One of the connections between the movie and the class readings that stood out the most for me was how well the movie paralled Heidegger’s thoughts on modern technology. Even though Gamer is over-the-top and unrealistic, it well represents technology’s tendency to dominate nature, other forms of revealing, and our perception of other people.
Heidegger stresses that modern technology challenges nature as opposed to ancient technology that works with nature. For example, Simon does not cooperate with Kable in order to win the battle. There is no teamwork. Simon has no need to get to know Kable as a person, to become familiar with his strengths and weaknesses. They do not discuss strategy or tactics. Instead, Simon gives the orders, and Kable follows them. Kable is nothing more than a tool, the finger that pulls the trigger.
Modern technology pushes nature to its limits, trying to extract the most resources out of it while attempting to spend the least amount of time and energy. The same can be said of the fictional games Society and Slayer. The creator of the games, Ken Castle, rakes in massive profits while his employees in Society earn relatively little, and the convicts forced to play in Slayer earn nothing at all.
In addition, modern technology transforms nature into standing reserve. After technology extracts what it wants from nature, it contains it, and forces it to remain still until it is needed again. What better exemplifies this point than Slayer? Kable is confined to his cell until his player, Simon, calls upon him. And even though Simon is thinks he is the one in control, he too is simply standing reserve, confined to lounging about his game room until the next scheduled match. Simon creates revenue for Castle through his subscription fees. Even his celebrity status within the gaming community helps to fund Castle’s empire. Simon’s skill at playing the game generates more spectators, which in turn generates money through marketing.
I felt that one specific scene in the movie appropriately illustrates Heidegger’s fears concerning modern technology. It is the scene in which Simon is browsing an in-game catalogue of upgrades that he can purchase for Kable. He is lying on his back, casually perusing a long list of deadly weapons and ordinance, trying to decide which to use in his next game. He apathetically refers to the weapons he deems not destructive enough as “gay”. He becomes excited however, when he stumbles across some kind of underbarrel grenade launcher that has the ability to hunt down its targets. This is clearly evidence that technology has stripped the prisoners of their human dignity, as Simon fully intends to use this weapon to kill real people, not simply virtual characters. The scene then cuts to Kable sitting in prison. A prison guard approaches Kable and informs him that he’s receiving some new upgrades. Kable is then escorted to a shooting range where Simon can test out his new toys. To Simon, Kable is like a race car sitting in a garage, taken out only for maintenance or for driving on the test track.
Even though the scenario depicted in Gamer is ludicrous and far-fetched, a very small, scaled down version of it can be seen in the gaming industry today. Video games are big business. Perhaps not quite as pervasive as the video games in Gamer, but their popularity is growing considerably. E-sporting events fill entire sports stadiums and the prize money can sometimes be in the millions of dollars. The “athletes” participating in e-sports find themselves in a situation similar to Simon in that they are becoming standing reserve. Game developers are starting to view them as resources that can be used to generate marketing money. The money earned in marketing will lead more people to become interested in gaming. More people interested in gaming will spend more money on games and it becomes a vicious cycle. Of course, the consequences of this cycle aren’t as dire as they are in Gamer, but it still isn’t healthy. Heidegger does not suggest that we simply do away with technology, but he does see harm in it when we let technology and science dominate our way of thinking about the world. Similarly, there is nothing inherently bad about video games, but if the majority of our day is spent playing games (as is the case for many serious gamers) we lose out on other ways of experiencing the world and enjoying our lives.