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Last Updated: Saturday, 29 November, 2003, 10:10 GMT
Playing with terrorism in the living room
Playing the terrorist in online multiplayer games can make people more sociable, says Daniel Etherington of BBCi Collective in his weekly games column.

Screenshot of Counter-Strike on Xbox
It is more acceptable to fight terror in games
Generations of kids have had variations on the basic premise of play-acting conflict.

These have ranged from cowboys and Indians, to cops and robbers, allies and Nazis, and - for the Star Wars generation - rebels and Imperial forces.

Today, however, the world seems obsessed with terrorism.

President Bush wages his so-called War On Terror, while nations who disagree with the "American way" fight with their own desperate means.

Given this prevailing climate, it makes me wonder whether today's children play terrorists and counter-terrorists?

Striking out

It is certainly a theme that has established itself in video gaming.

Living in a world where terrorism is regularly front page news, using it as a theme for a cultural product - a book, a film, a game - is the acceptable norm, despite any doubts

Counter-Strike, the 2000 mod of PC classic Half-Life, became the most successful online multiplayer game ever.

Although the transition of a PC game to a console inevitably involves some "dumbing down", the arrival of Counter-Strike on the Xbox is very welcome.

Arguably, it provides better Live multiplayer gaming opportunities than Rainbow Six 3, a game similarly concerned with terrorism.

No story-based solo mode has been bolted on to the basic formula for the Xbox release. This is very much a game that has to be played Live or with System Link.

Teams can play either as terrorists, planting bombs or holding hostages, or counter-terrorists, attempting to defuse the bomb or rescue the hostages.

Terror as culture?

I am writing this as newspaper front pages report the latest tragedy, the deaths of 27 people in Istanbul.

Furthermore, as part of the promotion of the game, I spent an excellent day doing Special Forces Training with an ex-SAS chap.

Vague questions of morality flit through my head, but they are amorphous.

Living in a world where terrorism is regularly front page news, using it as a theme for a cultural product - a book, a film, a game - is the acceptable norm, despite any doubts.

The bottom line with Counter-Strike is that it is a game and a good one at that.

Rather than inculcating violence, playing it on Xbox Live actually encourages socialisation, which cannot be bad for starters.




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