Making a Game of Killing


John Scales Avery – TRANSCEND Media Service

The mass media are an important part of our educational system. Perhaps it is time to look more closely at the values that they are transmitting. In particular, we should perhaps look at computer games designed for young boys. They often give the strongest imaginable support to a culture of violence.

For example, a game entitled “Full Spectrum Warrior” was recently reviewed in a Danish newspaper. According to the reviewer, “…An almost perfect combination of graphics, sound, band design, and gameplay makes it seem exactly like the film Black Hawk Down – with the player as the main character. This is not just a coincidence, because the game is based on an army training program… Full Spectrum Warrior is an extremely intense experience, and despite the advanced possibilities, the controls are simple enough so that young children can play it… The player is completely drawn into the screen, and remains there until the end of the mission.” The reviewer gave the game six stars (the maximum).

Another genre of computer games has to do with building empires, ignoring the fact that imperialism is morally indefensible. For example, “Forge of Empires” is a browser-based strategy game. It is described as follows: “The game offers a single-player campaign for players to explore and conquer several provinces, gaining resources and new technology as they progress.” Conquering countries for the sake of gaining their resources is an all-too-familiar feature of the modern world. In the game “Forge of Empires”, our young people are indoctrinated with the ethos of resource wars.

During his trial, the Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik described how he trained for his attack on young people on the Island of Utøya using the computer game “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare”. The court also heard how he took what he called a “sabatical” for a year between the summers of 2006 and 2007. During this year, he played a game called “World of Warcraft” full- time, in the bedroom of his mother’s Oslo flat, spending up to 16 hours a day using the game to distance himself from the human and moral significance of killing.

Is this not similar to the frame of mind of drone operators, sitting in comfort in their Nevada bunkers, distanced from the reality of killing? They are playing a computer game that kills targeted individuals and their families, in remote countries, by remote control. There is no need to look into the eyes of the victims. They are just abstract symbols in a computer game.

Suggestions for further reading

  1. L. Birkowitz, “Aggression: Its Causes, Consequences and Control”, McGraw-Hill, (1993).
  2. Helen Pidd, “Anders Breivik ‘trained’ for shooting attacks by playing Call of Duty”, The Guardian, 19 April, (2012).
  3. Media Benjamin, “Drone Warfare, Killing by Remote Control”, OR Books, (2012).


John Scales Avery, Ph.D. is Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He received his training in theoretical physics and theoretical chemistry at M.I.T., the University of Chicago and the University of London. He is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent book is “Crisis 21: Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century.”

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 25 Jun 2012.

Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: Making a Game of Killing, is included. Thank you.

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5 Responses to “Making a Game of Killing”

  1. Hello John,

    In my book I have a whole chapter dedicated to the subject of your article. In fact I have been writing about this for 25 years.

    You say – about the game that teaches “building empires” – that it ignores the fact that imperialism is morally indefensible”, but this is precisely what USA defends !!!!! in fact, one of the games you mention – Full Spectrum Warrior – takes its name from Dwight Eisenhower’s mouth. It is this World War II mass murderer, who announced after the war “USA must achieve Full Spectrum Dominance, by land, sea and air”.

    Game inventors are in fact engaged by official agencies to work with psychologists who’ll advise on what type of game can form a “killing” mentality, a love of domination, violence, weapons, blood, etc.

    The aim is to have young people who will chose the Armed Forces for a job or career, otherwise Governments will not be able to play their own “real” Games of War.

    Psychologists advised that in a game where people cross the street and the player drives a virtual car, the winner is the player who hit and killed more people. Same with weapon games. If they wanted to teach respect for human life and non-violence, the game would need to stipulate the winner is the player who did not produce a single victim.

    In England, as in several other countries, Governments promote a “family” sport: Paint Ball. It has the same mission as console games. Players are given a military uniform and a rifle. They are then let loose to go and kill, the rifles filled with red ink, to imitate blood.

    Sadly, the world – supported by the UN and the Media -accepts countries should have Armed Forces so that they can invade, attack and kill. This “automatically” creates the need for Defense Forces. With this absurd idea, especially in countries with no compulsory military service, there is no alternative than to create violent individuals, via the Games you wrote about.

    If you were the owner of a bomb factory, drone factory, etc, you would be promoting the same games. Remember manufacturers of bombs, bullets, landmines, mortars, sea and air missiles, air-fighters, warships, torture instruments, etc, etc, cannot advertise their products “for real”. So, they have to resort to Games.


    • Dear Alberto, Satoshi and Antonio,

      I am really extremely grateful for your thoughtful and important comments, and especially for calling my attention to “Dear Ahead: The Game of War and the Path of Peace”. I will immediately try to obtain a copy.

      Although my article was about computer games, I strongly feel that the mass media as a whole are failing in their responsibility to sponsor a public discussion about the true state of the world. During the 21st century, many serious problems have come to a head, and together they form a crisis of civilization. The problem of war is one of the most serious that we are facing, but one must also think of consider the fact that humans are exceeding the carrying capacity of the global environment.

      In this dangerous situation, we need public discussion of ways to avoid disaster, but instead the mass media, at worst, indoctrinate us with a culture of greed and violence, and at best, they anesthetize us with trivia.

      What would George Orwell write if he were alive today? We miss his voice.

      I admire the work that Transcend Media Service is doing, and also the work of other alternative media, such as Common Dreams, Countercurrents, Democracy Now, Grit TV, and the Progressive Radio Network.

      With many warm greetings,


  2. satoshi says:

    Alberto’s comment is worthwhile to be treated as an article for the TMS website. Both John’s article and Alberto’s comment inspire the TMS readers to think about computer games, real wars as “games” and “defense” forces whose real purposes.

    To understand Alberto’s comment more, I recommend his book “Dear Ahead:The Game of War and the Path of Peace.”

    By the way, why does TRANSCEND (or any other peace organizations) not promote peace computer games for young people? Don’t make an excuse that war computer games are profitable but not peace computer games.

  3. Dear Alberto & Satoshi,

    Many thanks for your usual thoughtful, scholarly and honest comments on TMS articles. I would invite both of you to produce written materials for posting here on TMS.

    Dear Satoshi, Johan and I have been trying for years to promote what you call “peace computer games” but to no avail. Game designers want to make money and it seems they are helplessly locked up in the violence/dispute/competition/war/’killing’ paradigm that video games of any kind follow. I do share your concern and we are still active on that pursuit.


  4. Monica says:

    Thanks all for the article and the insightful comments.
    The issue of ‘peace games’ is an important piece in the larger picture: some people are trying to use games in educational setting, and some of these games are even being successful (perhaps the best is the FoldIt online game on protein structures), but they are a tiny fraction of the computer game business.
    We have to consider that buyers (and users, and often developers) of these games are mostly young males, which typically have their mind focused on only two main subjects: sex and violence.
    It takes a lot of effort by the society (through school, families, sports, other forms of activism etc.) to divert their juvenile excess onto some less disruptive activity, and the present trend is to weaken these institutions by reduce funding, higher fees, and ,yes, easing the availability of relatively cheap games that make immediate appeal to the young, allowing them to release the stress and frustrations of life while cultivating an (insane) addiction to violence.
    I agree that violent games are helping to build a violent society, but I think that the key to overcome this drive is better education, with less emphasis on individual achievements and more on the value of sharing. Ultimately we are all sharing the planet and its resources: until we accept this and live consequently there will always be no justice, and no peace.