The relationship between John Tillman and his teenage controller perfectly captured the exploitative nature of war. Tillman’s controller, Silverton, is analogous to foreign leaders who hastily send their troops to dies in avoidable conflicts. Likewise, Tillman’s character represents soldiers who risk their lives not because they genuinely share the same motives as those who are in control, but because they have no other options. Simon Silverton is a George W. Bush type figure, who can never fully grasp the implications his carelessness.
The peculiarity of the relationship between Silverton and Tillman is most obvious during the scene where Tillman is first able to hear his controller’s voice. He is taken aback by Silverton’s callous attitude and disregard for human life. “These are real humans,” Tillman says to him. To which Silverton responds “Death row psychos, so what? They had it coming.” “Guess that goes for me too,” says Tillman sounding somewhat melancholy. Silverton tells him that he is different to him: Tillman is his psycho. Tillman has been “enframed” by Silverton in Heidegger’s sense of the word. Tillman’s use has caused him to become a means for an end rather than a valued human being. To Silverton, Tillman has no purpose of his own; his life has no merit. Tillman exists as a tool, a plaything for Silverton to use as he pleases.
This dehumanization is allowed for by technology. But enframing is no new thing. Since the beginning of civilization there have always been war, serfdom and slavery, all of which are analogous to the relationship between Silverton and Tillman. Thus Haraway’s “cyborg” is not a modern invention, despite its name. “A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism,” she writes, going on to describe “modern war” as a “cyborg orgy.” But there is no reason to limit this description to only “modern” war. The mechanization of humans existed in more primitive societies too, where soldiers and slaves were valued not as humans but as tools. “The cyborg is resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy and perversity,” writes Haraway. This rings especially true for the conversation between Tillman and Silverton, where Silverton shares a bizarre and ironic sort of false intimacy with his very own personal “psycho.”
The enframing of cyborgs is not something that exists because of technology. This sort of exploitation is something that we are so accustom to that it goes unnoticed unless it is presented to us in new ways. We are not shocked by the dehumanization that occurs when a pimp sells “his” prostitute or when a careless commander-in-chief sends powerless soldiers to die in an unnecessary war. War and prostitution are definitely not new things. What shocks us is idea of a gamer “playing” an actual human being through control of his mind, even if the dehumanization created by this is nothing new. We are so accustom to dehumanization that we only notice it when it is presented in new and shocking ways. Thus, there is nothing bizarre or even original about the relationship between Tillman and Silverton, depicted in this moment. The reason this scene is so jarring is because the idea of one human being controlling another through a computer seems repulsive and impossible.