Research, analysis, and thought leadership for enterprise communications.

Ender’s Post

by in Telecom

This is probably the scariest post I have ever made.

I was speaking with one of the service men who was in our armed forces. I asked him how much he pondered the various conflicts that we were in from time to time. His answer was that it was his job not to question his superior officers nor to comment on any military action.

We have a grand nephew who is 10 years old. He constantly plays video games. I mean, we took him to yellowstone and he didn’t pay any attention to the geysers. No matter what is happening in the real-world he just wants to play shoot-em-up video games. Constantly. All day long.

Then, I thought of Ender’s Game. This is the story where young kids are running real military operations, but they didn’t know it. And, they won.

What would happen if the US military created an engaging, compelling online war game. It could be filled with aliens and whatnot. But the game would first serve as a screening tool to identify the best kids. Then, later, these kids would end up running real drones and robots and would be fighting a real war. Only, they wouldn’t know it.

When Ender’s Game was written this was a novel idea. it is unbelievable and a fantasy. But today, it is plausible. It’s possible. For all we know, it is actually happening.

I asked 10 year old Chris what he would think of this idea? His response was: Cool! Would it have better action and great graphics and could he get a discount on the console were his next questions.

I asked if he would have any problem killing real people, not just game characters? “Not really” was his surprising response. Why? “Because we always have people to fight and we need to kill them. It would be really cool if it was a game because then we wouldn’t need to get dirty and we wouldn’t get killed.”

No matter how I probed I got consistent thinking: Ethics wasn’t an issue if you didn’t know who you killed. If it was just a game. It didn’t matter if the game was real, because it was just a game. And, the people we would be killing needed to be killed.

I know that stress is a serious problem for our current drone operators. In many ways it is a terrible job.

Do we have any responsibility, now, to protect humanity from the abuses of technology? The 10 year old boy feels no guilt because he is just playing a game. In telecommunications, are we also absolved from guilt, simply because we are just building communications systems, or whatever?

When I read Ender’s Game 30 years ago it was just a fantasy story. Now, it asks some very real questions. Perhaps, we have already answered those questions. Perhaps already we feel that life is just a game.


Spread the word:

  • There are real issues here. I have a nephew who is an Army Ranger and he does know who he kills and believes in his duty. I had an uncle who was a pilot who never saw who he killed in combat and it haunted him to his dying day. When reality hits, you never know what is going to happen, but I doubt that a lot of gamers (particularly youngsters like your nephew) really know how they would feel or react until it becomes real. I believe that morality has a strange way of keeping us on task when we least expect it.

    I also would not expect a different answer from a service member than you opened with – they should never comment on specific ops or strategies publicly. Absent a gross miscarriage of command, the military has the channels in place to consider the implications of their actions.

Telecom in Your Inbox

About this Post


Colin Berkshire is a highly technical HR executive in the Pulp and Paper Industry. Colin has an engineering and voice background, and is currently on assignment in Asia. NOTE: Colin does not respond to comments, and does not Tweet.