In war, blurring the lines between video game and real life

It is common in video games to be able to play both sides, usually as a member of some sort of good vs. bad team. Where this might become problematic is in battle zones:

Military bases across the U.S. have banned the sale of a new video game that lets a player pretend to be a Taliban fighter and “shoot” U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

“Medal of Honor” by Electronic Arts, a major game developer based in Redwood City, Calif., hits stores Oct. 12. Gamers are scoffing at the decision, saying that advanced technology has made it commonplace in the gaming world to let players switch sides and play the bad guy.

After public protests, including by British Defense Secretary Liam Fox, U.S. military officials decided not to stock the game in any of the nearly 300 base exchange shops.

The game also won’t be sold at any of the 49 GameStop stores located on various military bases. Troops will be allowed to own copies, but they would have to buy them off-base.

While shooting Nazis may be acceptable, this situation is not palatable to the US military.

Note: although the game hasn’t yet hit the stores, might we saw protests in the broader American culture over the ability to play as the Taliban?

Another note: there are 49 GameStop stores on military bases? Do they do better business than typical GameStop locations?

Blood gadgets

Many consumers don’t ask, and presumably often don’t care, how their newly purchased products came to be. Certain products have drawn attention, such as “blood diamonds” (accompanied by a preachy Hollywood film by the same name) or Nike shoes made by sweatshop laborers.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof draws attention to another set of consumer goods: high-tech gadgets including cell phones. These devices often include hard to obtain minerals, such as tantalum which is found in Congo. There are some activists who are planning to bring attention to this by taking their argument to tech companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Intel:

A humorous new video taunting Apple and PC computers alike goes online this weekend on YouTube, with hopes that it will go viral. Put together by a group of Hollywood actors, it’s a spoof on the famous “I’m a Mac”/”I’m a PC” ad and suggests that both are sometimes built from conflict minerals.

“Guess we have some things in common after all,” Mac admits.

Stay tuned. A strong-enough consumer/activist push will likely lead to these companies pledging to use responsible materials.

Also: one wonders how this decades-long situation in mineral-rich Congo might inform decision-making regarding recent finds of vast amounts of valuable minerals in Afghanistan.

Stories for Afghanistan

Wired writes of a new Department of Defense program to develop “interactive stories” to find common ground with Afghan residents.

The “Negotiate Across Cultures” project will kick off with a two-day workshop… “participants will use a ‘Wizard of Oz’ approach to illustrate how each approach, if implemented, would operate on selected negotiation problems within specific socio-cultural environments. In the ‘Wizard of Oz’ approach, one or two human representatives of each participant team will listen to a problem description and manually act out the operation and structure of the tool using props they bring to the event.”

Using stories in this way is not uncommon. In recent decades, governments, activists, and social scientists have successfully used media, such as radio and television shows, to teach certain messages in areas like public health.