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The Military Games

What's It Like To Pilot a Drone? a Bit Like Call of Duty 170

Posted by Soulskill
from the make-it-like-minecraft-and-you've-got-yourself-a-soldier dept.
Velcroman1 writes "Teenagers raised on Call of Duty and Halo might relish flying a massive Predator drone — a surprisingly similar activity. Pilots of unmanned military aircraft use a joystick to swoop down into the battlefield, spot enemy troop movements, and snap photos of terror suspects, explained John Hamby, a former military commander who led surveillance missions during the Iraq War. 'You're always maneuvering the airplane to get a closer look,' Hamby said. 'You're constantly searching for the bad guys and targets of interest. When you do find something that is actionable, you're a hero.' Yet a new study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found real-life drone operators can become easily bored. Only one participant paid attention during an entire test session, while even top performers spent a third of the time checking a cellphone or catching up on the latest novel. The solution: making the actual drone mission even more like a video game."
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What's It Like To Pilot a Drone? a Bit Like Call of Duty

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  • by muel (132794) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @07:55PM (#42111091)

    Solution to issues of boredom? Allow mouse+keyboard!

    • by tnk1 (899206)

      Reason for innocent civilian deaths? Inaccuracies of using a controller instead of keyboard and mouse. I could target that Hellfire on a bathroom window, whereas those Xbox boys could only hit the broad side of a barn if there were women and children in it!
       

  • by siddesu (698447) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @07:58PM (#42111111)
    There is no guilt. The "enemy" is no longer people, but pixels rendered in false colour. No need to justify or otherwise rationalize murder. Neat. Welcome to the Ender's game.
    • You beat me to the enders game reference, you sonofabitch.
      • by siddesu (698447) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @08:13PM (#42111281)
        Sorry. You could have replied with a reference to the Speaker for the Dead. I think it would be very appropriate that the people who are about to be shot from the air had someone to say a word on their behalf to someone. Not the drone pilots or their commanders, but to the executives who make the decision to kill them based on largely one-sided, information. Not as good as a due process, but still an improvement over Call of Duty.
    • by jbeaupre (752124)

      As opposed to the long bow or catapult, where you don't necessarily see the other guy ever. Only in the last decade has warfare become impersonal.

      • by Joce640k (829181)

        At least you're out on a field where the other guy can shoot back, not in a cozy armchair, texting with one hand and bombing people-shaped-pixels with the other.

        • by VAElynx (2001046) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @08:53PM (#42111729)
          And that's a good thing how, unless you believe that only dying in combat will bring you eternal reward in Valhalla?
        • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:04PM (#42111831)

          At least you're out on a field where the other guy can shoot back, not in a cozy armchair,

          Close contact with the enemy does not make one dispassionate, and less likely to commit war crimes. It is exactly the opposite. A grunt on a patrol probably hasn't slept more than a few hours in the last week. He is hungry, and tired. His whole body aches with fatigue and itches with bug bites. His canteens are empty and his eyes sting with sweat turned to brine. Just yesterday he saw his best friend get his foot blown off by by a "toe popper". You think he is going to make more ethical life and death decisions than a well-rested, well-fed operator in an air conditioned van in Nevada who is having his every decision recorded? The depersonalization of war is a GOOD THING. Mistakes are still made, but we do not see any intentional atrocities like we did at My Lai, or No Gun Ri.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Ah, so that's why Drone operators never fire on civilians, funerals, first responders (look up 'double tap') or people who look like they would look at them funny at some point if they were ever in the same place.

            Further, I seem to recall bomb strikes in the Vietnam war (by well-rested, well-protected pilots in airconditioned cockpits) that would most likely be classified as war crimes had anyone but american soldiers perpetrated them.

            No, the impersonalisation of war is not a good thing. The end of war woul

          • by tehcyder (746570)

            At least you're out on a field where the other guy can shoot back, not in a cozy armchair,

            Close contact with the enemy does not make one dispassionate, and less likely to commit war crimes. It is exactly the opposite. A grunt on a patrol probably hasn't slept more than a few hours in the last week. He is hungry, and tired. His whole body aches with fatigue and itches with bug bites. His canteens are empty and his eyes sting with sweat turned to brine. Just yesterday he saw his best friend get his foot blown off by by a "toe popper". You think he is going to make more ethical life and death decisions than a well-rested, well-fed operator in an air conditioned van in Nevada who is having his every decision recorded? The depersonalization of war is a GOOD THING. Mistakes are still made, but we do not see any intentional atrocities like we did at My Lai, or No Gun Ri.

            If your soldiers are committing atrocities against civilians, you need to train and monitor your soldiers better.

    • by Tackhead (54550)

      There is no guilt. The "enemy" is no longer people, but pixels rendered in false colour. No need to justify or otherwise rationalize murder. Neat. Welcome to the Ender's game.

      On the other hand, if you fuck up because you got bored grinding out the full-bird-colonel level, you don't get to restore from the last save point, you can't even reroll a new character. Yes, rebuying some of your Steam games if you get caught cheating or griefing is rough, but it's nothing compared to a permaban in the form of a d

    • by oodaloop (1229816)
      I'd like to point out that the drone pilot doesn't decide to fire. There is a rather lengthy and complicated targeting process to get authorization to fire. The worst problem with a bored drone pilot is that he may miss something on the screen, not that he'd launch a Hellfire missile because it was something to do.
    • by couchslug (175151) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @08:17PM (#42111327)

      Death was ALWAYS acceptable, done up close and personal.

      Have some Kampuchea, Rwanda, the Holocaust, etc.

      Also, "cannons" called, citing prior art.

      • by siddesu (698447)
        Yep. There is a reason murderers in general and the government-sponsored murder in Kampuchea, Rwanda and the Nazi camps is not cherished, but frowned upon.
    • by memnock (466995)

      What if the pilots were required to distinguish between obvious non-targets, such as children, and people with weapons or else face a stiff punishment, such as time in the jail? Oh, what, you're not interested in being a pilot now that a mistake leading to "collateral damage" is now actually more than you losing points in your game?

      Oh, that's right, everyone the drone hits is a enemy combatant. So, I guess there is no motivation to worry about what one shoots at.

      • by Joce640k (829181)

        Oh, that's right, everyone the drone hits is a enemy combatant. So, I guess there is no motivation to worry about what one shoots at.

        Not since Wikileaks was shut down.

      • And when a known, verified, confirmed, visually-identified terrorist leader/bomb maker/etc. surrounds himself with his various wives and children with the express purpose of using them as human shields, what do you do then?

        • by X0563511 (793323)

          This is why laser weapons would be so nice to have.

          Point and zap. Minimal collateral.

    • by chispito (1870390)

      There is no guilt. The "enemy" is no longer people, but pixels rendered in false colour. No need to justify or otherwise rationalize murder. Neat. Welcome to the Ender's game.

      I am not anti-drone when they are used responsibly. But I did find this quote from the article a bit provocative:

      Cummings says the secret could be to make drone missions work more like a video game. That’s the opposite of the trend in the automotive industry, where distracted driving can lead to more frequent accidents and higher fatalities.

      Emphasis mine. Are they worried more about the fatalities (bad guys dying) or the accidents (good guys dying)?

    • by Warhawke (1312723) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @08:40PM (#42111549)
      It's worth remembering that the concept of war as murder is an extraordinarily modern concept with regards to human society. It wasn't that many generations ago that our forefathers even believed that if you died home safe in bed and not in the heat of battle that you would never see the afterlife and your soul might simply vanish. While plenty may consider that to be sociological evolution, and perhaps rightly so, I do not think it is fair to blame the dehumanization of war solely upon LCD screens and video games. The British wore red uniforms to disguise blood, and even the bloodthirsty Romans put sand in the gladiatorial arenas to soak up the gore. We have dehumanized war and death for far longer than the presence of the console video game.
      • by siddesu (698447)

        Elimination of your "enemy" as a tool for solving problems (internal, like keeping power, economic growth or resource acquisition, or external, such as threats from belligerent neighbours) was probably the most straightforward solution when level of technological and social development was comparatively low. The question that needs to be asked and answered is how appropriate is it today, and is there a better way.

        It is a long topic, and Slashdot isn't the right place to pour one's soul out in a long treati

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        It wasn't that many generations ago that our forefathers even believed that if you died home safe in bed and not in the heat of battle that you would never see the afterlife and your soul might simply vanish.

        Were your forefathers Vikings? It's been a long while since anyone else believed this.

    • by tnk1 (899206)

      There has never been any guilt where it counts. You forget that the people who start wars have traditionally not been the ones who do the dirty work. Yes, Kings used to actually fight in wars, but they used to consider it entertainment, or at the very least, upward career mobility.

      Unless you're lamenting the fact that the grunts now don't have to sit in a trench, get maimed, or PTSD, drones are generally a good thing. I suppose that less of that makes it easier to keep prosecuting wars in the face of pub

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      Which is not necessarily bad. As the "collateral murder" video has shown, people tend to be more aggressive when they fear for their own lives. A drone pilot is in perfect safety, so he has enough time to calmly make a decision.
      Relying on a soldier to make moral decisions is naive. Soldiers are trained to do exactly what they are told. The decision to attack have always come from the officers and the politicians who don't participate in the fight anyway.

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      There is no guilt.

      [Citation Needed]
      The available evidence suggests otherwise: http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/06/drone-pilot-ptsd/ [wired.com]

    • A war is not a war movie. It's point is not to make you experience strong feelings and emotions. It's point is to do the thing that's necessary to achieve your objectives (which, in a just war, is basically the security of your own nation) with minimal amount of force and bloodshed. Drones help minimize that on both sides - their operators are mostly safe, barring a terrorist attack on their control center, and the fact that they're removed from the battlefield and not subjected to stress of possibly being

      • by siddesu (698447)

        Drones aren't used in a war, they are used to police by murder people from a foreign jurisdiction without any kind of due process. Drone operations are very error-prone, cannot be appealed by the receiving end in any way, manner and form whatsoever. They seem expedient, but they set a bad precedent and create a lot of animosity among those, who are subject to the treatment.

        Are they the best answer to the problem they are purportedly solving?

        • Drones aren't used in a war

          Are you claiming that Afghanistan isn't war? Or are you claiming that drones aren't used for strikes against combatants?

          they are used to police by murder people from a foreign jurisdiction without any kind of due process.

          Due process and war are largely mutually incompatible. If you want due process, don't wage war. If you wage war, due process goes out of the window. Once again, it doesn't matter if it's a Hellfire missile from the drone that hits a civilian hut, or a shell from a howitzer.

          Drone operations are very error-prone,

          You'll have to quote some numbers to back that up, seeing as how you're claiming that drones are somehow more error-pr

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        A war is not a war movie. It's point is not to make you experience strong feelings and emotions. It's point is to do the thing that's necessary to achieve your objectives

        Its point is either to make money (every war started by a major power, ever) or to not have your country destroyed or co-opted (every defender in every war ever.)

    • Honestly though, no different than an air strike from an F-16 or a AC-130. Still dropping death from a long distance away.
  • I think that's the whole point. It should not be fun. That's why we didn't name them something flashier.
    • by Kaenneth (82978)

      like 'Predator'?

    • Not according to Wordnet:

      "drone
                  n 1: stingless male bee in a colony of social bees (especially
                        honeybees) whose sole function is to mate with the queen"

      In the workers' society of the beehive, drones have all the fun.

    • by loufoque (1400831)

      Why should it not be fun? Do you want your soldier "workforce" to be miserable, down, and inefficient?

  • Pretty sure I haven't used a joystick in Call of Duty or any other computer game in the last decade.

  • I mean heck, it's only a game, eh?
  • Tesla wanted robots fighting robots by wireless remote, so humans wouldn't have to participate in war.
  • What's it like to be bombed by a drone and its faceless pilot? Even more important, do you think they (the faceless pilots) care?
    • What's it like to be bombed by a drone and its faceless pilot?

      Same as being bombed by a piloted plane. Basically, there is a flash, and then you die, if lucky. If not, you live long enough to see your limbs flying.

  • No wonder pilots get bored during 24 hour long missions. But these aren't real planes, you are not limited to 2 pilots per drone. Assign a team of 10 to each and make them work in shifts. I'm pretty sure that will help more than giving achievments for watching rocks.

    • by Dahamma (304068)

      The thing is, from what I can tell from TFA (yes, I read it, gasp!) the participants in the study were *not* actual UAV pilots, but the usual psych study volunteers (probably unfortunate undergrads).

      And they even mention that real UAV operators are "seasoned fighter pilots" - who by definition are college graduates with *years* of flight school and operational experience, often from the Air Force Academy. These people have already been highly selected to be the types who *can* in fact endure hours of bored

  • Just crank the AI up to max setting.

    • by drkim (1559875)

      Just crank the AI up to max setting.

      Oh, please don't.

      You know there will just be a big stack of drones hopping up and down, all trying to get out the closed hanger door.

    • You can't - campaigns in this game have hardcoded difficulty settings. So if you're bored by the Afghanistan one, you have no choice but to switch to something else - say, China or Russia.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If I recall correctly, this concept is addressed in the 1992 movie "Toys" [1] as seen in
    http://reelchange.net/2012/04/27/was-the-worst-robin-williams-movie-just-ahead-of-its-time/ [reelchange.net]

    [1] and yes, I know it's a bad movie, but the idea of maneuvering real drones as videogames doesn't seem so out-of-time today.

  • If Americans, Canadians, or any other citizens of Western Countries had to live with the sound of drones overhead 24/7 they'd think again. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBRET2BCZUE [youtube.com]
  • And (Score:4, Insightful)

    by M0j0_j0j0 (1250800) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @08:53PM (#42111721)

    Know what bothers me the most, is that there are democratic countries with "kill lists" , they even go public with it, and is fine, completely fine no one seems to bother !!

  • by DaveAtFraud (460127) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:24PM (#42112009) Homepage Journal

    A common quote of combat pilots goes something like, "Combat flying is hours of boredom punctuated with a few seconds of complete terror." I've read something like this quote from several sources but most commonly from WWII pilots (and crew). Why should drone pilots expect it to be different?

    At least the drone pilots get to go home even if the drone itself crashes, gets shot down, etc. I can imagine what a ball turret gunner from a B-17 or B-24 would say about the drone pilots being bored when they spent hours in a cramped, unpressurized, freezing cold turret scanning the airspace below the plane for approaching enemy interceptors; trying to stay alert and alive.

    Cheers,
    Dave

    • I can imagine what a ball turret gunner from a B-17 or B-24 would say about the drone pilots being bored when they spent hours in a cramped, unpressurized, freezing cold turret scanning the airspace below the plane for approaching enemy interceptors; trying to stay alert and alive.

      Something like this . . .

      From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
      And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
      Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
      I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
      When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

      The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner -- Randall Jarrell [blogspot.com]

  • get people like beavis and butthead to fly them but give them some training first.

    http://vimeo.com/44875392 [vimeo.com]

  • Pvt. Joker: How can you shoot innocent women and children like that?
    Helicopter gunner: It's easy. You just don't lead them as much. You see, anyone that runs, is V.C. Anyone that stands still is well disciplined V.C. Ain't war hell?

  • How many points would you lose if you accidentally hit a wedding or a children's playground?
  • Surprisingly to whom? I do not find it surprising at all that the gaming industry feeds into the military/industrial complex.

How often I found where I should be going only by setting out for somewhere else. -- R. Buckminster Fuller

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