Imitating the new heroes of the Persian Gulf War, 16-year-old Johnny Potts gave high-fives to his buddies after deftly handling the F-15 Strike Eagle, a video arcade game featuring a U.S. jet fighter attack on Middle Eastern enemies.

At Danger Zone, an antiaircraft artillery game, compatriot Irvin Weil, 15, earned a high score and a video commendation for shooting down airborne intruders.

If real-life military commanders are pleased with the performance of their first-generation "video pilots," as one retired U.S. Air Force general called the men who bombed Baghdad last week, they're going to love this next batch of Nintendo baby boomers.

Some who are barely into their teens have already mastered video game flight simulators comparable in some ways to those used in training fighter pilots.

And if video games have made today's youngsters more comfortable than their parents with this high-tech world, the violent themes of some of the most popular games may also have turned prolonged players into what one science writer called "sociopaths habituated to killing abstract enemies."

For military purposes, this is good.

"If you are trying to train an army to kill, you should do it as efficiently as possible," said Geoffrey Loftus, author of the book "Mind At Play: The Psychology of Video Games" and a professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Washington. "Detaching the soldier from the human consequences of waging war sounds coldblooded, but to do otherwise would make for a poor army."

Desensitizing warfare by fostering a detachment from death is one of the reasons the U.S. Army uses Nintendo games to prepare soldiers for combat situations, says Carole Lieberman, a media consultant at the University of California at Los Angeles who has studied the effects of video games.

"When a kid plays a violent game, he is getting trained to pull the trigger," she said.

Added Thomas Radecki, research director for the National Coalition on Television Violence, "The evidence is overwhelming that the more you have an individual rehearse themes of murder and mayhem, the more a player learns those ways of thinking and acting."

According to coalition studies, adolescents who played violent video games became more aggressive in their recreational activities with other children. The principle drawback of warlike videos, the coalition says, is that they encourage only violent solutions to problems.

About one of three American homes now has some kind of video game, and children are spending up to 40 hours a week playing such games, according to Computer Magazine. Roughly 80 percent of the games have violence as a theme.

Since the Persian Gulf War began Wednesday, the popularity of video games featuring warplanes, attack helicopters and ground artillery has increased markedly, said Keith Kittins, an attendant at the Time Out arcade in Springfield Mall.

The televised images of allied fighter planes taking off from Saudi Arabia and evading Iraqi artillery made Michael Collins, 10, want to try the Strike Eagle game. He said he was aware that six planes and their pilots were missing in action.

When a surface-to-air rocket hit his F-15, a dejected-looking Michael backed away from the game controls.

"Get back in there and fight," the video game commanded him. "Insert another quarter. You're almost there."

For the most part, the young gamesmen dodged talk of the video games' adverse side effects as if the very words were video rockets.

"I don't know what you're talking about," said David Duncan, 17, his head bobbing and weaving as he flew the F-15 Strike Eagle. "It's a game, man . . . . Damn. Don't mess with me when I'm playing."

"It's fun when you win, bad when you die," said Potts, massaging a wrist that he acknowledged ached from stress-related tendonitis. "It's like the real thing, but without the blood."

Nevertheless, said Loftus, these kinds of video games are reflections of American society's "overcommitment to violence."

"We have a tradition of violence, where boys are bred for aggression, where conflicts are resolved through force and where play tends to reward conquest," he said.

"This is just one of many kinds of games we play," countered Irvin Weil, the Danger Zone game master. "One week I'm GI Joe. Next week, I'll be {San Francisco 49ers quarterback} Joe Montana, and he never killed anybody."

Tell that to the Washington Redskins.