November 16, 2002
Target Market

Paul Virilio is a French philosopher who, if I remember, originally trained as an architect. He became increasingly interested in the architecture of fortification (e.g. Normandy) and from there grew to ponder the nature of fortification -- and war -- itself.

In a recent article by Ed Halter, he notes Virilio's argument that "the histories of warfare, optical sciences, and visual entertainments have long been interconnected through a common goal: the artificial extension of human sight" (emph. added) The extensions -- and the interconnectivity -- are growing in leaps and in bounds, and the distinctions between Hollywood and the Pentagon are not just blurry, they're broken.

Further, you've got .edu covering for .mil out at USC, in the innocuous-sounding Institute for Creative Technologies, which is where state education, the Department of Defense, and Big Hollywood merge and blend. There are very few cues from the website as to just what's going on there, take this for example, the description of their project ALTSIM:

Using rich, character-driven plots, the storyline uses entertainment industry knowledge and expertise to engender realistic emotional connections with the characters and people involved in the training simulation. These in turn allow the developers to focus the experience on unique educational goals that are difficult to address in other simulation environments.

None of which leads you to the fact that the unique educational goals are about keeping cool under enemy fire. To put things in the wide Virilio perspective, keep in mind that John Milius -- of Apocalypse Now, Red Dawn, 1941 &c. -- is one of the key creatives, working to make war increasingly accessible outside the sphere of its consequences. Virilio likens this to "the absurd image of a conversation between two answering machines, and sees this utopian ideal of absolute safety as a rationale for more extreme systems of control."

And in the meantime, America's Army is rated Teen and Grand Theft Auto is rated Mature. And further in the meantime, the concerns that the danger of games like GTA is that gamer-kids learn that their actions have no consequences.

Which is proof that the Army's game is either completely misguided or absolutely on target.

Posted by at November 16, 2002 12:50 AM

Excellent points, especially the irreconcilable rationales behind America's Army and GTA3. Though the hope is that kids are smart enough to know the difference between an entertainment and a recruitment piece, the difference between seeing a boob in National Geographic and a boob in Hustler (or a beaver in either). The Message is the Message (we hope).

Oh, and Walter Kirn has a piece in the NYTimes Magazine about this very same topic.

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