Thursday, July 3, 2008

Smart Bomb

The narrative largely follows Dr. Michael Macedonia, a Gulf War veteran turned military simulator (after failing to secure funding for a MMO startup). In essence it shows us the way in which MMO kinds of technology are being used by the US Military to train soldiers. Rather than using 3-D modeling to create fantasy worlds, they are using the modeling to create digitized versions of real places with which to train. Before operations, pilots will know what to look for, and will know what is out of place.

One moment very early on in the article that I found incredibly disturbing was the take that Macedonia seemed to have on Ender's Game. This is a truly fantastic book, and the author manages to give it an excellent one paragraph synopsis. I always viewed it as having a cautionary element, with a military willing to use children playing games for their own ends. To quote the author, in speaking on this topic to Macedonia: "He explains that it was a source of inspiration for lots of people in the militaary when it came out in the eighties. 'I've always been fascinated by what you could do with a six-year old,' Macedonia muses." I find this take-away from Ender's Game seriously disturbing, and I know from that moment on, personally, I looked at Macedonia with a huge element of revulsion.

"If you can play Nintendo, you can operate this." This seems to be the thing that the US Military is taking advantage of: a culture that is preprogrammed to be savvy with certain kinds of complicated controls and means of thought. While I don't personally think that it is likely that violent media CAUSE violent behavior, I do have a feeling that it lowers the threshold required to bridge into violent behavior. Again, another illuminating quote, talking about ROTCs lining up to play the game: "They're a little glassy-eyed and utterly delighted, just like you can imagine the children who followed the Pied Piper into the ocean might have been." It is also worth noting that the military itself has concluded that there is no direct correlation between videogames and an urge to kill, but they use these games as a means to teach HOW to do certain things properly. Knowledge can be disseminated. Quoting Col. Wardynski, from the article: "What a video game does, at heart, is teach you now, in the midst of utter chaos, to know what is important and what is not, and to act on that."

After the end of the cold war, the US Military, left as the sole military force of a superpower had to evolve into a force that could handle the new challenges of no singular enemy, but rather small, disparate groups who viewed the US as an enemy. This new military challenge couldn't be handled the same way that old forces were handled, on major battlefields. In this space, a new kind of military was needed, and a new soldier.

The new soldier of the future will be wired - with multiple network access, graphic overlays, lightweight computer which provides further assistance. In essence, it makes the soldier almost like a cross between two figures from movies: Predator and The Terminator. This isn't just providing info directly to the soldier, but back to command, for their knowledge as well.

THe military's use of games began with 1980's Battlezone (a 1st-person tank game), then Flight Simulator, and then Doom, to the Sims, and beyond. Doom was a flashpoint, where it seemed as though moving into games seriously began to be thought about by the military. America's Army follows in the vein of what these others were, but is geared to prepare people so that entering the US Army would be an experience that they might already be prepared for, from day one. (I somewhat wonder what it might mean for the US's ENEMIES to get and use this to prepare for the US Army as well, but from a 'know thy enemy' perspective...)

What really stands out to me is how the 'protaganists' of this story, as it were, evoke to me the kind of images of formerly nerdy children who never managed to find emotional maturity and became bitter man-childs. They seem angry at the world, smug and wallowing in privileges now, king of their new castles (Macedonia p204, Zyda p205). Games permeate their existence, but in a way that seems to suggest to me that they view the world as a game, rather than the world as a real play THAT CAN BE INFORMED by games. The distinction, to me, seems to be an important one.


Jasun said...

Amen to the instant revulsion from the "Ender's Game" comment's. Really feel that Macedonia (what a great name) missed the entire point of the entire Ender series and actually took it to the opposite end of the spectrum.

The adoption of a wired army, on the other hand, seems a more natural and (sad to say) appropriate incorporation of gaming and technology. "Information is power", and as the style of warfare changes the need for instant access to a wide-array of information becomes even more crucial for both tha soldiers on the ground and the command structure.

Mike Macedonia said...

Interesting comments. However, how real is "real" today? We are now having our lives electronically mediated by blogs, chat, email, games like WoW and social networks. Half the planet now has a cellphone and we still have only 92 years left in the century to complete the rest. OSC also anticipated this.

Nick S said...

Thx for joining us Mike!

I remember when AA came out in 2002, I played a bit of Soldier of Fortune 2 and people were talking about how AA was free. I never played it because I have a mac, but from what I heard from others the game wasn't that impressive.

What Wardynski said about the flow of information about life in the army was pretty interesting to me. With the number of veterans decreasing, the army needs to find different ways to get across to the youth of America. Video games and technology were the right choice.

Mike Macedonia said...

AA was a breakthrough at many levels.
It paved the way for games and virtual worlds to be more than marketing -- they identified and developed affinity groups. MTV has been successful with this as well with their virtual world strategy. Given that the average viewer of TV is now 50, virtual worlds offer a new way to provide a common experience for large groups. Look at how World of Warcraft or Club Penquin are entering into the mainstream. Disney's purchase of Club Penquin for $750 mil is an indicator of what media companies are anticipating.

Eric M said...

This article touches upon some of the earlier pieces we read in that skills can be learned from video games such as hand-eye coordination, stress management, spatial issues, etc. and the military has realized this and capitalizing on that in a positive manner. It seems that as technology continues to progress in how we fight wars nowadays, video games will have an increasing role in teaching our future soldiers how to deal with all the technology and processing instant information that being a soldier commands. A little shoutout to Mike for joining us. That's pretty cool.

Marlon Heimerl said...

What came to mind for me while reading this article was the dualistic nature—as may so often be expected in the scope of video games—of technologies potential for both degrading and assisting education, for both training soldiers for battle and (presumably) their enemies as well (once the simulator is leaked), and to both ensnare and dehumanize (possibly) acts of violence, as a testament to duty and reflexive killing.

Should anything, that by its very nature is dualistic (yin and yang), be assessed critically on account of its potential for evil, so much as its potential for good? Is it fair to say that video games are all good or all bad or should we search for some sort of a middle-ground, as has been accomplished via motion pictures and radio—in reference to the technology’s potentials for use as a tool’s of propaganda (the Third Reich), while at the same time, learning and encouraging good behavior (be they 'campfire' chats by FDR's administration on the radio, or National Geographic being screened in a high school biology class via TV.

I think that in all such matters, one must both praise the good attributes of any technology as well as scorn any bad attributes of the said technology. Video games should not be treated any differently.

Sarah. R. said...

Well, there's nothing wrong with a person interpreting a story in a way that runs contrary to the author's intended point (Kline, et al., talk about the ability to rewrite the video game narrative by "negotiating" it in an unintended way in the last chapter of theirs that we read, for example), but wouldn't it seem that Macedonia's observations - ominous ones, to many of us, btw - that children being inculcated with technology has an end convenient to the military-industrial complex be the best argument ever for scholars, educators, parents and other interested parties to teach children how to be media-savvy at an early age?

Interesting to have the subject of the article joining us on this thread. I wonder how he perceived his portrayal as it appeared in Smart Bomb...

Jon72585 said...

I was just having a conversation over the weekend about the question of how "real" reality is today. What prompted this (of all things) was what used to be the channel CourtTV and is now TruTV. There motto is "not reality. Actuality." This to me really sums up the way that a lot of media works today. The word "reality" (as in reality tv) has become synonymous with bad, exploit based entertainment. Here we have a media outlet taking this into account and trying to re-define what the word "reality" means when it comes to their program. Very strange.

Adrian said...

Good point, Sarah.

Anonymous said...

I find the two articles we read on the military and video games the most interesting. While the video game industry it mostly concerned with making better graphics and gameply, the military is focused on training the best killing machines; though, some of the military operations are for simulating things outside of killing. Also, the idea of turning a person with increidible controller ability into a person worthy of driving whatever military operated machine sound very interesting. Obviously not a for sure thing but fascinating to think about, especially what "six year olds" could be capable and completely morally free from dropping bombs unknowably. hopefully such an immoral act isn't going to happen.