07.31.12

Stop calling drones videogames—war has consequence.

Drones court comparisons to videogames via the remote-controlled dissociation of violence and physical feeling between interface and human. It's the idea that operating drones is so like a wartime flight simulator or shooter that soldiers are never convinced that they're actually killing people. But as we learn more about the actual soldiers behind the screen of the these drones, we can begin to imagine better how soldiers deal with the violence their inflicting on the other side of the world. The New York Times talked to some operating from Syracuse to the Southwest.

Routinely thought of as robots that turn wars into sanitized video games, the drones have powerful cameras that bring war straight into a pilot’s face.

All the operators dismiss the notion that they are playing a video game. (They also reject the word “drone” because they say it describes an aircraft that flies on its own. They call their planes remotely piloted aircraft.)

“I don’t have any video games that ask me to sit in one seat for six hours and look at the same target,” said Joshua, a sensor operator who worked at Creech for a decade and is now a trainer at Holloman. “One of the things we try to beat into our crews is that this is a real aircraft with a real human component, and whatever decisions you make, good or bad, there’s going to be actual consequences.”

So how do soldiers face these consequences? The question has been asked by a videogame itself—Unnmaned, featured at the Games for Change Festival in New York—operates on showing the casual irony of drone warfare. It tells a story of one of these drone pilots who seems eerily on the verge of inflicting violence on himself to somehow compensate for war's missing bloodshed. Have drones only taken the "post" out of PTSD?