U.S. Army Commissions Video Game to Help Train Army Chaplains

“Call of Duty,” “Ghost Recon,” “Band of Brothers,” and a long list of other video games glorify warfare and put players in the position of killing and laying out destruction. Putting aside for a moment the ethical implications of that, let’s ask who’s left out?

The Chaplains, of course.

So now, the Army has contracted the company Engineering and Computer Simulations to tackle the task of including the chaplain perspective in warfare video games:

Halo – Spiritual Triage? Holy Ghost Recon? Called to Duty? Fathers in Arms?

Amid ongoing challenges to its Spiritual Fitness training, the Army is expanding development to video-game-like simulations. The Army began its major efforts for so-called Spiritual Fitness in early 2010 after several years of prior development of “Resiliency training.” Their latest foray spends government funds for computer simulations to improve chaplain performance in combat. Much like other agencies, they want to provide simulated environments in which chaplains can perform in crisis situations.

As with prior efforts, nontheists have been left out and our efforts to reach out and participate have essentially been ignored. Upon hearing of the new simulation, I reached out through the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers to the Spiritual Triage team to ask about secular and humanist accommodations. The head of the Army Chaplain School, Chaplain Colonel David Colwell, questioned whether training of this nature could be effective.

He also provided an insightful comment about secular concerns:

It is certainly problematic if chaplains were to use their position to impose a certain viewpoint on someone … If I were an atheist or secular person, I would not want a chaplain coming to me in a moment of distress and laying some religious line on me that didn’t fit. That kind of approach is wrong; it is an abrogation of a person’s constitutional rights.

What he missed was not the religious or purely secular option, but rather the nontheistic options like Humanism. The implication above is that if a person does not profess traditional religious beliefs, then they should be left alone, essentially tossed aside. The proper response is to ask also if the person has a firm naturalistic and nontheistic approach. If so, providing support, counseling, and referrals tailored to their needs is the right approach.

For example, if a Christian chaplain approaches a soldier who says, “I’m not Christian. I don’t want your help,” the chaplain would normally ask if the person is Jewish or Hindu or has some other request. If the soldier responded that they were Hindu, for example, the chaplain would have training and materials to help the soldier. If the soldier responded they were atheist or Humanist, then the chaplain should have training and materials to help that soldier as well. While atheists and humanists have a certain diversity of belief that may complicate referrals, so do Hindus, Christians, and Jews. The Triage game should accommodate nontheists as well.

In addition, the name — Spiritual Triage — still gives the impression that a supernatural or divine approach is the only right approach. That is still problematic but can be worked around so long as the training itself supports everyone. The only way to do that is to take time to seek out and include the nontheistic perspective.

About Jason Torpy

Jason Torpy is a committed humanist and vegan. He graduated from West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree and from The Ohio State University with a Masters Degree in Business Administration. He served as a Captain with the 1st Armored Division in Iraq and now serves as President of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers (MAAF), a nonprofit community for atheists and humanists in the military.
**Comments at The Human Animal do not necessarily reflect the official policy or positions of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers are any other organizations.**

  • Rabid

    Was the irrelevant pre-amble about a bunch of games that have literally no connection with the the project under discussion (either in practice or theory) actually necessary?

    Are you under the impression that a significant portion of atheists DON’T play video games, including the ones you mention? Am I supposed to question the ethical implications for playing make believe, despite the fact that I’m perfectly capable of distinguishing the difference between fiction and reality?

    It’s one thing to get this kind of sensationalised fearmongering from right wing zealots or politicians looking for a scapegoat so they can skip the messy process of dealing with ACTUAL issues that may have ethical implications, it’s another thing to have to see it here.

    Keep to the topic that’s actually relevant to the story; discrimination of nones in the military. Not a bunch of, quite frankly, boring looking, overly technical, simulated training environments that bear very little resemblance to a video game and no connection to your preferred list of (apparent) murder simulators du jour. You’d have been better off (and a damn sight more accurate) comparing them to Train Simulator 2012.

  • Coraulten

    Please get over yourself and realize they sometimes post stories with minor relevance that they perceive as interesting. Your sense of entitlement is quite appalling.

  • Rabid

    Apparently you can’t read. I don’t have a problem with the story of minor relevance. I have a problem with the irrelevant and vaguely insulting pre-amble that has no connection whatsoever to that story in any critical examination of reality.

    You could replace “video games” with “films”, “Call of Duty, Ghost Recon, Band of Brothers” with “Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now, Saving Private Ryan”, making some vaguely insulting offhanded remarks about the ethical implications of putting viewers in a position to watch killing and the laying of destruction and then leading in to a topic about Chaplains, but not atheists/non-theists getting special consideration in military training videos.

    It’s nonsensical. One literally has nothing to do with the other, and all you accomplished is making a bunch of war film buffs feel like you just called their moral fibre into question.

    It’s tired, it’s lazy and it’s about as welcome as Ozzy Osborne in a Gospel choir.

  • Drew M.

    Agreed. I stopped reading after that first paragraph, myself.

  • Ryan Jean

    I understand the dislike of the way the first paragraph was used to try to lead in to the rest, but I think you missed the point of it.

    There are lots of games that glorify war, and yes, there are ethical considerations that come into play. The US Military, however, has commissioned several such games to use as training aids. Now, a new addition to the mix is one for training Chaplains with virtual warfare scenarios. The problem is that this training still ignores the growing military “Nones,” made up of atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, Humanists, and the unaffiliated, including those like myself who use multiple such labels. For the Chaplains to make such an error can only be deliberate at this point, and the best they’ve done is to say that secular Soldiers should be basically ignored by the Chaplaincy on the battlefield, which perpetuates the problem. They won’t *allow* a Humanist Chaplain, they won’t even *allow* a Humanist Lay Leader, but they damn well know that they are derelict in their duties when they then also deny non-theistic Service Members appropriate resources and won’t even put into their official training the things a good Chaplain would actually need to know to address the deficiency.

    I know in some ways this comes off as preaching to the choir, but the relation to war games in this story isn’t so much about the concerns with war games or with whether other Soldiers play them, but that when reaching into new media such as these games in an official training capacity, the Chaplaincy is still openly bending over backwards to fall on its face, because they’d rather deny the problem.

  • Wild Rumpus

    An article about video games and the military shouldn’t start with a preamble about militaristic video games? Lost me there.

  • Compuholic

    I think it would be fun to have a chaplain as a character in games like CoD. They can carry a holy handgrenade…

  • Mark W.

    Actually, they would probably just sit in the spawn area, muttering useless platitudes and never really helping their team. You could simulate them now by going AFK for most of the match.

  • Stev84

    There is another reason that is crap: you simply can’t train some things. Either you have people skills and can talk to others – especially in such extraordinary situations – or you don’t. It’s not something you can really train for. Certainly not with a video game.

  • Stev84

    It’s not really about video games at all. Not in the commercial sense. We’re talking about some kind of simulator.

  • Andre

    I’m pretty sure you put “Band of Brothers” where you meant to put “Brothers in Arms” (or possibly “Call of Duty”, both share one word with BoB). “Band of Brothers” is the HBO miniseries, not a video game.

  • Rabid

    If you actually go to the site he links (I actually spent a good half hour trawling through the site trying to figure out how any of this was relevant), you can SEE numerous examples of what these things actually are. They don’t even begin to resemble video games. They’re essentially just virtual training exercises, focused on some particular narrow skill-sets in most examples, that just so happens to use after-market game engines because, surprise, surprise, it’s a cheap and convenient tool-kit to build virtual worlds.

    We’re talking medical training, emergency response and communication, training with computerised weapons systems and similar things. Nowhere are any of the games Jason settled on mentioned in any capacity, and nowhere is there displayed anything similar to them. The closest you can get is a list that stipulates one modern game engine (that’s engine, not the actual game) that they have experience working with to deliver virtual worlds. That’s like mentioning you can work with 35mm film and connecting the company to a bunch of random films that just happen to be shot on 35mm stock.

    The point is that it wasn’t actually related or relevant to the actual issue and simply served to be inflammatory. I’m sure Jason didn’t actually intend to alienate, merely grab people’s attention. The problem is, it did… just for the wrong reasons.

  • Rabid

    >but the relation to war games in this story isn’t so much about the concerns with war games or with whether other Soldiers play them

    You’re right, it isn’t. The article would makes total sense if you skip the entire first section and the rather twee headline image. “Amid ongoing challenges to its Spiritual Fitness training, the Army is expanding development to video-game-like simulations.” is literally all the context that was needed here.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    not a video game player, gave them up after the end of high school. i remain fascinated by how some adults who play them get Sofa King Angry when some people point out that they may not be the most healthy activity, for adults or children, out of a list of potential hobbies.

    my old roommate was a war game addict; it was not pretty and hurt his career. there are other examples in science based literature of the potentially harmful effects of too much gaming. it’s like anything else to which people become addicted, and gaming is a unique activity when it comes to how it affects the brain.

    i wish you gamers could be less hostile and more open to science based discussion about the effects, positive and negative, of “serious” gaming practices. unfortunately it seems like a lot of of you can only shout down anyone who suggest that a 7 year old military gaming for 6 hours a day may in fact become desensitized to actual violence and that decisions made in real life are impacted by that.

    it’s sort of ironic, in my experiences on the internet. every time someone like me makes this point, not insulting you or trying to tell you what hobbies you should be able to choose, you people go “ballistic,” and defend mil-gaming like it’s a holy right from gawd. there’s always one really angry gamer who can’t understand that in a way, due to gaming or not, they are proving the point that anti- military gaming critics are making.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    I’d kinda like to see Ozzy in a gospel choir, just for shits and giggles.

  • Epp

    Military chaplains are a double edged sword. During my time on active duty I did not have an issue with chaplains proselytizing, but would not at all be surprised to hear about chaplains doing so.I acknowledge these are just my experiences, and they don’t account for the experience of others. (I’ve only been proselytized by one soldier and he was lower enlisted, and not very bright with bad hygiene).

  • Matt

    “War games” are rated M for Mature in literally every case. Your 7 year old argument is what’s known as straw man.

    As for your old roommate, he likely did have an addiction. He should be treated for … wait for it … **addiction**.

    If you’ve been going around the internet making these “points” I can see how you’ve met a lot of extremely frustrated opposition.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jasontorpy Jason Torpy

    The whole point was to put aside the war game controversy in order to focus on the faulty training of chaplains. You’re the only one with a problem about war games.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jasontorpy Jason Torpy

    You are correct.