Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Virtual problems

Sue Halpern’s article on “Virtual Iraq” (May 19, 2008) provided a curious look at how new media forms are being employed for P.T.S.D. therapy. One wonders, though, about the political implications of technologies that translate the real violence of warfare into an abstracted “game” of sorts. It is obviously important to help veterans with P.T.S.D. recover from their experiences and to be able to cope with everyday life; yet what happens, in the long term, when the wounds of war can be so effectively and efficiently treated by immersion in a virtual realm? It sounds eerily like a rationale for the continuation of an unwinnable war. Rather than address the root causes of today’s combat-inflicted P.T.S.D.—namely, chaotic battle conditions in which “civilians” and “insurgents” are easily mistaken, and there is no clear sense of what a “mission accomplished” would ever look like—Virtual Iraq threatens to normalize (and even trivialize) the consequences of a terribly chosen war. In short, Virtual Reality therapy does not simply make reality easier to bear; it also makes certain realities—such as preemptive war and excessive oil consumption—merely virtual problems.