Military recruitment is an odd thing in the UK. It takes a fairly familiar pattern, promoting all the best parts of a job while leaving out the worst. The hard work will be fun work. When it comes to the army though, rather than McJobs or office life, you know that the bad side of the job isn’t just that the fryer needs cleaned out or the toner changed in the copier, it’s that death is a genuine occupational hazard.What’s disturbing is that military recruiters are now using the false fatality of video games as a means to cover it all up. I’ve seen ads where servicemen are holding Xbox controllers to fly drones and I’ve seen mock game boxes depicting ‘real-life’ military men who have taken the right steps in life and signed up. Most disturbingly, I’ve come across posters that deride gamers for not fighting real wars.
While these campaigns don’t sit easily with me, I understand the logic behind them. The military relies on pulling in young men and women to fill the ranks, and those youngsters definitely like their video games. They make me more uncomfortable because they force me to face the morality of my simulations and question whether or not I could use these skills to defend my country.
Major spoiler ahead about a classic piece of science fiction. You were warned.
In Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game”, the lead character is pushed through Battle School due to his startling capabilities in simulations he believes to be nothing more than training. In a mind-blowing twist, he discovers that he has in fact been moving real weapons to conduct real military altercations, wiping out an entire species in the process. Ender is distraught.
The book itself has been criticised heavily in the past, particularly because some feel it’s supportive of facism. Of more concern to me is that in reading the book, I’m forced to think of a terrible ‘What If?’ scenario. What if my skills as a gamer, apparently an appealing group to army recruiters, made me of particular interest in a time of conscription? I’d end up operating the military’s most deadly machinery, becoming responsible for terrible body counts.
I wouldn’t describe pacifism as part of my character, but at the same time I don’t go looking for fights. If I found myself in a time where conscription was active, I’d likely accept it. Most men were inclined to do so during World War II, influenced by the propaganda of the time rather than America’s Army 3. At the same time however, there’s lots of evidence to show that during infantry exchanges soldiers rarely shoot with the true intent to kill. Wild and aimless shooting, driven by guilt, was far more common during the second World War than you would think.
If I was put in charge of a drone though, or some future soldier-bot, then the disconnection I feel with violent video games would likely return. If I was gripping a gun, or a bayonet, I would struggle to kill a man in cold blood. I do it all the time with a controller in my hand though, so why would it be any different? The Army claims it’s not!
All of this makes me wonder whether or not in exposing myself to military shooters I am absorbing unintentional propaganda at a far faster rate than military recruiters can conceive. In the future, when the most developed countries will lead with metal soldiers first rather than the fleshy kind, I’ll have already trained myself to operate them without a conscience.
Or maybe I’m not. When Ender discovers that his simulations are real, he feels used and rejects the glory of defeating an enemy. If a world where the future devised by hundreds of military sci-fi writers is becoming more and more likely, then I can hope that the military is wrong and Scott Card is right, that gamers aren’t the right types for the best, or most deadly, soldiers.
If that’s the case (fingers crossed) then their recruiters should probably leave us alone.