War Games: Play Fighting or History Lesson?

"Hey Jimmy — wanna play 'Desert Storm?'"

Suggestions like this one can be heard in playrooms across the country, as more and more video games come out re-creating the world's deadliest conflicts.

Game-makers say digital entertainment like "Conflict: Desert Storm," "Conflict Desert Storm II: Back to Baghdad (search)," "Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon" and the recently released World War II game "Call of Duty: Finest Hour (search)" can teach about the perils, triumphs and history of war.

"Part of the fantasy that these games deliver on is the connection with a larger purpose. ... A lot of us are reconnecting with experiences that our grandfathers or great-grandfathers may have had in actually taking [Hitler] on," said Thaine Lyman, executive producer at Activision (search), the company behind "Call of Duty: Finest Hour" and the "Total War" (search) series.

But some point to the potential dangers of kids playing violent games, including those based on battlefields.

"I think that there's a big difference between young players and adult players and a lot of that has to do with what's going on in terms of their brain development," said Dr. David Walsh, author of "Why Do They Act That Way? A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen (search)."

"Do [ultraviolent] games contribute to violence and aggression among kids? The research would point in the direction of yes, they do," said Walsh.

Others worry about the impact of games that feature violence, but none of its real-life consequences.

"People can't make a distinction between what happens in a virtual world and reality," said Mary Spio, who served in the Air Force during Operation Desert Storm (search).

Spio says blood and gore in video games "desensitize people to the value of human life," a belief that was reinforced one day in an American sports bar when she noticed patrons laughing over television images of Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse.

"Then they went back to eating hot wings and going about their business," she said.

Army Sgt. Wilbert Vaughn, who played video games to relax during his tour of duty in Iraq, enjoyed how real the weaponry and strategy felt in games like "Desert Storm I," "Desert Storm II" and "Ghost Recon" (which pits Special Forces against Russian ultranationalists) — but said the games can't possibly recreate the psychological effect of knowing your life is at stake.

"If you die [in a game] you can get right back up," he said.

Spio is also concerned that soldiers in some games are not portrayed in a positive light.

"What disturbs me a lot about military video games is that the soldiers ... [game-makers should] make sure there are not soldiers out there blowing up civilians and violating the codes of conduct."

However, if stripped of gratuitous violence, video games can be valuable in educating people about the danger and seriousness of war, Spio conceded.

"Video is the most powerful medium. Most people would rather watch a video than get a book and read it," she told FOXNews.com.

Indeed, great effort is often put into re-creating a battlefield for educational purposes. For "Call of Duty," developers devoured military-style textbooks about key battles, tomes detailing weapons and vehicles used by the various militaries and accounts of soldiers' personal experiences. The game-makers even sent developers on a weeks-long field trip to inspect battle sites in Europe and Northern Africa.

"We try to create the atmosphere of a battlefield, from the sounds to the sights to the bullets whizzing by you," Lyman said.

And even if they are used chiefly for entertainment, the games can result in some accidental education, putting players in the boots of past generations, Lyman said.

"We're doing now what books have done in their time and movies have done in theirs. We're becoming the new medium in which people become educated in spite of themselves."

As opposed to glamorizing violence, in creating "Call of Duty: Finest Hour," Lyman said part of the intention was to convey that soldiers are feeling emotions more complex than bloodlust.

"We surround you with a squad and as that squad helps you through the mission, you get to know a bit about the squad. They interact with you and they talk to you. You'll hear in their dialogue when they're excited or scared."

But Ivan Sulic, editor at ign.com (search), a video game entertainment Web site, says kids will learn the lessons in history class, and have fun at home.

"There's no historical significance. This isn't going to teach your kids that Nazis are bad. It is always good versus evil with no real-world bearing."