Target Practice: Troubled Teens, First-Person Shooter Games, and the US Military.

Author:Elder, Pat
Position:UP FRONT - Essay

Before Nikolas Cruz shot seventeen people dead and injured seventeen others at a Parkland, Florida, high school on Valentine's Day, and before Dimitrios Pagourtzis killed ten and injured thirteen at Santa Fe High School in New Mexico on May 18, both had uploaded photos onto their Instagram accounts of their favorite pastime--the video game genre known as first-person shooter.

Both Cruz, age nineteen, and Pagourtzis, seventeen, were emotionally distraught because of girls who rejected their advances. They were both outcasts in their respective high schools. They both played video games that simulated war. In his Facebook bio, Pagourtzis showed interest in joining the US Marine Corps in 2019. Nik Cruz felt more at home with the Army.

This is not a cheap shot. The military recruits gamers from the virtual world.

The video game Americas Army, a vicious first-person shooter game, has millions of avid fans and is one of the most frequently downloaded games. According to a study by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, "the game has more impact on recruits than all other forms of Army advertising combined."

The military exploits the visceral appeal of virtual killing. More than that, the Pentagon seeks virtual shooters who have developed surprisingly complex strategic and tactical skills learned through thousands of hours of gaming experience. These skills are like those used in real combat.

The training division of the US Army Combined Arms Center has its own massive multiplayer role-playing game to train new recruits. (An MMRPG is an online game with a potentially unlimited number of players, each of whom plays a character in a virtual world.) The system, similar to World of Warcraft, allows individual soldiers around the world to log into the Army MMRPG and play as individuals or as units. Thanks to National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, we know about a 2013 NSA document, "Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments." We know the NSA and the CIA teamed up with the UK's Government Communications Headquarters to deploy real-life agents into the virtual World of Warcraft and infiltrated Xbox Live with tens of millions of players worldwide. The world's two top spy agencies can identify a labyrinth of social networks of those with the inclination for virtual killing. The targets of the espionage may be in Syria or Venezuela, Florida or Texas.

In World of Warcraft, players everywhere on earth share the...

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