SEALS cast in movie roles like An Act of Valor further blurring the lines in militainment? Or active duty SEALS now paying the price for consulting on videogames without permission?

As CNN reported last week, seven of the real life active duty members of SEAL Team 6 have been given a hefty pay slap and essentially a career-ending boot for TMI. They simply gave up “too much information” to videogame maker Electronic Arts while consulting on “Medal of Honor: Warfighter.” These are disturbingly surreal questions…

When does commodification of warfare compromise REAL life soldiers in harm’s way?

The whole secret operations security breach put me in whiplash-inducing ‘whaaaaaat were they thinking’ mode, wondering if even the military is now just a ‘coinage and consumption’ click away from a sellout to commercialism.

For context, I was RAISED in a family of ‘classified’ information with my own dad being a Naval Intelligence Officer, and I KNOW how seriously the military takes ‘duty and honor’ inclusive of children (aka ‘dependents’).

The very thought of ANY level of security oopsie is immensely discordant, because it either smacks of a SEAL ‘deal’ (e.g. monetizing military duty for commercial gain, book deals, talk show circuits, videogames/movie-mediaconsultants  and such)…

…OR gaming/corporate spinmeisters amping up the ‘realism’ of having the original team onboard and inadvertently duping the SEAL team into a sloppy ‘reveal’ of secret operations, in the name of gameplay reality…neither of which most veterans would condone.

Maybe it’s just me, but as a military brat who was taught early and often that war is ‘no game’ it seems way past time to look into the increasingly coveted ‘realism’ permeating the sphere, salute the veterans and their families (who in my view are the only ones who really are entitled to a day off) and begin to understand the rest of it for what it is and what it isn’t.

Call it ‘commodified warfare,’ militainment, or combat for coinage, those of us in the media trenches doing analysis on research and fallout, are all wondering how all this realism ‘transmits’…and to whom.

Here’s a snippet of kids we interviewed just to get a feel for ‘on the street’ gamers and their reaction to the war games additions permeating the marketplace…

Our high school intern Eve asked some of her freshman class in California this past spring, and also recorded some ‘tween’ middle school gamers during the local Memorial Day parade saluting fallen soldiers. Meanwhile, teen filmmaker Joey S. offers us this video clip of his peers giving me a candid caveat, “I want you to keep in mind though, I do live in Canada. Most of the teen boys and girls here don’t dream of becoming the next GI Joe or Captain America because the media/education system here in Canada is actually quite anti-military. I don’t know if the interviews will come out the way you expect them to!”

I have no expectations with any raw youth street team footage…I just like to get youth perspectives in sort of a Leno-‘Jaywalking’ style of realism to guide me with my own touchpoints of what the media SAYS is happening versus what is REALLY happening with war games, kids, research, academics and game play.

Please comment with your own storytelling and help share some of the key critical thinking questions YOU think we should all be asking as parents and educators in this sphere. Veterans? Could you please comment from your uniquely qualified perspective?

Not today of course, this is your service day OFF. As for the rest of the general public…How will you be spending Veteran’s Day? Camping out for COD tomorrow, or honoring service personnel today? Or both? I’m curious.

Intern video courtesy of Joey S., posing questions to peers in Canada

Youth/Gamer Q&A on Combat Style Violence in Video Games

Student Ethnicity/demographics: all 9th grade/freshman at local AHS, San Mateo (except the two older youth A6 and A7 race/gender code at end; had several ‘tween’ videos too but am struggling with the uploads will keep trying!)

Q: What do you play most? A1: Halo A2: Call of Duty A3: MW2 (Modern Warfare2) A4: Call of Duty (COD) A5: Black Ops A6: Battlefield and COD A7: COD

Q: Do you think combat is really like that? A1: No, in combat people actually die. This is not a game for 6 year olds like my brother who I play with. A2: No A3: No, it’s much more fast-paced. A4: No, real combat is more deadly. A5: No. It’s not real. A6: Combat is not the same. They can replicate wars and equipment,but they glorify the war. They make it cool and fun, but there is nothing fun about wars and killing. A7: Yes and No. Yes because some situations are similar, but some are made up and unrealistic.

Q: Do you play solo or Multiplayer? A1: Multiplayer A2: Multiplayer A3: Multiplayer headset A4: Zombies and Multiplayer A5: Multiplayer A6: Both A7: Solo

Q: Does the game change the way you look at the world, e.g. do you play the hero?  A1: No, I’m usually the enemy A2: No; I play without heroes and villains it’s just teams A3: No. A4: No, it’s just a game. A5: No, there is no hero in the game A6: No, and it doesn’t change the way I look at the world at all; I understand the difference between games and reality. I’m disappointed when people can’t distinguish games and reality A7: No

Q: What do you feel like when you make a kill? Do you ever feel remorse or disturbed? On a scale of 1-10? A1: Accomplished. Yes a little, maybe a 2. A2: Depends on whose winning [because of that kill] Yes, maybe a 6. A3: Rewarding. Never, no, it’s just for fun! A4: Great! Yes, a 7. A5: Accomplished. And no, I shoot them in the face! A6: I don’t feel bad when I kill in the game because I know it’s a game. Also there is no punishment in the game because you’re on the good side; remorse depends on the game. In war games that represent modern conflicts definitely; there are intense missions and they do a good job of showing the pain of war. A7: I don’t really feel anything…I guess nothing. Remorse? Sometimes, maybe a 6.

Q: Would you ever consider being in the military? A1: No, I’m too afraid to die. A2: No, I’m too lazy to get “thick” [work out] A3: No, I could get killed! A4: No, and as a girl, I’m actually weak A5: No, I don’t wanna die! A6: I wouldn’t want to be a solider in action, but maybe like a transport pilot or post guard. A7: Already am in the military; first year in Masters (age 21)

Q: Do you have any veterans in your family? Have you ever lost someone close to you from violence? A1: My grandpa, and no. A2: My grandpa, no. A3: No/No. A4: Grandpa/no. A5: No/No. A6: My grandfather is a veteran for the Chinese Air Force, no. A7: No veterans. And yeah I lost a friend in the military.

Respondent Demographics/Code A1: Age 14, white, female A2: Age 15, SEAsia/India, male A3: Age 14, Asian, male A4: Age 15, Asian female, A5: Age 15, Nicaraguan, male A6: Age 18, Asian, male, college freshman A7: Age 21, Hispanic, male, active duty military

Related Reading: A Veteran’s Day Resource Roundup: by Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth

Veteran’s Day/Girls Inc: Kids Speak About Military Family Life

The War Play Dilemma (& Online Gaming Stats)

Shouldn’t Veterans Day Be Only For Veterans?

Virtual Healing: War Torn Teens Face Reality Post Iraq Duty

MyVetwork: Connecting the Digital Dots (for veterans globally!)

Veterans Day/Memorial Day Are Not Mattress Sales

Narada Michael Walden: Grammy Winner Uses Music to Uplift the Heart

Women & the Military: MyVetwork for Service/Support

Celebrity Starpower to Benefit Urban Battlefields

Resources on War/Peace/Play & Educators on Tough Subjects

New! Kidlutions Rscs: Supporting Infants/Toddlers Deployment

The War Play Dilemma: What Every Parent & Teacher Needs to Know by Diane Levin, Nancy Carlsson-Paige

War and superhero play: 5 pp pdf: “Meeting children’s needs in violent times” (Lion & Lamb.org)

Reach and Teach: Peace/social justice: games, books, activities

TRUCETeachers.org

Marketing and Media Violence: CCFC Fact Sheet

Looking at The War Through A Media Lens (Media Literacy Clearinghouse)

Talking With Kids About Tough Subjects

Counter-Balance: Video Games/Virtual World Research for Therapeutic Use

Virtual Reality Treatments for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Cornell University: Program for Anxiety & Trauma Stress Studies

Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy: WTC Report (7 pp. pdf)

Interactive Media Institute, San Diego, Virtual Healing, Designing Reality Paper

Center for Really Neat Research (seriously! ck medicine meets VR for kids with disabilities)

RezEd: The Hub for Learning & Virtual Worlds

Visual Credits: Call of Duty Black Ops II site; Media Education Foundation jacket covers, Female soldier screenshot from Gears of War 

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