Several months back I read the Orson Scott Card‘s novel ‘Enders Game‘. This morning, over breakfast, I was catching up on reading New Scientist, my favourite magazine. As a writer it provides me with interesting ideas and as a life-long learner it provides me with challenging and new lessons every week. So what do these two things have in common?
The 26 January 2013 edition of New Scientist has an article by Sara Reardon called ‘I spy, with my faraway eye’ (p.46) about trainee pilots for the US Air Force drone program. She describes the small musty-smelling room, dark and silent, in which the trainees sit at a console and learn to wage war remotely. She goes on to describe the trainee and pilot feelings about the drones, how they feel part of the war effort and are satisfied when they receive thanks from soldiers on the ground. She also discusses some possible psychological outcomes which can include ‘vicarious traumatisation’. This issue was identified in psychologists who spent time debriefing people after disasters or from war zones. As they listen they make a mental image of what the client describes to allow understanding of the situation and feelings it engenders. After any extended time some show PTSD type symptoms including nightmares and sleep disorders.
So I began to correlate Ender’s story with that of the trainee drone pilots. Ender was born as part of a program to find a very young child who could be trained to fight an intergalactic war both strategically and remotely. He is put through rigorous training for many years in life-like simulations. In the end, and without his knowledge, he is actually leading the war effort – but flying remotely. In doing so he wipes out an entire species and suffers what one could now consider PTSD.
Take the intergalactic out of this and replace it with the other side of our planet and a parallel can start to be drawn. Card wrote his original story in the 1960’s and over the next years turned it into a series and a science fiction classic. And here we are in the early part of the next century, fifty years on, pretty much on the way to fighting wars remotely.
So maybe the ‘GAME’ isn’t so much science fiction anymore?