P.W. Singer
Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution
03:12

P.W. Singer on Video Games and War

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P.W. Singer on the problem of war as entertainment.

P.W. Singer

Peter Warren Singer is Senior Fellow and Director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution. He is the youngest scholar named Senior Fellow in Brookings' 90-year history. In 2005, CNN named him to their "New Guard" List of the Next Generation of Newsmakers. Singer has also been recognized by the Financial Times as "Guru of the Week" for the thinker that most influenced the world that week and by Slate Magazine for "Quote of the Day." In his personal capacity, Singer served as coordinator of the Obama-08 campaigns' defense policy task force.

His first book Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry pioneered the study of the new industry of private companies providing military services for hire, an issue that soon became important with the use and abuse of these companies in Iraq. His next book, Children at War explored the rise of another new force in modern warfare, child soldier groups. Dr. Singer's "fascinating" (New York Post) and "landmark" (Newsweek) work was the first book to comprehensively explore the compelling and tragic rise of child soldier groups and was recognized by the 2006 Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Book of the Year Award.

His third book, Wired for War looks at the implications of robotics and other new technologies for war, politics, ethics, and law in the 21st century. Described as: "An exhaustively researched book, enlivened by examples from popular culture" by the Associated Press and "awesome" by Jon Stewart of the Daily Show,  Wired for War made the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list in its first week of release. It has already been featured in the video game Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriot, as well as in presentations to audiences as diverse as the Air Force Institute of Technology to the National Student Leadership Conference.

Prior to his current position, Dr. Singer was the founding Director of the Project on U.S. Policy Towards the Islamic World in the Saban Center at Brookings. He has also worked for the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, the Balkans Task Force in the U.S. Department of Defense, and the International Peace Academy. Singer received his Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University and a BA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

Transcript

Question: How has a gaming culture affected the rules of war?

Singer:    One of the retired military officers said to this to me that was very telling.  He said, “I worry when you take a generation that grew up playing “Grand Theft Auto” and put them into the space where they’re controlling machines with the very same video controllers, what are the implications of that?”  And there’s another scene in the book where Air Force Predators Quarter commander talked about the challenges of how his people under his command, you know, they are engaged in war, but they’re de-linked and that sometimes it can get in his words pretty bloody minded.  And that you have people saying, you know, just like sitting around playing videogames, you know, take that one or hit that one, and, you know, even cheers would happen when you take out a site.  And so you constantly have to remind people that, you know, look, this is a mission.  This is lives are at stake.  And it’s very difficult because you have a balancing act going on there.  One of the things that’s fascinating is that the military has tried to free ride off of the videogame culture.  There are videogames that are used for recruitment.  “America’s Army” is a videogame that’s incredibly popular and it was basically started up by the US Military to help persuade people to join.  But then, also, the very controllers themselves are videogame controllers.  They’re just like the ones that you would have with an X-Box or a Playstation.  And the reason the military does this is twofold.  One, the companies behind them, you know, the Sony’s and Microsoft’s of the world have spent millions of dollars figuring out the exact right way for the little device to sit in your hand, where should you position your fingers, etc., so why not take advantage of that research.  But the other part of it is that you have a generation coming in that’s already been trained in their use so they learn very quickly.  And, the result is that you’re seeing younger soldiers proved to be more talented at certain roles than much more experienced soldiers.  There’s one soldier that I interviewed was a 19-year-old drone pilot.  He was a high school dropout, Army enlisted man, but he turned out to be so good at it that he became actually one of the best drone pilots in the entire force, served in Iraq and then they brought him back to become an instructor at the training academy.   Not an officer, not a college graduate, but an instructor.  And so you tell that story and go, wow, this is really reshaping the demographics of war.  But then you say that story to Air Force audience and they get really freaked out, you know, that 15 pilots says, “I spent years and years of training, college education, I’m an officer, and you’re telling me that this 19-year-old is not only doing more in war today, but may even be more talented because of his videogame skills?”  That’s an interesting trend.

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