Video Game Nation: The Drone Wars

The United States is sending a troop of Reaper drones to Iraq.

The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper can be controlled via satellite link thousands of miles away from operational areas. The planes are launched locally, in this case Iraq and Afghanistan, but can be controlled by a pilot and sensor operator sitting at computer consoles in a ground station, or they can be “handed off” via satellite signals to pilots and sensor operators in Nevada’s Creech Air Force Base or elsewhere.
The Preadator works “better” than a real pilot.

What’s not to like about the sneaky and efficient drone, a robotic aircraft controlled from afar that can put the hurt on enemies while assuring that none of us good guys die in the process? The radio-controlled warplanes have come a long way since those first Predator surveillance drones, and now the more-powerful Reaper hunter-killer is six times heavier and holds as many missiles and bombs as the mighty F-16 fighter.
The thing never has to pee, either, and can easily pull an all-nighter, loitering around a target for 24 hours until it’s time to pounce

At five tons gross weight, the Reaper is four times heavier than the Predator. Its size – 36 feet long, with a 66-foot wingspan – is comparable to the profile of the Air Force’s workhorse A-10 attack plane. It can fly twice as fast and twice as high – 25,000ft compared to 50,000ft – as the Predator.

According to the Air Force, the MQ-9 Reaper will employ sensors to find, fix, track and target critical emerging time sensitive targets. The Air Force is developing the ability to operate multiple aircraft from a single ground station, in effect, multiplying the overall combat effectiveness over the battlefield.

This thing has the firepower of an F-16, can stay up for 24 hours and can be controlled from the comfort and safety of a nice cozy airforce base, preferably close to home. All the pilots have to do is view a bunch of video images. All the lessons learned while playing video games can be usefully employed hunting the “enemy”.

But, what is going on during the pilots head while controlling the aircraft. There is no personal risk involved except losing an aircraft worth 69 million dollars (for a set of four, plus ground equipment). The rules of engagement would be just that – rules. Instead of seeing people, and families the pilot will see video images.

Video images like countless images before in countless games and simulations before. The reality of destroying lives is lost in the unreal haze of virtual killing . People will argue that the pilot will realize that he is engaging real people and not simply computer generated images. Maybe, somewhere in the back of his head something will remember that the “enemy” he has engaged is living and breathing. But, I don’t think that will be the thought in his mind as the trigger is slowly pressed and another missile is fired, scoring more points.

It is not about the morality of killing in war. I do not support war. I think there are better, cheaper and more useful ways of solving the problem. However, if you are going to be doing the killing, you should know the real results of your actions. You should know the carnage, the blood, the utter devastation on both sides of the fighting. This is the real cost of war.

In video games and drone wars it is all about escaping reality. People tend to be disinhibited online

some people see their online life as a kind of game with rules and norms that don’t apply to everyday living (pers. comm., 2002). Once they turn off the computer and return to their daily routine, they believe they can leave that game and their game-identity behind. Why should they be held responsible for what happens in that make-believe play world that has nothing to do with reality? After all, it isn’t that different than blasting away at your pals in a shoot-em up video game… or so some people might think, perhaps unconsciously.

The rules of real life can be suspended for the video game life. The army also likes future recruits who have experience with this schizophrenic split. The army is using video games to train its future recruits.

Video games act as primers.

Priming is also an experimental technique by which a stimulus is used to sensitize the subject to a later presentation of the same or similar stimulus. For example, when a subject reads a list of words including the word table, and is later asked to complete a word that starts with tab, the list “primes” the subject to answer table, meaning that the probability that the “primed” subject answers table is higher than for non-“primed” subjects.

By allowing certain norms in video games, like the blowing up of enemies without thought or consequence, these thoughts would be carried through in similar situations. There is not a huge mental leap from going from the television and the xbox and into the controls of a Predator. The more disassociated we get from our actions the easier it will be to perform cruel and criminal acts.

Disassociation is the first rule of war. Always degrade the enemy as being something other than human. In Rawanda the Tutsis were called “cockroaches”, Jews were accused of eating babies, muslims are called “ragheads”.

With multi-million dollar equipment the disassociation can be taken further from people to pixels. Currently in Iraq there is serious discontent amongst the troops. Soldiers are wondering why they are participating in state sponsored terrorism. How much easier would a soldier’s job be if he could go home to a warm meal after a hard day at the battlefield.


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