Wired’s reporting about Virtual warfare again. How do you create an army who, worse than being pissed off racists, are so disengaged from reality that killing civilians in as easy as shooting characters on a screen? Turn killing civilians into an exercise of killing characters on a screen, of course!
This is the new way soldiers will train for battle. In September, a select group of Army infantrymen, Marine corpsmen, Navy sailors, and Air Force pilots at Fort Sill will become the first military personnel to learn the art of combat and the rules of engagement from surround sound action movies starring themselves. The installation is the brainchild of the Institute for Creative Technologies, an Army-funded R&D group at the University of Southern California. ICT brings together videogame developers, f/x artists, research scientists, and Pentagon experts to create faster, cheaper, and more effective ways of preparing recruits for their jobs on the front lines. If all goes well, similar facilities will go up at bases from Fort Bliss to Fallujah.
The military has been using flight and tank simulators for decades (“War Is Virtual Hell,” Wired 1.01), but the installation at Fort Sill is the first attempt to duplicate battle conditions for troops by combining wartime science and theme-park showmanship. The Joint Fires and Effects Trainer System, or JFETS, is the product of an unprecedented level of cooperation among the Pentagon, film and gaming companies, and Silicon Valley – a synergy that Stanford history professor Tim Lenoir calls the military-entertainment complex.
The first hurdle, says Lindheim, was convincing the Pentagon that “not everyone in Hollywood is a freak.” By now the three-star generals who have become a familiar sight at ICT seem comfortable discussing narrative theory with f/x geeks. And even the scruffiest comp-sci nerds at the institute “go green,” adopting the acronym-heavy jargon of the Army as readily as the arcane lexicons of hardcore programming. Institute staff scrupulously avoid the word game in favor of cumbersome neologisms like tactical decision aids. Instead of GAME OVER at the end of a virtual engagement, a tactical decision aid will display the message mission FAILED – TOO MANY US SOLDIER CASUALTIES. Still, researchers often refer to soldiers as players and say things like, “When they’re still talking about it in the mess hall afterward, you’ve got a game!”
And if it is a game when it’s out in the field, how unshocking will all the deaths be. And how much more shocking when the pixels hit back. US Casualties will become unthinkable and when they occur, the US will be in deep trouble. Then again, if it’s automated enough, the US can operate it all from US soil, from behind closed borders.
As closed as the borders can become, anyway. Anyway, this all bodes not very well, I think. Remote Control Warfare is not a new idea, but Remote Control Warfare (RCW) without the issue of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) is a very scary thing indeed. MAD was scary because it could have destroyed the whole world. RCW without MAD promises simply to anger the rest of the world, and to provoke more RCW-styled retaliation. And that’s a slippery slope into a messy, messy world.