Israel is currently testing a new armoured vehicle prototype that uses a wide array of modern technology, most notably an Xbox controller that allows soldiers to perform combat functions as if they were playing a video game.
According to The Washington Post, the tank was developed by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), which employed the feedback of both active Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldiers and teenage civilians to develop a system familiar to younger generations. In addition to the Xbox controller, the prototype also features large tablets for displaying information that would be common in any modern first-person shooter, like a map, ammo supplies, and available weaponry.
“It’s not exactly like playing Fortnite, but something like that, and amazingly they bring their skills to operational effectiveness in no time,” Israeli battalion commander Col. Udi Tzur told The Washington Post of soldiers who tested the system. “I’ll tell you the truth, I didn’t think it could be reached so quickly.”
Meir Shabtai, general manager of IAI’s robotic systems operations, had a more chilling take on what soldiers’ familiarity with Xbox controllers can bring to combat: “They know exactly the position of those buttons, and they can reach much better performances with that system. The controller is just the interface, the whole idea is to present a sophisticated technology in a way they can deal with.”
Kotaku contacted Microsoft for comment but did not hear back before publication.
The only open conflict in which Israel currently finds itself is against the people of Palestine, many of whom are essentially confined to regions run like open-air prisons. They cannot travel freely. They are second-class citizens. Their protests against these conditions are met with overwhelming aggression by the IDF, which even targets children and medics while violently shutting down dissent. When global organisations like the United Nations take steps to curtail Israel’s human rights abuses, the United States is quick to step in and block them.
That’s all to say that we shouldn’t be making it easier or more comfortable to kill someone. The more we make war like Call of Duty, the more removed humans will be from the act of killing. The monitors and controllers that fill these vehicles serve as much as a barrier between the user and the people outside as the vehicles’ armour does. In the Carmel tank, we see the perfect encapsulation of concerns brought up during previous integrations of gaming technology with military equipment: weaponizing the inherent desensitization of video games to turn young men and women into more capable and efficient killers.
As weapons of war have become more sophisticated, so too have the ways in which world governments shield soldiers from the psychological reality of taking another human life. By combining this remove with the familiarity of a video game controller, armies are turning a hobby we love into a de facto training exercise, getting younger generations ready to mow down children or fight in the next world war. We should not be inured to this; we should be horrified.