Military recruiting videos create misconceptions about real war, research suggests
Contact: Rene Abadie
HAMMOND – War-based video games create misleading conceptions of real war scenarios and conditions for military recruits, a research study conducted by a Southeastern Louisiana University graduate student suggests.
Ann O’Connor, a graduate student in the university’s Organization Communication program, said video games used by the military to attract young recruits are designed to show a “slice of military life.”
“But enlistees are finding a different setting wherein new training strategies are teaching soldiers restraint and not impulse shooting,” O’Connor said.
Her research – which included a critical analysis of over 20 psychology, communication and military journals as well as content analysis of military gaming sites – suggests that using violent video games to attract new recruits is engraining behaviors that are not engendered in typical military training, but instead are more aggressive, impulsive and free of consequences. The study was sponsored by a Marine Corps University Fellowship.
“There seems to be contradicting messages in the recruiting video games and actual military service protocol. This excessive exposure to violent gaming may pre-condition new recruits in a manner that is counterproductive to the organization’s mission,” said O’Connor, who lived and worked in the Middle East for more than 10 years. She frequently shares her insight into the Middle East culture with groups of soldiers bound for deployment.
O’Connor’s study included an analysis of military recruitment tactics over the years, ranging from initial advertising efforts in the mid-1980s by the U.S. Army that focused on reasons for joining such as self-improvement, funds for college and service to country to the use of video arcades in 2008 in urban recruitment centers. The multi-million dollar centers offer teens free access to unique full-scale simulators in helicopters and armed Humvees. The centers garnered significant criticism in the news media for distorting reality and in some cases glamorizing conflict.
“The reality is that video gaming is a big selling tool to young adults,” she said. “But there is a preponderance of evidence suggesting there is a long-term cognitive bias toward aggressive behavior in individuals who routinely play violent video games.
“Enlistees recruited from video gaming centers and deployed to combat situations may have difficulty defining what proper military protocols to utilize during situations where soldiers are required to interact with non-combatant nationals,” she added.
O’Connor said the military is starting to come to terms with this conflict by recognizing that modern day warfare and culture can come to a middle ground, where once complex cultural problems were perceived as aggressive actions. The Army is now employing video simulation games designed to teach communication skills that help soldiers develop relationships with tribal leaders. The cultural element, she said, is being recognized as an equal to the military element.
O’Connor expects that more improved gaming strategies will be developed to include social interaction as a key component to success in missions, and the ability to choose “win-win” outcomes can be added to more accurately portray the average soldier’s role.