Israel Wants To Use Xbox Controllers In Its Tanks, Which Is Horrifying

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An Elbit Systems employee operates systems of the Carmel project, a new combat vehicle, in Elkayim in northern Israel on August 4, 2019. (Photo: Jack Guez, Getty Images)
An Elbit Systems employee operates systems of the Carmel project, a new combat vehicle, in Elkayim in northern Israel on August 4, 2019. (Photo: Jack Guez, Getty Images)

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.

Comments

  • Using game controllers to control military equipment isn’t anything new. I swear I’ve seen it used since PS2 controllers…

    Game controllers are a good choice for a lot of reasons anyways:
    – They are ergonomic,
    – They are easy to source,
    – They are cheap to replace ($80 each compared to potentially thousands of dollars for custom built military gear)
    – They are fairly robust,
    – A large percentage of users would already be familiar with them,
    – Drivers are easy to obtain and have had plenty of testing to ensure that they are bug free

  • This is absolutely stupid misguided outrage.

    “That’s all to say that we shouldn’t be making it easier or more comfortable to kill someone.”

    If we are going to ask people to put their lives in danger, in situations where every second counts, and ask them to kill others… We should be doing everything we can to make that easier for them.

    ” 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.”

    Have a look at the existing Abrams gunners controls and tell me just how it would be a barrier for those used to game controllers.

    That you are directing outrage at the technology of how we kill, instead of the political rationale behind asking people to kill in the first place, is to attack symptoms but not the cause.

    Further by saying that making a tank controller the same as a game controller “armies are turning a hobby we love into a de facto training exercise” you are implying that people don’t know the difference between games and reality, simply feeding the mythology of those who say games make people killers.

    Have you ever used keys? Do you feel like they have prepared you to more easily launch nuclear missile?

  • Every day the future Toys suggested to us becomes more real.

    **Spoilers**
    In it they find that the military has decked out remote control toys with live ammunition and have a room full of kids playing what they think is a military video game to control them.

  • The thrust of this article is incredibly foolish and misguided.

    Using Xbox controllers does not make going to war “like playing a game” or encourage wanton killing. These people are highly trained combat operators and I’m quite sure they’re well aware of the consequences of their actions. It seems as though the author would prefer that the vehicles are very difficult to control, making it far more likely that they make mistakes and cause accidental injuries.

    There is nothing wrong with making a machine more comfortable, efficient and intuitive to operate. Designers strive for this in all kinds of mundane objects. It’s hardly surprising that the people designing controls for video games depicting combat vehicles, and the people designing controls for actual combat vehicles, will come up with similar control schemes. Adopting a controller that operators are already familiar with will simply speed up proficiency, enhance safety and ensure training resources can be allocated to more important matters.

    It’s also far more cost-effective to use a mass-produced console controller than to manufacture extremely expensive, unique, bespoke controllers. The US Navy has already adopted a similar approach in their submarines, saving millions of dollars.

    In addition, the alleged link between playing violent video games and violent behavior has been thoroughly debunked. This narrative needs to called out for the falsehood it has always been.

    The premise of this article is ridiculous, and Kotaku should be ashamed of besmirching their reputation with such silliness.

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