Saturday, May 20, 2006

War Room

"Where war becomes gaming and gaming becomes war."

Opened in June 2000 as the country’s first six-sided virtual reality room, the C6 VRAC, casually situated in a quiet wing on Iowa State University’s campus, will get more than $4 million in equipment upgrades, this article reports, and that includes: “a HP computer featuring 96 graphics processing units, 24 Sony digital projectors, an eight-channel audio system and ultrasonic motion tracking technology.”

For some, it is a room-sized genetic structure modeling tool. Others use it to engineer preliminary architectural superstructures suspended in hypothetical space, or simulate incredible emergency landings and training flight paths under fake duress. The new money “will shine 100 million pixels on ISU’s six-sided virtual reality room. That’s twice the number of pixels lighting up any virtual reality room in the world and 16 times the pixels now projected on [the] C6,” a 10-foot by 10-foot techno-sublime cubicle space, covered in wall-to-wall computer screens, which will guarantee, as the author says, ”virtual reality at the world’s highest resolution.”

[Image: Overhead schematic view of C6 placement and exterior shell.]

More interesting, is that the end user could one day theoretically be the National Guard, as they prepare to make their way down to the U.S./Mexico border “in a support role” which has cleared them to use the latest and greatest surveillance toys. Researchers at ISU are building a new control room for the military’s UAV drones, which are currently deployed over the southern border region, one of which recently took a nose dive in some ranch near Tucson. They are building “a virtual environment that allows operators to see the vehicles, the surrounding airspace, the terrain they’re flying over as well as information from instruments, cameras, radar and weapons systems. The system would allow a single operator to control many vehicles.”
On the other side of the country, small empires of virtual thrill seekers are paying anywhere from 5 to 60 bucks an hour to hang out and play video games inside the fantastical Holodek. Wired reports on an entertainment venue in New Hampshire described as the Metreon movie complex of gaming: 48 stations with screens ranging from 17 inches to 13 feet, a separate "half-pipe" spherical arena, featuring flight sims and a system which allows other games to be modified for play.

[Image: Holodek, entertainment gaming complex.]

Two projects – similar nature, different purposes, different locations – but, what if they merged?
What if military command posts began to look like video game kiosks, or full on architectural arcades: compact, modular, mobile spaces that can be set up to control battlespaces remotely? Simultaneously, much of the gaming world continues to develop with alarming clarity the virtual realism of real-life cities at war, or, the game space of military urbanism; virtual cities simulated to perfect scale, foreign cities, Arab cities, “hostile cities”, virtualized bunkers of the ‘axis-of-evil’ (slum neighborhoods, maze-like Holy trenches, Mosque watchtowers, ancient caves, etc.).
Both projects are continuing along a path towards an inevitable rendezvous somewhere in the middle, where “virtualized battlespace” and “push-button warfare” becomes increasingly more real by slipping deeper into the virtual terrains of video gaming.

[Image: Iowa State To Have The Most Realistic Virtual Reality Room in the World, Physorg, 2006.]

So, could video games become the ultimate interface for conducting real life warfare?
Could gamers become decorated war heroes by virtue of their eye-and-hand coordination skills, which would eventually dominate the triggers of network-centric remote controlled warfare?
Taking this notion to the extreme, could casual assemblages of home bodies on couches strewn across America become the new command posts for an intercontinental sprawl of robotic warfare? Good old American homes could 'adopt a war bot' abroad, while little Johnny controls it with his new joystick that he’s gotten for Christmas.
These kids would pass back and forth game pads while taking turns hitting simulated bunkers on their little screens that set off real-world explosions on bunkers the other side of the world, under siege from a brackish platoon of swarming militarized war bots; is this where we're headed?

Expert gamers would be called upon to pull off near impossible feats of game physics maneuvering: touchy sensitive force feedback navigations over slippery slopes, or to scuttle across a narrow bridge, or through corridors of inhospitable game geometry; to fly UAV’s through the tightest canyons over anti-air guarded vicinities without being detected. As long as a human touch is required (via some kind of remote controller) to guide (and to some degree - control) the technoscience of the military’s automated army, then gamers could have a hand in their potential success.
Imagine even, if they set it up so that war could be fought from a field of game play cubicles, like this one in Japan; or an institution of dispersed public gaming arcades, kiosks set up in public libraries, portable gaming consoles for fighting terrorists on the move. Gaming conventions and competitions could be set up for the sole purposes of fighting the 'War on Terror'? Fighting war would become a direct aim of the gaming entertainment industry, in fact, it is what has already been called the military-industrial-entertainment-complex.
What if kids, eventually, could even log in from their consoles at home after school, or secretly log on to the 'War on Terror' using their Sony gamepads DURING school, to take control of a few U.S. war bots on the battlefields in Sudan, doing their part for “the free world” against the “axis of evil” all in a few minutes just before the bell rings and Mom calls them home to the dinner table? Homesteading the new frontier on the 'War on Terror'?
Stephen Graham talks about how contemporary urban warfare video games are constructing (as much as they are simulating with gritty realism) an “imaginative geography” of the Arab world by digitizing their cities to scale for the sole purposes of destroying them and hunting down Arab terrorists there. These games play into a larger strategy of “essentializing Arab cities as intrinsically devious labyrinths necessitating high-tech U.S. military assaults to ‘clean’ them of ‘terrorists’.” Games, he notes, that sponsor Fox News coverage of the ‘War on Terror’ in their narration of real life events. All this calls forth, Andrew Deck argues, a “cult of ultra-patriotic xenophobes whose greatest joy is to destroy, regardless of how racist, imperialistic, and flimsy the rationale” for the simulated battle.
But what happens when war becomes totally automated, operationalized, game-ified, conducted through logs and logs of game data, endless streams of RTS maps and pseudo-battlegrounds, through game controllers and cramping twitchy fingers, through an endless replayability factor of war where casualties are mere blips on a screen, another game statistic, a kill-ratio, a gamer ranking?
Of course, I espouse none of this. I’m only curious about the trends in gaming which are emerging as an interface for real war, and a notion of technologized war being conducted more and more as a mode of game play. I guess I can’t help but seeing some sort of new War Room emerging between the evolution of projects like the C6, and the Holodek, which virtually strive to perform the same representations of warfare.
But, perhaps more importantly, how could gamers be called upon – not to fight war - but to solve it?

(To be continued.)

Also, be sure to check out Subtopia's earlier rant on the art of surveillance gaming: The Panoptic Arcade.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds just like Ender's Game.

11:10 AM  
Blogger Bryan Finoki said...

Yes, absolutely. Strangely enough, I still have not read that book. It's now on the list again. Thanks for reminding me!


12:12 PM  

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