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Virtual war is worrying

Hu, yeah, what is it good for?

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Somewhere in the world right now, someone is getting killed in a war. Probably in Iraq, I suspect. As the casualty list grows higher every day, the death of many soldiers - and many Iraqi fighters - is reduced to an ever-diminishing footnote by Western administrations and news conduits.

As I sit comfortably in my living room, people are dying around me, too. Nazis, mostly. My team of not-quite-battle-hardened soldiers is rallying around me and we're surging through the streets of France, taking out The Hun and his gun emplacements as I go. As the music swells to a triumphant brass climax, I can tell that victory is within my grasp.

Call of Duty 1 screenshot

My cries of victory are vaguely derisory and even as I celebrate, I wonder exactly how my grandfather would view all this. As a man who fought through the horror of World War Two, memories of the chilling stories he told me of the era cause me to contemplate for a moment - is this game really in good taste?

War films have always come under fire, if you will, for glorifying man's fight against fellow man, with the exception of Saving Private Ryan, which romped to critical acclaim with its no-holds barred portrayal of the great conflict. That film encouraged us to contemplate, to reflect and to sympathise with the plight of the characters, evoking strong emotional responses. So far, I find the Xbox 360 rendition rather less mature and certainly less subtle.

Call of Duty 2 screenshot

There is certainly an argument that all this is in bad taste. To make light of death and war can be insensitive to those who feel its effects. Yet war and violence is inextricably embedded within man's consciousness and there isn't a man alive who hasn't wondered what it would be like to be a soldier, to be on the front line, to be fighting for your life. How would you react? Could you kill a man? How would it affect you? Would you be an instinctive soldier, a brilliant commander, or a grunt?

This series of 'What-ifs' led a girlfriend of mine to compare war games to female rape fantasies. The contemplation of how she would react to such a horrific and life-changing situation, she suggested, was as equally embedded in her psyche as innate violence was in mine. The difference was, she morbidly concluded, that she didn't play out her thoughts on a 28in HD TV. I wondered if her admission made my war games any more ethically satisfying.

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