Playing your cards right

Jeremy Antley brought this Kill Screen article on the game DRONE to my attention this morning. DRONE uses a regular pack of cards to simulate the now-pervasive use of drones to kill military targets, and and the frequent civilian deaths that these strikes frequently lead to.

I was struck immediately by the degree to which the materiality of this game contributes to the production of meaning, something I’ve been working with a lot lately in my dissertation. The game is meant to be played with a standard set of cards, which does much to play down any sense of exceptionality—it’s just one more game, no different from the rest. This seems to me to have a strong resonance with popular rhetoric surrounding drones. We’re told that they’re simply one more tool for the military to use, and that there’s nothing exceptional about them, an argument that ignores the fact that this type of persistent, impersonal, asymmetric warfare is radically different. The plain cards, too, also resonate with the game-like control systems used by drone pilots, which, although highly elaborate, feature components familiar to most videogamers, and could well be found in many homes (albeit in less complex arrangements).

Another interesting wrinkle develops if players use one of the infamous decks of Most-Wanted Iraqi playing cards distributed to soldiers in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Every one of these cards features the face of a member of Saddam Hussein’s government wanted by the US military, and as such, every card will appear to be a strike on an enemy, even though the majority of the cards, according to the rules of DRONE, are civilians. Combining the cards of Bush’s presidency with the DRONE of Obama’s reveals a curious reinforcement of logic, wherein all targets become military targets (even when they’re not), allowing us to ignore the human costs that DRONE’s rules struggle to bring to our attention.

Unfortunately, this game is somewhat outside of the area of my dissertation, and as such I likely won’t be able to go much further into it than I have in these initial thoughts, but with luck people like Jeremy will be able to help dig further into this game. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, and look forward to a discussion in the comments..

Leave a Reply