Sunday, November 9, 2008

"In the Black Hawk Simulator, participants experience flying through a mountain village whilst shooting at enemies"

In an effort to raise the profile of the US military, a mall in Philadelphia recently became home to the first Army Experience Center. (More from

Read the Military's own description at

See myspace video of kids mowing down simulated villagers.

Columnist Him Hightower criticizes this facility, which is in a huge space at an urban mall.

More videos.

Please comment.


Rich said...

I played video games when I was 5 that were more violent than this. I think the simulator is a fun way for civilians to get a glimpse of military life and equipment.

Dan said...

You can't have a society without its share of killers (debatable?). This is just one way we make sure we have ours. I'm relieved they're being trained on images that don't resemble our neighborhoods. But I wonder if, after one of the desert sessions, the players would hesitate pulling the trigger if you switched to a scene in their own city.

HumanProject said...


You make a good point: how can civilians know what military equipment is like? We pay for it after all.

I worry that the Army Experience may glorify military life, providing an unrealistic snapshot that is actually damaging. Yes, military life can be rewarding to many who join the forces. The problem is: do we tax payers want the military to use heavy-handed tactics (propaganda, fun "experience centers") to get recruits, given that, unlike most jobs, after you sign up, you're committed for 3-4 years. As a developmental psychologist, I worry especially that teens who are targeted by recruiters lack the emotional and cognitive maturity to make irrevocable decisions about their future.

My brother signed up when he was depressed over not finding a job *after college* and spent 4 years in the Army in the late 1980s, a time he bitterly regrets.

My students say this all the time: "I played violent video games as a child and now I'm an adult but I'm not violent (haven't committed any crimes or major acts of aggression)."

There are multiple factors that influence long-term behavioral outcome. Kids growing up with a lot of violence in their home or neighborhood can be influenced by playing games, or by riding in a black hawk simulator, to a greater extent than a child for whom violent VGs represent a distinct experience that is contrary to their typical life.

But even for children growing up in a typical middle-class household with parents who don't fight and a neighborhood free from drive-by-shootings and street muggings: if those children have genetic loading for violence, video-games are the way for them to sharpen their biological predisposition and hear a message from society that this is acceptable behavior.

I'll post some sources.

HumanProject said...


You wondered: "....after one of the desert sessions, the players would hesitate pulling the trigger if you switched to a scene in their own city."

Habit and routine are powerful influences on behavior. But what's an executive function system (prefrontal cortex) good for? For noticing that our over-learned, automatic behaviors are not appropriate for the situation. If we've automated shoot-and-kill behavior through extensive live and/or hours of VG practice, can we be sure that our executive function will always, invariably step in to remind us "Whoa, hold your fire, those are *our* guys now!"

Dan said...

Maybe the executive function works well most of the time. But there are always glitches. Say 1 in 10,000 frontal cortices are poor deciders on this sort of task (I'll bet more like 1 in 20). How many people sit on that Humvee and get the priming?

The saving grace is that not many people have a machine gun and a Humvee at home, and those who do are pretty well off, a sign that they have the better cortices perhaps.

But I'm just making up theories to fit results without the hard work of showing causality. In reality it's all complicated, as you know, and a lot of factors have to come together to create a killer. But I know that people do get killed for being in the wrong place by people who over-learned to shoot at dishdashis in the desert. If I was an Iraqi, I'd be wearing a loud Hawaiian shirt and baseball cap. And drive a bright yellow Humvee. :-)