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"From Sun Tzu to Xbox: War and Video Games" 

Pushing buttons

Ed Halter's From Sun Tzu to Xbox: War and Video Games (Thunder's Mouth Press, 2006) opens with a description of the invasion of 2003. No, not that invasion.

At the 2003 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), U.S. Army troops infiltrated the Los AngelesConvention Center. Special Forces officers, clad in fatigues and carrying machine guns, descended from Black Hawk helicopters and stormed the front doors. Traffic stopped. Civilians fled. And yet, somehow, the incident went relatively unnoticed by the mainstream press.

The invasion was not, in fact, a terrorist cell bust-up, but instead an elaborate promotion for America's Army, the official Army videogame released in 2002. As Halter explains, this E3 publicity stunt profoundly illustrates a fusion of war and gaming. But the relationship, sometimes called "the military-entertainment complex," is really nothing new.

From Sun Tzu to Xbox traces the evolution of war gaming throughout history, from its roots in board games like chess and go, to the Cold War-era battle simulations built by the Department of Defense, to modern day first-person shooters and tactical sims funded by the military. To do this, Halter examines almost every military-themed videogame ever made. But the real heart of From Sun Tzu To Xbox is the relationship between war and videogames, and how each influences the other.

What's most appealing about the book is its evenhandedness toward its subjects. Although Halter asks tough questions that have few answers, From Sun Tzu to Xbox is no radical diatribe against the evils of the military machine. Instead, the book is a thoughtful, measured approach to one of today's most intriguing political and philosophical quandaries: where does war end and entertainment begin? Even readers who've never seen a PS2 or wouldn't know an AK-47 from an M16 should find it an entertaining, enlightening read.

--- Lara Crigger

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