Is the Military Training Soldiers to Think War is a Video Game?
Top: Actual Apache gunship footage. Bottom: Modern Warfare 2
On Monday, the internet was rocked to its foundation when a video from the website Wikileaks surfaced that showed an Apache gunship accidentally decimating two Reuters journalists along with about a dozen other Iraqis (including a pair of children) who were mistaken for insurgents.
The video, which is surprisingly still up on YouTube, shows the cam from the Apache and records the voices of the pilots, gunners and command during the incident. The first group, thought to be holding weapons, is lit up by a 30 cal cannon once the greenlight is given and then when one survivor is about to be transported away by rescuers in a van, they level the vehicle and everything around it, all the while not realizing it was a bunch of journalists and children they just nuked from orbit.
There has been much debate about the rules of engagement of this video, like how likely it is to mistake a camera for an RPG, or the appropriateness of firing on a vehicle that’s clearly attempting a rescue, but that’s not the first thought that came to my mind when viewing it. After briefly comprehending the horror of what I was witnessing, I, like many other gaming civilians, immediately, and uncontrollably, thought of the Chopper Gunner perk in Modern Warfare 2, where players are given control of an Apache gunship with a camera mount nearly identical to the one we see in the video.
The whoops and hollers the crew of the real life Apache let out while firing upon the men are much the same exclamations I make when I’m taking out a dozen insurgents in-game. Except their game is real, even if they don’t seem to realize that in the video. From their behavior, I’m surprised the army hasn’t rigged up the Apache camera to pop up with little +100 point notifications every time a target goes down.
The military has been using the promise of “video game-like” warfare as a selling point of recruitment for years now. Like killing terrorists in an Apache in Call of Duty? Well, try it on for size in REAL life. You’ll be serving your country AND it’s totally awesome.
I’m not making this up. First, it was the Army developing their own video game “America’s Army” that was given away free or cheap to anyone who wanted it. It was a standard military shooter, but was really the first step in the military’s modern recruitment efforts. Something which has recently been upped to another level entirely.
Behold, the Army Experience Center:
As the video shows, the place is more or less an arcade, where helpful Army recruiters just happen to be standing around, ready to answer all your questions about how close gaming is to real life, and I’m guessing they’ll hint that it’s similar. There are FPS stations galore, and for a whole other level of immersion, “combat simulators” which have players hold replica assault rifles and put them inside tanks and the aforementioned Apache gunship, supposedly to learn about “teamwork” and not at all about how cool it feels to blow people to pieces from 2,000 feet in the air.
So once these young gamers are signed up and their heads shaved, why should we expect them to act any differently in situations like the one we’ve seen in the Wikileaks video? It’s the exact same screen they’re looking at, and it barely registers that the people in their crosshairs are living and breathing. I’d probably be cheering too if after four years rolling around a desert, I finally got to kill those bad guys that were promised to me when I signed up.
I must caution here that I do not believe this is the vast majority of the military. Most members joined for all the right reasons, serve their country with honor and fully understand the impact of their actions. It’s just that with video games getting more and more realistic, and war looking more and more like a video game, the military is blatantly exploiting the connection to recruit new members by giving them a very false impression of what war is like. Ask any real soldier and they’ll be quick to tell you war is nothing like Call of Duty, and “fun” is not a word that EVER should come up in combat.