Ben Eaton, a digital artist, and Kevin Macnish, from the University of Leeds, are exploring the ethics of contemporary warfare using game platforms.

osama bin laden FPS

A quick one – a bit about my project with Kevin but also how his work intersects with my interests as a digital artist, and one who sometimes makes but often plays games.

I am fascinated about the fact that we are a country at war, a war far away seen on TVs but rarely felt in a tactile way. But I am fascinated about where the leakages appear between our pre-existing narratives of conflict and the impact of these leaks into our daily lives – where our government is still sending young men and women to fight 3500 miles away.

All of this is not because I want to express my political judgement on the conflict itself or the act of war-a long conversation for another time – but rather on the social nature of this conflict and how we as civilians participate and interact with its narratives, how it disappears into the background and suddenly rears its head again.

These things happen

News of the death of soldiers gradually filters away from the frontpage, and you rarely see the coffins being loaded off planes anymore.

The death of a friend of a friend who they went to school with or a friend’s friend’s sister’s boyfriend means pictures of young men in desert gear on operation with sad epitaphs underneath briefly puncture my timeline.

An American paralympic team with athletes wearing a quasi-military uniforms, perhaps an indication of the provenance of so many of the young amputees, but little coverage on TV networks.

Some good television but no great films have been made about the current war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but perhaps some great games will be.

A developer trying to make a game about the battle for Fallujah was criticized for their choice of subject matter, they cited the soldiers they were interviewing and who were acting as consultants who said (I paraphrase) “We want to tell our story and this is our medium – how else would we tell it”

Modern Warfare 3 made $775million in 5 days.

First Person Shooters (FPS)  – where you play from a first person perspective often down the barrel of a gun are one of the main gaming genre’s and are trailed like movies. They are increasingly trying to trade on either an uncanny resemblance to what’s happening over there or provide a vicarious experience – depending on how you see it.

Sometimes they try and have a point. Often this is terrible.

There is an uncomfortable synergy between FPS games – or the ‘manshooter’ the excessively macho clichee and politically myopic games of contemporary warfare – and the military. The Army posting recruitment adverts on the front page of computer game magazines or at trade fairs – or the British army creating an advert designed to mimic the point of view (PoV) of some of the most famous gaming franchises.

A recent release that lets you buy real world weapons branded with the game’s logo – a new brand of camo , a new gun stock or a tomahawk.

Trite over-sentimentalism and oversimplification that shows neither the armed forces or the games industry in a particularly good or intelligent light.

But these games are fun (some are fun, some are terrible), they sell big, they are engaging and they have a reach almost equivalent to that of mainstream media and cinema.

These games are texts- artifacts of a conflict and potentially a distanced way for us to participate in these conflicts – most don’t do it well, but also most deserve more in-depth thought than presented here.

But as an artist I am interested in how we can use games as platforms that can create a way to read, understand and document conflict. At the risk of over-simplifying perhaps video games will create the War on Terror’s – Apocalypse Now, or Full Metal Jacket.

There is a further element to this which is where Kevin and my collaboration comes in.

As conflict crosses increasingly over into the realm of the digital the relationship between these systems and our participation in the act of warfare becomes more blurred – our project sits here –

“Flying drones is like playing a computer game”. It’s not but it is an easy way to write off both computer games and a wider conversation about the fact that way we fight – especially where the West’s technological and financial superiority means there are systems and platforms being rolled out on battlefields that are forever changing the way we fight, for their operators, their victims and for the rest of us.

We are making a game, “modding” a pre-existing platform a brilliantly complicated and fiddly military sim called Arma 2. How can we use the platform to let us play out and explore these ethical questions?