Silvio Laccetti: Global impact seen invirtual war gamesPublished Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 1:00 am / Updated at 5:51 pmBy Silvio LaccettiThe writer, of Hoboken, N.J., is a columnist and a longtime professor of social sciences.War clouds hover low and dark over every American town, and spread their pall acrossmountains, oceans and deserts around the planet. Such is the ubiquity of the wars fought by theBoys (mostly) of Virtual Reality, commanding video-game consoles. When 14-year-olds wagecyberwars, what can we all learn from their experiences?Fourteen is perhaps the most explosive age for boys, whose developmental growth of erraticspasms and hormonal detonations mimics the kinds of chaotic, even irrational, forces that blendtogether in combat soldiers. According to the greatest modern theoretician of warfare, Carl vonClausewitz (1780-1831), in order to transform ordinary men into killers, tremendous deep-seatedpsychic explosions must be engendered in soldiers.What is happening to immature 14-year-old warriors as they reel and rampage through theircyberwar games?To find out, I recently observed a group of suburban New Jersey 14-year-olds and their friends atwar, some being members of my extended family. Who are these boys of virtual reality? Theycompose a cyberclan of 14 members, hoping to expand their online membership. Their clichédscreen names obscure the amazing cultural diversity of this group of web-warriors.In their clan, I found black and white, Asian and Hispanic, Arab and Jew, Christian and Muslim— a global unit of multi-ethnic and multicultural players. The clan mirrored the inclusiveness,and perhaps the tolerance, found in their middle school. Significantly, though, there are no girlsin this clan.With parental permission, they play martial games like Call of Duty, Bulletstorm, Dead Spaceand Medal of Honor. They can play singly, versus each other or in a free-for-all. And, viabroadband connections, they play with individuals and teams from all around the world.
I observed team warfare, three teams of two versus the game, each team networked in separatebut adjoining rooms. In the hallway, I could hear all the chaos of battle, the sounds of the psychicexplosions given voice in shouts, moans and curses, climaxing as players were eliminated fromthe game.I could easily visualize Clausewitz’s concept of the fog of war and the attendant friction causingplans to go awry — especially when players confronted their game for the first time.These simulations of combat are very graphic. A veterans group, Strong America, has issued analert to vets that post-traumatic stress may be triggered by playing these games. Indeed, anumber of the 14-year-olds reported heightened fear and anxiety during and after their mockcombat experiences.There is great relevance in all of this to today’s troubled scene. Many theorists of 21st-centurywarfare now see war not as a battle between opposing armies but as an asymmetrical conflict ofa weak force against a powerful adversary, as with insurgencies, guerrilla warfare or terrorism.Others see future wars as struggles between civilizations, like Western liberalism versus Islamicfundamentalism.Clearly, the war games of virtual reality can provide early training for future combatants,prefiguring the psychic explosions within future soldiers.However, despite their training for warfare, the Boys of Virtual Reality offer real hope for an endto war in the later 21st century. The diverse teams united in their clans may find there is no linein the sand between Us and Them, a distinction hugely critical to modern war of whatevercaliber.In asymmetric or civilizational conflict, the all-inclusive group would be partially — or fully —engaging people just like themselves. Hence, it may be much more difficult to set off the psychicexplosions necessary in virtual reality to get the killing under way.Warfare springs from difference. We have seen in Tunisia and Egypt that the military won’t fireon “the people” when there is no sense of “Us versus Them.” In 1989 in China, the people weredefeated by troops from outlying regions of the country, troops who would fire. Next time, and itwill be soon, China won’t be able to reach out far enough to find forces willing to undo popularuprisings.The Jersey clan’s global expansion might soon meet itself in various places around the world.Patrick A. Berzinski, a New York City communications specialist, sees a hopeful scenario inrecent events: “In an age when social media embolden masses of citizens to rise up against thegun barrels of entrenched, brutal regimes,” he said, “it is conceivable that peer-to-peercommunication will become the most powerful means in history to forging a common humanidentity — defying all forms of statist indoctrination.”In the clouds of virtual war may shine a silver lining, whose light may in fact nourish unity,community and a common human identity in nations everywhere.