Special Emergency Response Teams (SERTs) are commonplace. Less so perhaps are the “sports team” group shots seen here at the end of a good days work out.

I.M.T.T. 2004

Training Exercise, Team Portrait. Photo Credit: I.M.T.T. 2004

Personal politics dictates how one feels about these constructed scenarios. To me they just seem unfortunate sad – not because of what they are, but because of what they represent. However, we must accept that tactical training within prisons is conducted with the same professional intent as that of any police authority or force of shock and awe. With caution, I’d say these trainings are a reality of prison management, but insist that they should not be considered an inevitability.

Once you get past the unnerving brevity of the group portrait, it is the second unposed image (below) that arrests the attention. It differs from other official images from within prison walls because of its ambiguity. As an isolated image, it is not clear whether the confrontation shown is genuine or not. Without the referenced source, could this be read as an actual suppression of inmate violence? How many eyes would be keen or informed enough to tell if the prisoner and guard uniforms were those of controlled dress rehearsal?

I.M.T.T. 2004

Training Exercise. Photo Credit: I.M.T.T. 2004

From building arguments of fact concerning the Abu Ghraib photographs, Errol Morris talks about the inherent traps for viewers of images, “You look at a photograph and you think you know all you need to know. That here you have a veridical piece of reality to look at. And, you need look no further. It, of in itself, is enough. You look as these infamous photographs that came out of Abu Ghraib. You look at the photographs of Gilligan, the prisoner on the box with leads, and of Gus, the prisoner on the leash, and you think you know what these are images of. ‘This is despicable, blah, blah, blah’ … You need look no further … and I believe noone looked any further, [they] presumed to know what the images were about and wrote articles accordingly.”

Morris adds to his general point, “We try to figure out the world by looking at things, and nothing we ever create is complete but you try to figure out what our relationship is to reality – to the real world.”

I.M.T.T. 2004

Training Exercise. Photo Credit: I.M.T.T. 2004

In a world of visual bombardment where deliberate disturbances between reality and fantasy are now commonplace have we lost interest in the strength of imagery and its testimonies? Images are mistakenly and willfully misrepresented and misinterpreted. In many ways, this is a fine game – a novel game. But does the game keep people on their toes or does it lead to apathy and disinterest? As Morris asks “What is true and what is false?” Without the proud group portrait to provide context would viewers have cared to question the seeming brutality of the second photograph?

Or am I missing the mark here? Is a lack of visual curiosity and/or sophistication really the problem here? Or, is the real problem the viewers normalisation to images of violence? Do the two issues compound one another? I would argue that many folk are too familiar with images (often involving wire, concrete walls and the ephemera of incarceration) to presume that the attacks meted out are a) unjustified or b) outside of the legal allowances of a prison authority. The issue of ‘Reality’ almost becomes redundant.

Perhaps, even, this worrisome trend of anesthetised reaction to human suffering can even be stretched through the interwoven spectacle of modern society and placed at the door of second rate video games. Prison Tycoon 4: Supermax, as featured recently on BLDGBLOG challenges the gamer to draw the most profit from prison administration; “Grow your facility to SuperMax capabilities, housing the most dangerous and diabolical criminals on earth – all for the bottom line.”

IGN.com

Prison Tycoon 4: Supermax. Screenshot. Source: IGN.com

I have never liked role playing video games that incorporate violence. But I am not an opponent pointing to them as the cause of delinquency among societies youth. I just don’t like them. Prison Tycoon is less gratuitous than Grand Theft Auto and the like. But I don’t know if this is any comfort. To manipulate a virtual prison population with “friendly interaction and fighting between inmates dependent upon mood and gang affiliation” and to rely on “guards [who] will subdue aggressive prisoners, medical staff to treat injuries, chaplains administer to prisoner’s spiritual needs and therapists talk to prisoners to lift their spirits” seems a bit too sinister and calculated for an evening of gaming.

And the ability to use “96 detailed prisoner model variations created to allow for a wide and varied prison population” and use a “unique ‘builder within a builder’ system to open your buildings and place their interior content wherever you like” in addition to the “over 100 different rooms and objects to place within the prison buildings, each one allowing prisoners to interact with them on various levels and each one having different effects on the prisoner’s mood.” seems like a gamer’s invitation to unleash virtual gang violence akin to those most unfortunate of prisoner abuses in real life.

Really, why does this game exist? I suppose it is just completing the loop – the gamer, as a God of Pixels, can create criminals in his other games and then manipulate them in this one.

For more information about High Risk Prisoner Transportation, Corrections Crisis Response, Cell Extraction, Escape Apprehension Training, Suicide Bomber Mitigation Tactics, Tactical Weapon and Explosive Training, Athermal Weapon Sight Usage and Finnish Sniper Training please visit the International Mobile Training Team Website. If all that seems like too much reading then just go to the IMTT promotional video and watch grown men in costume run around with guns to a butt-rock soundtrack.

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