Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Military-Video Game Complex

Tracking the feed from the Predator's camera, Rogers could see rubble where the safe house had been. He and a sensor operator on his crew watched a crowd gather to ogle the destruction. Then a white Dodge pickup rolled up with a .50-caliber heavy machine gun in the back. Five men climbed out, ran into the house, and returned to move the truck to a secluded alley. They began loading ammunition and arc-welding the .50-cal's mount.

Back at Nellis, Rogers wasn't limited to just assessing battle damage. He could also inflict it; his Predator was equipped with two Hellfire laser-guided missiles. Rogers, who flew F-15s (call sign: Smack) before switching to drones, radioed for authorization to destroy the Dodge. He got it.

"We left their truck one big smoking hole," he remembers. "My heart was pumping as we were doing our business. It felt just as real to me, however many thousands of miles away, as if I was sitting right there in that cockpit."

Rogers' Predator is one of more than 1,200 UAVs in the US military arsenal.

In a sense, Clark has been prepping for the job since he was a kid: He plays videogames. A lot of videogames. Back in the barracks he spends downtime with an Xbox and a PlayStation. When he first slid behind the controls of a Shadow UAV, the point and click operation turned out to work much the same way. "You watch the screen. You tell it to roll left, it rolls left. It's pretty simple," Clark says. But this is real life.
As the Wired article describes, the lines between video games and war is blurring. We are now entering the era of the military-video game complex.

I don't understand why Spielberg felt the need to remake War of the Worlds. The movie the world needs right now is a movie which explores these issues. The movie we need is Enders Game.

Now it is possible for one of these drone pilots to be in the barracks playing a first person shooter on Xbox live where he is flying a drone and killing virtual people half way around the globe, then go to work flying a drone half way around the world on a computer screen and killing real people, then go back to the barracks to relax playing some more Xbox. The only thing that makes the second one feel real, is how you think about it. It begs the Matrix "what is real?" question.

If your network is good enough, and those boys in the military certainly have the money to throw at it, you can be flying the drones from anywhere in the world. So why be stationed in Iraq when you could be sitting in California? As Major Rogers puts it:
"Most of the time, I get to fight the war, and go home and see the wife and kids at night."
How strange is it to be flying a drone in Iraq and yet being physically located in California? To actively be participating in the killing of insurgents while having absolutely no chance of being killed yourself. "Fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here" becomes "Fight them over there while we are still living over here".

Talk about outsourcing a war. With bases in the US, Germany and Japan the military can now run drone missions 24 hour a day without ever having to let up.

I remember watching the aerial footage (wmv) of a drone(?) over Afghanistan as it is targeting and then bombing terrorists. It is a grainy black and white with a voice over. You know that it is real and so you have a slightly sick feeling in your stomach as you are watching these people killed. But, it is also easy to switch your frame of reference and view it like a video game forgetting about those people being real and instead feel a little glee as you see the stick figures blowing up on the screen.

The army now finds that new recruits have much better aim and eye hand coordination than previous generations due to all the video games they have been playing growing up. (I swear I read that somewhere a while back, but for the life of me can't find the link to it now. Darn you Google!)

From Engadget we learn:
When polled about their ideal method of control for missile guidance, a group of soldiers basically gravitated towards a highly familiar unit: the PlayStation 2 controller.
You go with what you know, right?

Video games are also becoming a major training tools for the military according to National Defense Magazine:
The Army also has incorporated off-the-shelf video games into vehicle crew training systems. A case in point is the use of the commercial tank simulation "Spearhead II" to train crews on artillery fire control, explained Jerry Speer, program manager at the ArmyÂ’s Simulation, Training and Instrumentation Command (STRICOM), in Orlando, Fla.

Spearhead, which can be purchased for about $30, was co-developed by Zombie Virtual Reality Studios and Mäk Technologies Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass. It is a tank game featuring multi-player capabilities via the Internet and simulation of mobility and combat interactions.

The game is being used to "drive the operational software of the Army's FBCB2," said Speer. The FBCB2 is the Force XXI battle command prototype software that Army units at brigade and below levels use for command and control in a tactical network. The FBCB2 trainer incorporates the scenarios used in the Spearhead game, Speer explained. "You can use this system in a classroom, to train the digital skills that are perishable.
And the military-video game complex goes the other direction as ABC reports:
The U.S. Army spent more than $4 million in taxpayer money to create a video game as a training tool, but gave itself no way to recoup its investment. When the game was a flop for training purposes, the game developers were free to market the product and rake in huge commercial profits at the stores. The Army got nothing.

Called Full Spectrum Warrior, the combat video game used official military battle tactics and doctrine and was supposed to help train Army recruits who had grown up playing video games, the so-called Xbox generation.

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