Prince Harry vs. Taliban: Is War a Game?
Captain Harry Wales, aka Prince Harry, prepares his Apache helicopter prior to a training mission in the USA.
CREDIT: ©Crown copyright 2012
When Prince Harry credited video games for his skill as an Apache helicopter gunner during his latest tour of duty in Afghanistan, he sparked a strong reaction from Taliban leaders and concern from a member of the Afghan parliament.
The 28-year-old prince originally pointed to his love of gaming as the reason for his effectiveness in the cockpit of an Apache attack helicopter, according to The Daily Telegraph. But follow-up stories featured Taliban leaders criticizing Prince Harry for supposedly comparing war with a video game.
"It's a joy for me because I'm one of those people who loves playing PlayStation and Xbox, so with my thumbs I like to think I'm probably quite useful," Harry said.
Such connections between video games and the modern military are nothing new — the U.S. military has used game-like simulations to train its soldiers and pilots for years. Video game controllers have evolved into military versions for controlling drones or robots. One U.S. high school dropout's gaming hobby even helped him become a military instructor for drone pilot.
The Taliban saw Prince Harry's remarks as a reflection of his disconnect from the reality of the battlefield, despite Prince Harry having expressed his preference for being with frontline troops during his previous tour of duty in 2007-2008. They even suggested that the prince's comments showed disrespect for NATO soldiers risking their lives in Afghanistan.
"To describe the war in Afghanistan as a game demeans anyone — especially a prince, who is supposed to be made of better things," said Zabihullah Mujahid, Taliban spokesperson, in a Daily Telegraph interview.
The Daily Telegraph also got comment from Sharifullah Kamawal, a member of the Afghan parliament. Kamawal suggested the prince's comments could deliver a propaganda victory to the Taliban by encouraging local Afghan resentment against NATO forces.
Taliban leaders may succeed in using the prince's choice of words to their benefit in the ongoing propaganda battle for hearts and minds. But their interpretation of Prince Harry as someone who lacks respect for the difference between the reality of combat and virtual warfare seems weaker within the context of the original interview.
In the original Daily Telegraph story, Harry acknowledged that he has likely killed people while using the Apache helicopter's missiles, rockets and 30mm gun. But he did not express glee in killing or directly compare war to a game. Instead, Harry focused upon his role in defending British or other NATO soldiers on the ground from Taliban attacks: "Take a life to save a life."
If anything, Prince Harry is guilty of expressing his love of video games and recognizing how certain gaming skills can carry over to real life — a fact that scientific researchers have confirmed in a growing number of studies. Western militaries have openly recognized the link by creating games and simulations to recruit and train younger generations who grew up playing video games. (On the other side, Al Qaeda has also used military-style games as recruitment tools.)
Still, the Prince Harry controversy serves as the latest example of how video games can be seen as a dehumanizing factor within a military context. The Taliban has not been alone in complaining — some U.S. and British citizens previously protested the game "Call of Duty: Medal of Honor" because it allowed players to step into the shoes of Taliban insurgents fighting NATO forces.