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Pentagon Releases ‘Shock and Awe’ Video Game

WASHINGTON, DC (SP) — The Pentagon has announced that it is releasing a new video game based upon the war in Iraq, entitled ‘Grand Theft Karbala: Operation Shock and Awe’.

The primary object of the game is to hunt down the 52 most wanted members of Saddam Hussein’s Revolutionary Command Council who are still at large, by working as an undercover operative for the U.S. military.

The game is already being distributed to soldiers currently stationed in the Persian Gulf, while a home version will be available in retail outlets throughout the U.S. and Canada before the end of the month.

Shortly after Saddam Hussein’s regime was defeated, U.S. Central Command distributed sets of playing cards to military personnel in Iraq, each card bearing the name and likeness of a senior Iraqi official (Hussein was the Ace of Spades). The purpose of the cards was to familiarize soldiers with the specific individuals for whom they were searching.

However, it was subsequently determined that a video game might be a more effective means of accomplishing this objective. "With most of our troops in the field having grown up in the computer age, we realized that they could relate much more easily to a game in the tradition of ‘Doom’ or ’Quake’, as opposed to Poker or Solitaire," said Pentagon spokesman Jim Rumach.

In a press conference to promote the game’s official launch, President Bush stressed the importance of making a version available to the children of America. "Although they may be too young to die for their country, our children are not too young to learn how to fight the war on terror, and this game teaches them that valuable lesson," Bush asserted. "Moreover, it is of utmost importance that they become familiar with the face of the enemy, for it is the face of evil."

However, many people are questioning the educational value of the game, arguing that it encourages gratuitous violence by failing to limit the use of force to circumstances of self-defence. Each player is armed with a vast array of high-powered weapons, including automatic machine guns, grenades and flame-throwers, which can be used interchangeably against either military or civilian targets. Therefore, instead of attempting to disable Iraqi bases or members of the Republican Guard, one can choose instead to demolish places of worship and priceless antiquities, or cause grievous bodily harm to innocent bystanders.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) has been an outspoken critic of excessive violence in video games, and he’s extremely concerned that Grand Theft Karbala may promote violent anti-social behaviour. "What kind of example are we providing for our kids with a game that allows them to pillage and plunder an entire city without any adverse consequences?" he asked.

Political Science Professor Ronald H. Fraser of Columbia University dismisses the game as nothing more than a sign of the times. "Twenty years from now, I firmly believe that Grand Theft Karbala will be considered emblematic of post-911 terrorist paranoia, in much the way that Atari’s Missile Command is now regarded as a reflection of ‘80s cold war paranoia," he said.

Even members of Grand Theft Karbala’s youthful target market who’ve play-tested advance copies of the game have expressed some reservations. "I do like how you can choose from so many different weapons to blow things up," conceded twelve-year-old Michael McKay of Springfield, Missouri, "but one of the main objectives of the game is to find Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. I’ve spent hundreds of hours playing the game now, and I have yet to find a single biological or chemical weapon. That totally sucks!" Rumach insists that such weapons do exist, but are simply very well hidden in the game’s vast virtual environment.

Even the name of the new game has generated a great deal of controversy. The term ‘shock and awe’ was coined by military strategist Harlan Ullman in 1996 and has been used to describe the method of aerial bombardment employed again Iraq. The day after the war began, Sony Corp. brought an application to trademark the term for use in a video game. However, after it was widely criticized for attempting to exploit the term for commercial gain, Sony withdrew its application, describing it as "an exercise of regrettable bad judgment."

However, the Pentagon did not hesitate to use the term as soon as it became available. "First of all, if anyone is entitled to make money from this war, it’s the Armed Forces, since we’re the ones who actually did the fighting," said Rumach. "Also, merchandising of this sort can help to offset the enormous cost of mounting a military campaign. The first Gulf War cost $65 billion, and while we didn’t sell a video game based on that war, we did have official Operation Desert Storm toys, beachwear and sun tan lotion, all of which generated sales in the millions of dollars. In its original packaging, a Stormin’ Norman action figure with detachable Patriot Missile Launcher can sell on eBay for upwards of a hundred dollars."

In fact, advance sales of Grand Theft Karbala have been so strong, the Pentagon is already planning two sequels, in what is it calling the ’Axis of Evil Trilogy’: Grand Theft Tehran, in which players must match wits against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his loyal band of Shiite fundamentalists, and Grand Theft Pyongyang, in which players take up arms against King Jong Il and his ilk.

Also, in what some are calling a preview of the next item on President Bush’s foreign policy agenda, Grand Theft Karbala contains a special bonus level, in which the player attempts to gather enough evidence to justify a preemptive strike against Syria.

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