Remote Warriors

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Remote Warriors

by Harrison Heller

Introduction/Artist's Statement:

"Remote Warriors" is a video remix / mashup that attempts to examine some of the issues raised by the recent emergence of remotely piloted drone warfare. The U.S. military has been experimenting with the use of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) for decades, but within the last few years, armed combat drones have reached a full-flowering in the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they have proven to be an invaluable and effective weapon and tactical surveillance technology. They've also been used to hunt terrorists in Pakistan, a military intervention that remains controversial.

Combat drones are remotely piloted by skilled drone operators, many of whom work from military bases in the United States. These soldiers spend hours infront of video consoles, following suspected terrorists and firing missiles at targets halfway around the world without ever setting foot in the combat zone or putting their lives in danger. At the end of the day, they return home to their families and lead a normal life.The drone control interface has some similarities to a videogame, but the virtual warfare depicted on screen is real and has real-world consequences. As the demand for combat drones increases, the military is running short on experienced pilots. Thus, the military has increasingly been recruiting gamers, who have only virtual experience, to pilot the drones. Perhaps even more surprisingly, videogame hardware developer Microsoft Xbox has been working with the U.S. military to develop more ergonomic drone controls similar to their popular Xbox 360 game controller. In the U.K., some UAV operators are already using Xbox 360 controllers to pilot their drones. For the military, this is a logic step because Xbox has already invested vast amounts of money and research into designing controllers. Furthermore, the adoption of an Xbox or similar game-style controller for drone piloting would reduce the learning curve for gamer recruits who are already familiar with these devices. While drone systems have borrowed some elements from videogames, videogames like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2(MW2) have begun to borrow from predator drones. In Modern Warfare 2, the player is able to use a remote-controlled predator drone to fire missiles at virtual opponents.

In my video, I wanted to emphasize how all of these recent developments have resulted in an incredible blurring of the line between real war and virtual war as depicted in videogames. I also wanted to point out the risk for drone operators of becoming too detached from their actions on screen. I tried to illustrate the convergence between the real and the virtual by juxtaposing real drone attacks to videogame drone attacks from MW2 and juxtaposing drone operators to gamers at a MW2 competition.  The images look very similar. In additon, I strengthened this blurring effect by putting sounds from videogame drone attacks over footage of real drone attacks.

The video and audio that make up the movie are a diverse mix of news coverage, movie and game trailers, military footage of drone attacks, and a MW2 gamer competition all pulled from YouTube.com.  I also added several screenshots of pertinent news articles.  I modified some images as well in order to combine real drone imagery with videogame imagery. For example, I placed a real drone attack on the screen of a Sony PSP and modified a still image of a drone control console to have a real drone attack on the left screen, a MW2 drone attack on the right screen, and an Xbox logo in between (see the image at the top). The music is "Clubbed to Death" by Rob Dougan from the soundtrack to The Matrix, a movie about the blurring between real and virtual worlds.

The Video:

Watch the video here.

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