Snatching the pixelated pin from a virtual hand-grenade and tossing it to frag a digital enemy may be thrilling for gamers, but isn't close to the real thing. But it is close enough for military involvement in gaming tech.
Over at Foreign Policy, there's a neat retrospective of "militainment"—entertainment or educational games with a military theme. It starts with America's Army, one of the most successful video games ever, which has been played by over nine million folk. But it was developed to assist the U.S. Army in recruiting, a goal in which it was fabulously successful—according to a study in 2008, 30% of all Americans aged 16 to 24 had an improved impression about the Army because of the game. It's still used inside the Army for training.
More chilling is the Saving Sargeant Pabletti, commissioned by the U.S. Army's soldier support unit, and designed as a game-based training system to educate about "equal opportunity and prevention of sexual harassment," according to authors Will Interactive. After the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the Army's required soldiers to tackle the game's challenges on the flight over to Iraq—it's a vehicle for teaching how the Army wants fighters to comport themselves properly in the conflict zone.
In contrast, there's the pure entertainment offered by Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II. Which is also a phenomenally successful cash cow—on its first day alone, it earned some $310 million in sales, blowing the figures reported for pretty much any blockbuster movie right out of the water.
Here's a funny question though: Is ubiquitous war gaming, combined with 24/7/365 coverage of conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, changing how we view the military? American Army may well be credited with boosting Army public opinion, but is it, with later super-realistic war games like it, actually making young people (the military's recruiting targets) re-think what being in the armed forces really means?
For example, another excellent Foreign Policy article notes that NATO is facing challenges to its U.S-pushed move to become more aggressive, as European NATO allies are much less bellicose. Their social stomach for warfighting is fading away...And given that the two World Wars were cradled there, this is a wondrous thing. But Europe is also one of the primary cores of computer game development in the World...are the tens of millions of gamers partly responsible for subverting European's thirst for war into other channels? As a thesis it's an interesting one.