Orson Scott Card's novel “Ender's Game” was published in 1985 to great critical acclaim and popularity. It won the Nebula Award that year and the Hugo Award in 1986. Both are prestigious awards for accomplishment in the genre of science fiction and solidified the book's status as a pop classic. It is taught at the Marine Corps University to demonstrate the psychology of leadership and is occasionally referenced by major universities across the world.
The story's protagonist is Ender Wiggin, a brilliant child who is isolated and chastised by his peers. He is chosen by international military forces to attend Battle School, a place where children play computer war games under close supervision of military personnel. Ender manages to make a few friends and excel in his studies, but his success leads to promotions that only serve to fuel his classmates' jealousy.
After humiliating another child during a mock battle, he gets into a brutal fight and kills his peer. Commanders give him a brief vacation and then Ender is transferred to Command School. There, he plays an intense and complicated war game against an invading alien race, the battle ending with an entire planet destroyed and the boy physically exhausted.
Everyone in the room breaks into loud cheering and celebration. None of this had been a game. The military had manipulated him into exterminating an entire race under an elaborate ruse.
The novel remains relevant as a stark warning of governmental exploitation and technology impersonalizing war.
And sometimes fiction finds its way into reality.
Michael Moore touches on this subject in his documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Members of a tank division explain that they can listen to heavy metal music during battle, but later explain that the war was “a lot more real and true than just a video game.”
That's interesting, since the Army's Web site now posts video games where recruits can experience realistic training missions, learn basic rifle marksmanship, fly Blackhawk helicopters and help control a Patriot missile system.
Administrators suggest that their games, “America's Army” in particular, have “a firm grounding in values.” The game establishes rules for engagement and imposes significant penalties for violations of these rules. Players who violate these rules or who engage in activities such as team killings can find themselves in a virtual representation of the Army's jail at Fort Leavenworth or thrown out of the game.
Anyone who has played first person or tactical video games is familiar with the guilty pleasure of shooting up your friends when they least expect it. And then there is the grin from ear to ear after launching rockets into an enemy encampment.
Needless to say, all of this is far from anything resembling reality. Recruiting techniques like this only serve to desensitize citizens to the horrors of war and promote the objectification of our enemies.
This phenomenon also reminds me of a conversation Ender has with a high-ranking officer:
“So the whole war is because we can't talk to each other.”
“If the other fellow can't tell you his story, you can never be sure he isn't trying to kill you.”
Perhaps it's time we listened.Tweet
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