Simulating Wars Prevents Wars

15 Feb

When I was in college, a friend of mine asked an international student where she was from. She said a town name and my friend said, “Oh, yeah–in Turkey, along the Aegean Sea.” Shocked that an American knew her obscure hometown, she asked, “How did you know?” Sheepishly, he admitted, “because I’ve conquered it in a game many times.”

The game was called Empire Deluxe–it was originally developed in 1993, and remains to this day, one of my favorite games of all time. You can play it for free here or you can buy the slightly modernized version that I have here. I personally love turn-based strategy games–Civilization, the Total War series, X-Com–anywhere that I can kick some butt, but where I can think before the Mongol Horde tries to ride me down.

I’m not like most gamers–many games have a challenge that you have overcome. I don’t enjoy those games. I enjoy games where I can build up my little empire, crush some opponents if they get a little touchy, and slowly expand to prominence. It’s that freedom to create… whatever I want to create that I find fascinating.

AND… blow stuff up. Because as Tears for Fears taught us, “Everybody wants to rule the world.” However, Counting Crows also taught us, “We’ve got different reasons for that.” I think it’s a natural inclination of everyone to want to mold reality to fit our choosing. The only problem is that everyone else wants the same thing, and unless you feel like putting yourself at risk, the likelihood of actually fighting in a war, tearing down the old social structures… simply having agency over your own life is rare.

It’s frustrating and it’s easy to feel that “vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” Since I’m quoting song lyrics, I might as add one more, “I want to blow you all away, but I don’t want them put those bullets into anyone.” I don’t actually want Palawan to break away from the Philippine Commonwealth and conquer Mindanao… but it’s terribly entertaining.

So yes, these games become an opiate. After all, the guy who loves Madden 2021 doesn’t have to be frustrated that they never made it past high school junior varsity. They can lead a professional football team to victory without having to take a hit or leave the comfort of their own living room. Frustrated musicians can play Guitar Hero and actually feel that they’re playing before a live audience. I have no evidence, but I’m pretty sure that guitar stores took a serious hit once that game hit the market, since they didn’t have to even pretend to play an actual instrument.

But in the end… is that a bad thing? No. In fact, I’d say that violent video games actually LOWER crime. You get that impulse out of your system, those dark fantasies that we all have, and you’re able to not have to bring them back into the rest of your life. Sure, I’ll never be the captain of a naval ship, or command armies into battle, but trust me… that wasn’t going to happen anyway. But instead of beating myself up for not finishing Army ROTC, I can indulge that part of my mind for a few hours, and not join a militia.

That’s my take on it, but what’s yours? Can video games actually fill those needs we have for agency or are they simply covering up something that will explode later? Let me know in the comments below!

One Response to “Simulating Wars Prevents Wars”

  1. Silk Cords February 15, 2021 at 3:08 pm #

    In a sane world, your analysis would doubtless be valid (albeit not without exceptions).

    I’ve been an avid gamer since Pong. I used to balk at the studies that said violent games promote violence. Not any more. People are far more aggressive than they used to be back in the 80s and 90s. Video games have desensitized people to the impact of violence , and the anonymity of internet gaming has weakened empathy horribly. In some cases, it’s warped the sense of reality too. I’ve heard of a few cases of suspects running from police and trying some stupid move like jumping down 2 or 3 stories and breaking an ankle, then being shocked it didn’t work like in some video game.

    It’s not just video games mind you… Everything from violent and unrealistic movies to ultra-rabid sports fans with too much of their identity tied up in their team factors in

    THAT said, I wouldn’t ban any of it. What’s needed is a return to grounding society in reality. Our parents’ generation used to have shooting clubs in high schools and kids could take guns to school for club practice and competition. The difference is THOSE kids were taught early on that a gun is NOT a toy and can kill if mishandled. Likewise martial artists understand the damage they can do, and know what it feels like to be on the receiving end also. Empathy reinforces self-discipline until true self mastery is deveopled there.

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