A Real Virtual War . . .

It is Memorial Day in the United States today, but let’s not talk about warriors of the past or present today. Instead, let’s be imaginative, perhaps a bit bizarre, and look at war from a different angle.

Many reading this are video game warriors, regularly fighting and “killing” each other.

Of course, the video game war and real war are quite different, especially the killing part.

But must that always be the case? At some time in the future, could one substitute for the other, to avoid all the all-too-real death and destruction?

Let me be clear on this. I don’t mean making real war like a video game; I mean making real war a video game. If Country A wants a piece of Country B, they go frag each other, and whoever wins, wins.

Some reading this might be reminded of this of this Startrek episode, others might recall Ender’s Game, though this would be different than either.

Could this ever really happen, I don’t mean any time soon, but any time ever?

Well, I think it’s good science fiction, and it will stay that way as long as man stays like man because:

1) Who would ever accept losing? Unlike a video game, such a video war would have real consequences. If Upper Slobbobia fights Lower Slobbobia and conquers it in a video game, will the residents of Lower Slobbobia say, “OK, you won, we’re all yours.” No matter what pledges or oaths were made beforehand, people would have second thoughts in seconds after they lost. At very, very best, they’d want to a do-over, real soon. More likely, the end of the game would just mean the start of real fighting as the losers would try to stop the winners from gathering the fruits of victory.

Even assuming a conquered place accepted being conquered, would that mean forever? That’s not true even in real war, it often has a “Try again” button, too, though the next fight usually doesn’t come for years or decades.

Think losers would wait that long?

2) Who sets the rules? The obvious answer to the first question is “the involved parties,” but would they ever agree to a set of rules?

Just to give one example, let’s say the United States decided to fight Ireland. How do you decide who gets how many boys and toys in the fight? If it’s determined by a gross standard like national population or GNP, bye-bye Ireland. On the other hand, if the game is set to be even, Ireland might decide to develop an utterly crack clan, and might conquer half the world before others could catch up.

OK, you might find Ireland silly. How about Ireland Al-Queda? You might think Osama and Company wouldn’t make a very good clan, but what would be easier, getting good at fragging, or outfighting the Western world?

3) It takes two to tango What if one side doesn’t want to fight? How do you make them? I suppose you could declare that the country that didn’t show up forfeited the game and whatever the aggressor wanted, but again, that would just be the signal for the real fighting.

4) You think people cheat at video games now? Who decides if cheating has occurred, and how do they enforce their decision?

5) The easier it is, the more you want to do it The destruction that comes with war is itself a deterrent. Some might argue that the United States is more willing to go to war because within living memory, widescale destruction is something that happens elsewhere to somebody else. If there’s something to that argument, a video war would make that applicable to all.

A video game war wouldn’t wreak destruction, but one consequence of that is that losers wouldn’t feel beaten. When you get pulverized, you’re a lot more likely to give up than when you haven’t been hurt at all, and it certainly would take a lot less time to “recover” from a video war than a real one. Unless, of course, the virtual war stopped being virtual.

6) Where Does The Buck Stop? We’ve hinted at this before, but real war creates a reality. If I kill you in a war, or blow up your house or city, no argument or claim of cheating, no matter how just, is going to bring you or it back. You can rebuild the material things, but you can’t turn back time.

That’s not the case in a virtual war. It’s like a Dungeons-and-Dragons type game, you need a Dungeon Master to enforce the rules and make decisions.

A Dungeon Master can do this because there’s nothing really at stake in a Dungeons-and-Dragons game. Nobody sane is going to react to losing by arming himself and start shooting at the winners and/or the Dungeon Master, but in a real war-substitute, that’s very likely to happen.

I’ll give another example. Both Mexico and the United States play soccer, play each other fairly frequently. Now imagine Mexico and the U.S. play a match, and this time, the stakes are the northern half of Mexico versus the formerly Mexican U.S. Southwest?

(I bet that would get even U.S.ers to watch soccer.:))

Now suppose Mexico wins. Just who is going to make the U.S. give up Texas and California and all inbetween the two if they don’t want to?


War is war, and games are games, and the two will never meet, because one is real, and the other isn’t.

This is not to say computer simulations of war can’t be a good means to prepare for the real thing, but that’s all they can be because unless there are real consequences to one’s actions when there is land and lives and people’s mind at stake, it’s just a game.

And games aren’t meant to be serious.


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