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Questioning War Games

The release of a Hezbollah-sponsored video game raises disturbing issues.
August 17, 2007

The Hezbollah-sponsored video game Special Force 2 is designed to make players–specifically children–relive last year’s 34-day war between the guerrilla group and Israel. I find the game’s clear rhetorical purpose disturbing: players get points for shooting Israeli soldiers, and Hezbollah media officials have talked about the practical resistance skills the game teaches. In thinking about the game, I’ve started wondering about two things.

First: Why am I not bothered by violent war games in general, in which the armies consist of nondescript future races? Granted, these types of games don’t play off longstanding and tragic hatreds between existing racial groups. Still, should I be concerned about what they teach? Ian Bogost, author of Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Video Games, says that games use a kind of procedural rhetoric: players absorb a game’s message by learning its rules. Hezbollah seems to want to inspire future guerrilla soldiers with its game. What do war games inspire when they are designed for “entertainment”?

Second: What other games exist with similarly disturbing rhetorical purposes? I’m sure I find Special Force 2 particularly horrifying because I’m related to Israelis. On the other hand, how different is this from something like Line of Sight Vietnam, in which players “locate elusive enemy soldiers and pick them off one by one”?

I haven’t made up my mind on either of these issues, and I welcome any comments. I’ll try to check in and respond.

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