Sunday 16 May 2021 | 06:32 | SYDNEY
Sunday 16 May 2021 | 06:32 | SYDNEY

Is Wii changing warfare? Yes, but...


Sam Roggeveen


This post is part of the Remote-control warfare debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

20 April 2010 17:29

This post is part of the Remote-control warfare debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

The Wikileaks video showing an American Apache helicopter killing a group of Iraqis has predictably reignited controversy over the close resemblance modern games have to actual warfare, which is conducted increasingly via pin-point strikes from aircraft safely out of range, or even using flying robots guided by 'pilots' on the other side of the world watching a screen and moving a joystick.

Andrew Sullivan's blog carries a video from a game called 'Call of Duty 4'. Level four of the game is named 'Death from Above', and it's eerily similar to the real Apache footage:

Sullivan also links to a very good interview with Wired journalist Clive Thompson which damps down some of the hysteria about this issue. But there are a couple of additional points worth making.

First, even if you believe that electronic war games can condition soldiers to kill more easily in real life, 'Death from Above' doesn't seem like a very good vehicle for that argument. I don't play these games myself, so this hardly counts as detailed content analysis, but the video above indicates that the game-play revolves around discrimination — killing the enemy but sparing friendly soldiers and the innocent. That seems like a really important skill for soldiers to have in order to reduce casualties.

Second, the concern with 'remote-control warfare' changing how soldiers fight crowds out discussion about technology affecting when nations fight. American casualty figures in its modern wars are extraordinarily low by historical standards, and that's in large part a function of technology — America can project immense power while putting very few service-members in danger.

That's good news if you're a soldier in a modern nation, and I'm not suggesting that there ought to be any less emphasis on troop safety. But these relatively low casualty figures do lighten the moral load for political leaders considering a military intervention. Personally, I worry much more about remote-control warfare encouraging reckless military adventurism than I do about video games turning soldiers into mindless killers.