Saturday, November 17, 2007
When Hezbollah released the second version of its video game "Special Force" in August, it demonstrated, yet again, how quickly terrorist groups have taken advantage of technology in order to propagate their worldview. While America dominates the fastgrowing multi-billion dollar video game industry, there has not yet been an effort to develop video games that counter Islamist extremism.
"Special Force 2" updates the 2002 video game with scenarios based on last summer's war between Israel and Hezbollah: players kidnap Israeli soldiers, fire missiles at an Israeli gunboat, and launch Katyusha rockets into Israel. When the game was released a Hezbollah press official, Sheikh Ali Dahir, described it as a recruiting tool stating, "The Lebanese child has the right to know what happened in the south so as to imitate the jihadist action and the act of liberating the land."
Mr. Dahir also showed Hezbollah's sophisticated understanding of communications when he described "Special Force" as "an alternative to the Western patterns that are presented to us in names, language, and tones that are sometimes devoid of content and at other times for not so innocent aims."
Hezbollah is not the only organization using video games as a strategic communications tool. There is a growing movement to develop video games to educate the public on various issues. The U.S. military has long used electronic simulations for training. In 2005, the Army released an online game, "America's Army," as a recruiting tool. But this understanding of the power of video games has not penetrated American efforts to reach out to moderate Muslims.
True, Hezbollah's game designers have the easier task. Hezbollah's anti-Israel message resonates throughout the greater Middle East and last summer's war provides a ready-made narrative. Games that are blatantly pro-American will only come off as ham-handed propaganda.
The point of waging a war of ideas is not to make America more popular. It is to foster attitudes and ideas that marginalize extremists. Increasingly sophisticated and supporting complex narratives, video games could be an ideal platform for the subtle transmission of values and an essential component in the war of ideas.
The best propaganda doesn't look like propaganda, and for video games to be successful they must be fun. Fun is a worthwhile value in and of itself, particularly for people caught in the midst of terrible circumstances, but it can also be a tactical asset.
In particular, video games could be a crucial tool for reaching young men, the same demographic targeted for recruitment by terrorists.
The possibilities for video games targeted at Muslims throughout the world that marginalize extremist ideologies are limitless. Shoot-em-up games that give players the chance to rescue their countrymen from bloodthirsty terrorists could reinforce the message that Muslims themselves are the primary victims of Islamic extremists.
Other values can be fostered in more complex games modeled on popular strategy games like "Civilization." These games can help introduce players to the workings of open political systems and modern economies, and even make the subtle case for the education of women. Different games could be developed for different regions. A soccer game based on the venerated Iraqi national soccer team could help foster national consciousness among Iraqis, whereas a different game could be designed for cricket-mad Pakistan. Battery powered handheld games could be developed for areas where computers are scarce or electricity is inconsistent.
Video games can be funny as well. Popular sitcoms like "The Simpsons" have inspired video game spin-offs.
Guest text: Aaron Mannes, NY Sun, proyecto de researchers de Maryland para infiltrar videojuegos entre jugadores musulmanes que los inspiren a oponerse a los grupos terroristas. Mi parte favorita es la mención a "popular strategy games" like Civilization.
En cuanto a la ilustraciones de Vogue Italia "State of Emergency" by Steven Meisel, no me decido entre Hillary de rodillas o Hillary con su cabellera en cascada, o la flaca rubia que mira a cámara.