April 23, 2004
South Korea is sending its troops in Iraq a supply of computer games to help keep morale up, and combat fatigue down. Combat fatigue is a 20th century development. Before that, battles rarely lasted more than a day. Fatigue was still present, but it was the traditional kind, a result of weeks or months of marching and living in the open. Combat fatigue developed when troops were exposed to weeks and weeks of low level combat. World War I saw the first widespread appearance of combat fatigue. The mental and physical stress of sustained shooting, shelling and the ever present chance of getting killed or wounded, caused nervous breakdowns. At first, this was called shell shock, it being believed that the heavy artillery barrages troops were sometimes exposed to, caused men to break down. Shell shock was real, but it was just the most extreme example of combat fatigue. Before the war ended, commanders realized that if they did not get the troops to a quiet rear area periodically, discipline would break down as many of the troops lost the will to fight. A bad case of combat fatigue would leave some troops permanently disabled (mentally, at least.) But on the battlefield, troops suffering from milder cases of combat fatigue tended to get sloppy, which made more of them likely to get killed or wounded.
The South Korean troops currently in Iraq are performing civil affairs (reconstruction) duty, but there are enough bad guys running around to keep everyone a bit tense. South Korea currently has 660 troops in Iraq. Another 3,000 (including combat troops) are headed there this June, for duty in the northern Kurdish areas. In addition to their weapons, troops will have Playstation 2 game consoles. Among the games being sent with the consoles are U.S. Navy Seals. The rest of the games are more abstract, and less focused on the mayhem going on in some parts of Iraq.
U.S. troops in Iraq have been avid users of computer games. Troops say the games help them unwind and forget, for a few hours, where they are. Game designers call that the immersion effect, and in this case its serving a useful purpose.