Consequences of Acting Through Others

An hour into the film Gamer, John “Kable” Tillman enters a rave within the Society’s game while attempting to free his wife Angie. Shots are fired at Kable, which end up killing several people at the rave. In the real world this would be a disaster, but those in the game have a very different reaction. People within this area are completely controlled by the players of the game, acting out any fantasy they may have. As people fall to the ground, some chant, “kill, kill, kill,” and most go about what they were doing. The people being controlled in Society are not convicts, and likely do not want those around them to die. Earlier in Angie’s escape, two characters are helplessly killed. The man controlling Angie encourages the killing, while her real personality shows through as she attempts to cry.

Between these two scenes, we see a disconnect between the people in Society and the players controlling them. In Society, players can do things anonymously without worrying about consequences. They can also view these actions as simply a game, not thinking about the people on the other side of the screen. Angie, however, has to experience this first-hand. Like most, she does not want to see innocent people die. Angie cries at the thought of encouraging the murder in the elevator, even though she has no control over it. If the man controlling Angie was in that elevator instead, would he be able to do the same as he made her? I argue that he could not, and that his actions were only made possible through the separation from reality that the game allows. A few minutes earlier in the scene, Kable confronts the man in control. He yells at him, demanding that he not say another word. This startled the man because he could no longer talk through his character, making the consequences of his actions much more real.

Gamer is the first film I have seen that allows for this type of analysis, because it embraces video games as a popular form of media. Although the film is filled with excess, and I do not foresee a game where people control others in combat, it does make me think about the problems that come from being disconnected with reality. On page 332 of Heidegger’s The Question Concerning Technology, he writes:

“As soon as what is unconcealed no longer concerns man even as object, but exclusively as standing-reserve and man in the midst of objectlessness is nothing but the orderer of the standing-reserve… he comes to the point where he himself will have to be taken as standing-reserve.”

One of Heidegger’s concerns is that people will begin to be treated as standing-reserve, by looking at them as merely a resource and what benefits they give. This takes away from what it is to be human. The Society’s and Slayers games within the film were great examples of using humans as a resource. Beyond that, there are examples of Heidegger’s concern even in our own world.

The games we play today are an escape from the reality of our daily lives, but combining them with real world actions has frightening implications. There are already examples of acting remotely in situations where lives are taken, often similar to a video game. The U.S. military is expanding their use of remote vehicles like drones and other weapon systems. Xbox controllers are even used in many remote devices, because they are familiar with young soldiers who have grown up playing video games.

"Future Force Warrior 2007". Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Future Force Warrior 2007“. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Fighting remotely has benefits in keeping soldiers away from the battle, reducing casualties. However, there is concern in how this form of fighting affects their actions.

“There is, of course, a real concern that appropriating the game interface into the military space will also bring with it an emotional and moral disassociation from the act of fighting wars, and experts say that the answer may be to experiment with even more immersive technologies that allow soldiers to feel the full impact of the battlespace.” (Derene)

As shown in the film Gamer, it is easy to become disconnected with the world while playing a game, and even treat other humans as standing-reserve. It is easier to act through others, or through a remote device, than to take the action yourself. We have to be careful that video games, and the technology created from them, are not used in this way. I believe that there will always been a need for people in Angie’s position, who experience first-hand what is going on. Our actions need to be checked by the real consequences that come from them, even if they are hidden behind a digital interface. In the few minutes of film discussed, Gamer reflects an aspect of our current world, and reminds us the importance of keeping our humanity.

Derene, Glenn. “Wii All You Can Be? Why the Military Needs the Gaming Industry.” Popular Mechanics. N.p., 29 May 2008. Web. 10 Sept. 2014.

Heidegger, Martin. “Basic Writings: The Question Concerning Technology.”       HarperSanFransico. pp. 311 – 341. 10 Sept. 2014. PDF.

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