Talk: ‘Game of Drones’

Game of Drones,” aka, “Gameful, or Shameful?,” aka “Presto Change-O World Peace, from the Same Team That Brings You Permanent War”

Paper delivered at SLSA 2012 Annual Conference, Milwaukee, WI, September 2012.

Full paper: “Game of Drones


The recent widespread deployment by the US in particular of Unmanned Combat Vehicles (UCVs), especially Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), collectively and colloquially known as drones, poses significant ethical and legal problems for not just the military but civil and democratic society as a whole. As one recent legal commentator puts it, “the concern is not the introduction of robots into the battlefield, but the gradual removal of humans” (Kanwar 2011, 3; see Singer 2009 for a complete overview). Along with its legal, ethical, strategic, political, and psychological consequences, the deployment of drones raises less obvious questions about both the computerization and more specifically the gamification of reality, especially as advocated by full-throated industry propagandists like McGonigal (2011). Typically such promotion focuses on non-lethal, non-military-based facets of gamification and reality augmentation. Yet especially in an academic setting technological proponents must not be granted the luxury of examining only the good (proposed) effects of technologies, but instead must be accountable for both the good and bad effects of the technological changes they promote.

The removal of the human from the battlefield and the transformation of the battlefield into a game-like platform provide apt cause for serious reflection on the widespread promotion of ubiquitous computerization, gamification, and so-called “augmented reality.” Calling such simulative platform games, as our everyday language today does, belies their origin and persistent usage as reality simulations, whose purpose is precisely to “game” in its other colloquial sense==to outthink and outmaneuver ordinary humans “stuck” in ordinary reality. While such means may be an unavoidable if unwelcome necessity for military operations and the attendant pursuit of technological superiority, their adoption in non-military parts of everyday experience rests on a bleak view of that experience (the “broken” quality to which McGonigal repeatedly refers, without examining its qualities, origins, or non-game solutions) to which gamification contributes. The anomie said to be experienced by some drone pilots can be understood, from a Kantian perspective, as a likely consequence of the engagement of humans with our world from behind screens==as if that world can be seen, its deadly and affirmative commitments understood, while the viewer remains significantly detached, even protected, from them. Such action-at-a-distance, offered without a firm understanding of the nature of human engagement with the world and experience, risks great damage to our own experience and to the world itself.

Works Cited

McGonigal, Jane.2011. Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. New York: Penguin Books.

Singer, Peter W. 2009. Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century. New York: Penguin Books.

Kanwar, Viv. 2011. “Post-Human Humanitarian Law: The Law of War in the Age of Robotic Weapons.” Harvard National Security Journal 2:2.


Presto-Change-o Unbreak Reality (image of a screen from the iPhone app version McGonigal’s SuperBetter game)

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  • By Anonymous on December 2, 2014 at 5:56 pm

    […] para realizar tareas se la llama "gamification": Gamification – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Talk: ‘Game of Drones’ […]

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