[ Note: The following contains heavy spoilers for the movie “Ender’s Game”, along with a brief description of “Gamer”. ]
Last week I had the fortune to watch Ender’s Game on Netflix one night, and I had pretty damn good time watching it; the use of gamification within the movie--particularly when being applied to combat scenarios--made for a satisfying twist at the end.
However, at the end of it all I caught myself thinking more in depth about how the main character, Ender, and his team are led to believe that what they’re doing is part of a simulation, frequently coined as being “a game”, when in fact they’re unknowingly directing a battle fleet crewed by real people, sometimes resulting in the deaths of many hundreds of navy personnel due to player error.
The reason why Ender and co. are able to sacrifice ships in the aim of achieving the objective in the end is because they are unaware that they are actually controlling real ships, which comes as a crashing revelation to the characters, especially Ender, during the movie’s climax.
In as much as I like to entertain my own imagination from time to time, I asked myself: could such a thing happen in today’s world, where video games could be used to act in the stead of any modern-day professionalism without the player knowing?
Things would have to be pretty damn dire here on merry ‘ol planet Earth for things like that to occur, I reckon, but the seed of thought can carry merit: by applying gamification to real life--such as scoring points, achieving objectives, leveling up and so on--to the point where a recreational attraction can be made out of it, with the continual reinforcement that what’s being played is a game, “players” could engage in a variety of activities under the impression that they’re actually playing a video game.
In all honesty though, I don’t think such a thing could happen in today’s world, but a good example of this kind of thing would be real-time strategy games, where you have a tactical bird’s eye view of the battlefield. You, the player, would believe that you’re just playing a regular RTS, when in actuality you’d be directing real soldiers out into the field. You don’t know they’re real, so you’re able to pull suicidal / reckless maneuvers to further secure your victory, which would result in many deaths of human beings.
While that’s that’s a pretty dark way of looking at it, the concept in itself is unavoidably insidious, in my opinion. Even if it was for benevolent reasons, the individual (or a group of individuals) would still be controlled by a third-party, even if said third-party is unaware of it.
The same can be said for other professions (like I mentioned earlier), such as airline pilots, freighter captains, survey / reconnaissance drones--hell, even an astronaut. You believe you’re playing a simulation game flying cargo planes to and from various countries around the world; you believe you’re shipping trade goods between regions; you believe you’re actually performing Extra-Vehicular Activities in the void in space, but you’re actually controlling the directions and actions of real individuals.
Another movie with a similar idea is Gamer, where prisoners (condemned to death or life imprisonment) are controlled by human players in a third-person shooter, which is also an example of fictional gamification applied to real life.
While it’s an interesting idea, it’s quite a horrifying one, too. The closest thing that would come to this would be something similar to reconnaissance drones, where one person would be controlling the actions of an automaton. No qualms would be had there, I reckon, since it’d be a machine, but it’d be a different if was an actual person being controlled.
As I said earlier, things would have to be pretty dire for things to go that far--to the point where the necessity of controlling unknowing participants via a third-party becomes paramount to either survival or entertainment. Thankfully, such a thing hasn’t come around, and hopefully never will. However, even in the realm of movies and fictional premises, it does go to show that continuous reinforcement of something “being a game” might result in something quite terrible happening, to the point where actual lives are put at risk.