Tag Archives: war

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!

Moral Equivalency of War

11 Jan

We use the term “hero” too much, along with “battle” and “war,” to talk about things that are none of those things. Are we really fighting the good fight?

William James have a speech a hundred years ago at Yale University called “the Moral Equivalency of War,” talking about the idea of using the language of war that gives people the sense that they are feeling as if they are soldiers, so that they see the moral rightness of their position.

After all, it’s one thing to say, “We’re fighting climate change,” it’s far more appealing to say, “We’re fighting to face the Earth!” It feels like a righteous crusade instead of just a cause.

The problem is that it’s been overused. Every election is the most important election of our time. Every issue is a fight against evil. When everything is so damn important, then you start to feel that nothing is important. The reason why every day is not Arbor Day is because if it is, then… Well, it’s just a day.

What I learned when I ran for office (10 years ago, third party, got 8% of the vote) is that everyone has an opinion and everyone has a cause. Just one. You might say you care about everything, but we only have one thing you’re passionate about. There’s only so much “give a damn” in our lives and you have to focus it. If you choose to raise the banner for one issue, there’s a thousand other issues you don’t have time for.

My cynicism is showing, I’ll admit it, because I’ve been burned before. I marched in parades, in political rallies, ran for office, and I can’t even say I believe the same things I protested for anymore. If you’re willing to fight for what you believe in, so you can change the world, go ahead… But accept that it’s going to take a long time and it might take your whole life to accomplish it.

Take the 27th Amendment to the US Constitution, passed in 1991, actually proposed in the Bill of Rights in 1790. A college student thought it was still a good idea (any pay raise that Congress votes itself doesn’t go into effect until the next election), wrote it in a class paper, and got a C. However, that became his cause, and spent the next ten years convincing state legislatures to ratify it. That was his life. He succeeded – but he got lucky.

How long are you willing to fight for your cause? How much time are you willing to spend to change the world? Are you willing to give up your career, a family, and friends just to accomplish it? I guess I’m in awe of those who do, at the same time, understanding what they had to do to achieve it. They fought the good fight, but like any veteran, they bear the scars of what they sacrificed.

Do you have an activist you admire? Would you really want to meet them in real life? Share your person in the comments below!

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