Xbox controllers used in the military – life mimicking art?

If you’ve played either of the recent Call of Duty “Modern Warfare” games, you’ll be aware of the disturbingly realistic air attacks you can carry out on other players.

Call of Duty 4 (Computer game):

It seems that the grainy monochrome footage is easy to mimic on an Xbox 360 or PS3. The first time I saw footage like this was on CNN during the first Gulf war. It was horrible. Today, most kids will associate footage like this with harmless play, massively dissociated from reality. I really recommend taking a look at both videos – the similarities are staggering.

Real life:

What you may not know is that modified Xbox 360 controllers are used to control military hardware in real life. This isn’t “new” news – wired ran an article on it back in 2008. Around that time, the British army ran an TV Ad that showed a soldier controlling a UAV (Unmanned Air Vehicle) using a modified Xbox 360 Controller.


Still from British Army TV ad

The army later confirmed that this was indeed real hardware, though, somewhat amusingly, were quick to point out that they had removed the Microsoft branding. There are some more examples of game console controlers used in the military here, here and here.

A spokesperson from Rayethon (An American defence system manufacturer – who make cruise missiles among other things) was quoted here as saying “We feel we have to take advantage of the fact that all the kids are growing up with video games”. In the same article, another system vendor was quoted as proudly stating “If you can use an Xbox, you can use this”.

I can’t imagine the games console designers being happy about their work being used in military applications. Still, there’s not much they can do about it. If it’s an effective control device that requires minimal training then it’s inevitably going to get appropriated.


More Xbox controllers in the millitary. Image credit: Popular Mechanics

Through the history of humanity, boys have played with toy spears and swords – I suppose this is just a natural continuation, and nothing out of the ordinary. What’s weird is that now, for the first time, technology has advanced to the point that allows us to design weapons of war that are almost indistinguishable in use from children’s toys. Stranger than fiction.

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