The Latest Casualty of the Government Shutdown?

Gentle readers,

If you’re from the USA, you know that our government has been shut down for two weeks now. If you’re from outside of the country, you might be ridiculing us. Which is okay, I guess. We have egg on our face. Our international standing aside, it is well known that the shutdown is having serious domestic impacts. These include the shuttering of the Office on Violence against Women (that petty, non-essential thing), a failure to fund Head Start, and delay or denial of survivor’s benefits to the families of fallen soldiers. So that’s, you know, awful.

I’ve written about the military re: geek stuff a fair amount lately. Put briefly, the military is using technology ostensibly reserved for video games to prevent active-duty and veteran suicides, and to combat the current military sexual assault epidemic. Video games are important to the lives of servicepersons for the aforementioned reasons, to say nothing of the fact that games are fun and that people like to play them.

There’s a photo going around the internet that suggests another repercussion of the government shutdown: a breakage of the link between soldiers (and sailors, marines, and airmen) and their video games. It is this image:

pokemcomissaryPurportedly taken from a store on a military base, the photo indicates that bureaucracy and the closing of non-essential programs have prevented the shipment of Pokémon X and Y to this store. This is unverified, and a little backtracking will take you to a Tumblr post 3 days ago. Hopefully, a little more detail will come in the next couple of days, probably in response to Kotaku’s or Go Nintendo’s coverage, and I’ll update this post.



Whether or not this is genuine, there’s a lesson here. A shutdown like this, especially as a reaction to laws regarding major policy, might represent a failure of civil society and our representative democracy. It’s detrimental to law enforcement, the safety of and provision for the most vulnerable members of our society. It also affects the little things we treasure, petty amusements that are nonetheless important to our lives, whether that’s good or bad. Frankly, I hope it’s fake, since I wouldn’t want any of our brave men and women to be unable to play the first game in four generations where the fire starter doesn’t evolve into a Fire/Fighting.

A reminder: Operation Supply Drop, a charity that delivers video games and gaming gear to servicepersons overseas and veterans in military hospitals will be hosting its second annual “8-Bit Salute to Veterans.” The 24-hour sponsored gaming marathon will aim to break last year’s high score of $58,000 in games, cash, and gaming supplies. If you’re interested in helping out, please check out OSD’s website here.

Fighting Sexual Assault and Teaching Empathy with Video Games

[content note: military sexual assault]

There’s a decent chance that you’ve seen some of the increasingly depressing news about sexual assault in the United States military. Marine Major Mark Thompson was sentenced to sixty days in jail and a large fine for an incident involving accusations of aggravated sexual assault in June.

jeffrey-krusinski_custom-a77c69dbaba10bb014f98423bd854f682b33c472-s6-c30In May of this year, Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski, head of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office was arrested for sexual assault, specifically groping. That same month, USA Today reported that an Army sergeant at Fort Hood in charge of sexual assault prevention was under investigation for a number of charges, included: being investigated for abusive sexual contact, pandering, assault and maltreatment of subordinates.

These incidents serve as backdrop for an endemic sexual assault problem in our armed forces. “Unwanted sexual contact” is reportedly up 35% versus 2010, as measures to address the glossing over of sexual assault by unit commanders are repeatedly rebuffed by the legislative branch of our government.

OrganicMotionLiveThis is disheartening news, but it’s worth nothing that in some ways the problem is being addressed both seriously and creatively. Organic Motion, Inc. has been contracted to develop a video game for the Navy for the “Avatar Based Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Training.” Organic Motion specializes in motion capture and already supports the US Armed Forces with similar interactive training technology, mostly to assess combat readiness. The sexual assault prevention program appears to be Kinect-based and rather in-depth, with a few cool moving parts.

“The system shall allow a subject matter expert to determine the appropriate response to both verbal and non-verbal cues so that the student receives improved feedback regarding their actions,” the contract reads. “It shall also provide the ability to change characters (gender, race) and environments facilitating greater student engagement.”

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Robert Morales, Truth & Reconciliation

"Think of the American lives you will save… Do not consider what we did to you."

“Think of the American lives you will save… Do not consider what we did to you.”

Content note: spoilers, graphic content

Two weeks ago Wednesday, news came that Robert Morales, Marvel Comics author and entertainment journalist, passed away at the age of 55. Samuel Delany, author of too many science fiction novels to name, broke the news on Facebook:

Robert Morales was one of my closest friends—and had been since he was seventeen years old. He died at his home in Brooklyn this morning, leaving his father and mother. He was fifty-four. We spoke on the phone for many years, at least once a week and often more. I am shattered. His many friends will miss him deeply. He had agreed to be my literary executor, and the idea that he would pre-decease me never entered my head. For me and many others he was an indispensable friend. To say he will be deeply missed is an incredible understatement.

My comment on his passing is not timely. It is a fortnight late and the story of his death has been covered by at least ten other websites. All I can say is that Morales was a creative powerhouse and he, his inspiration, and his passion will be missed.

Morales’ legacy, however, lives on. His work with artist Kyle Baker, Truth: Red, White & Black, is one of Marvel Comics’s most compelling ventures into the subject of race in America. Truth reveals a backstory for the Captain America mythos in which the Super Soldier Serum was tested on Black soldiers in secret, resulting in the death and mutilation of all but a few.

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White House Calls for Research on Links Between Video Games and Violence

Yesterday, the White House unveiled “Now is the Time: The President’s plan to protect our children and our communities by reducing gun violence.” Super good! I don’t intend to attack the the President, his plan, or even the fact that he calls for more research into any possible relationships between video games and violence. With the trauma of gun violence being so severe in American culture, encouraging research into what many citizens believe to have a causative relationship with violence, i.e. that violent video games lead to violent crime, is the right call. While it is politically unfortunate that the President seemed unable to find a place for video games in his plan than under the section to “End the Freeze on Gun Violence Research,” (page 8), I don’t think that we have much to worry about regarding any lasting effects on public opinion. We know that all good research into the topic, assuming fair distribution and reporting of research results and data, is going to show that video games and their place in society are nothing to be afraid of.

Here is my point; how do we already know that we have nothing to fear? Hasn’t research already shown that violence in video games has a lasting effect on gamers, causing them to be desensitized to violence and therefore less likely to check impulses toward violent behavior? Since video games are more immersive than other forms of media, doesn’t it stand to reason that they affect a greater ability to impact and change the human psyche? Let’s look into why not. Continue reading