July 9, 2009

Gamers Wanted

President Obama kindled a mild controversy during his campaign when he took aim at video games. As his comments were tugged in different directions, both sides missed the real connection to the future of gaming.

A day after making similar comments in Ohio, Obama declared in his victory speech after the Wisconsin primary, “We're going to have to parent better, and turn off the television set, and put the video games away, and instill a sense of excellence in our children, and that's going to take some time.”

He repeated this one-liner for education throughout the election and separately summoned video games to tout his health plan during a speech to the American Medical Association. Obama wants, “our children to step away from the video games and spend more time playing outside.”

Gamers can be passionate and many pointed out that video games can improve the brain in a variety of ways. Some argued Obama was implying censorship, others that the whole controversy was overblown. Those who found fault pointed to the last game he played, which could explain a few things. Then again, Sasha and Malia are gaming along with 97% of America’s children.

President Obama’s statements are relatively harmless, at most revealing a displeasure for video games. He probably meant that children should play less games, not abstain completely. The casual way he flipped the phrase, “putting the video games away,” was his main fault. Vagueness naturally attracts criticism.

But irony is more educational than politics and another curiosity went unnoticed - until it grew into a monster coincidence. If Obama were to somehow regulate video games, one group of gamers will still be playing day and night - American soldiers and potential recruits.

If only America’s military adapted to counterinsurgencies like it did to 21st century technology and recruiting. Army pod-casts and apps are available on iTunes while official recruitment pages are equipped for every social network. They’re also linked to games and more games. Put down GTA 4 and try piloting your very own MQ-9 Reaper drone.

In case teens are actually watching TV instead of gaming, glamorous commercials from all four branches broadcast late at night on Sci Fi, Cartoon Network, FX, Spike TV and V.S. - an 18-35 male demographic gold-mine. And what bait is used to hook the young male mind? Drones.

Evidently the American military is bursting with pride over its new creation, so why does it continue denying drone strikes in Pakistan?

National security is no longer plausible, if it ever was. Everyone knows America launches drone strikes in Pakistan, from Pakistan, including teenagers. America publicly admits to drone operations in Afghanistan and Iraq; doing so in Pakistan seems to have no consequence by now.

Maybe President Obama believes he would give ammunition to America’s enemies by admitting to what was previously denied. So much for transparency. Or maybe he's worried about exposing Pakistan's government, but the secret's already out. Might as well come clean, especially if Obama believes the territory under attack isn't under Pakistan law.

Obama could be worried that Pakistanis don’t welcome drones, but this excuse doesn’t go far either. Pakistan’s sovereignty has been so routinely violated that Pakistanis outside the FATA have stopped caring. One of the best and worst attributes of humans is the ability to acclimate.

Evidence also suggests that drone strikes are popular in Taliban territory, which is logical. The Taliban doesn’t control every inch of the tribal regions in Pakistan and could be opposed by 60% of the population. Take the credit instead of denying it.

Could there be inner doubts about the limits of drones? Their acclaimed success and growing fame make such a question sound preposterous, all the better reason to ask. Counterinsurgency demands questioning established truths.

The objective of drone strikes appears to be demoralizing the Taliban and al-Qaeda, not defeating them outright or killing their commanders. The region’s raw numbers ensure a potentially unlimited supply of militants and future leaders. Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban’s senior commander in Afghanistan, was killed in 2007 only for the Taliban to surge in 2008. Almost anyone is replaceable in guerrilla warfare.

Instead America is stacking bodies to show potential militants what awaits them, similar to Genghis Khan’s strategy of forming pyramids out of heads to deter future enemies. But can the Taliban be intimidated? What would America do, surrender? No, it would fight back as hard as possible, just like the Taliban and al-Qaeda will.

War in Afghanistan is still young.

No one is certain what America is trying to accomplish in Pakistan with drones or why it denies what it publicizes. More certain is that the future generations of humanity will pilot robotic planes, tanks, ATVs, bomb detectors, and miniatures against each other. Military technology is evolving towards an age where savvy gamers are in demand.

President Obama’s going to need them. Don’t keep them outside too long.

[Update: As if he would adjust]

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