FP: As I watched the YouTube trailers of the game with all these exotic weapons, it struck me that even though terrorists hijacked them, the weapons themselves seemed to work perfectly. But the history of warfare is replete with weapons that didn't work as planned. Don't video games portray a technologically idealized vision of warfare?
PS: The entertainment world has always drawn from the military world its story, setting, and characters. In turn, the military over the last 100 years has gotten ideas of things to build, especially from science fiction, from the submarine to the land ironclad to what H.G. Wells called an "atomic bomb." What is different is that over the last 10 years the military is drawing from the technology of the video-game industry. Sometimes technology can be idealized. The recruiting videos don't show all the incredible complexity of insurgency, nor some aspects of how boring it is. Not every day is going to be the Abbottabad raid on bin Laden. Some days it's just taking the Metro to the Pentagon and sitting in a cubicle in the Joint Staff. Another problem is that nothing can replace muddy boots on the ground.
FP: Many of the next generation of soldiers will play this game, which means eventually the next generation of commanders will have played it. Do you believe video games like this affect how real armies fight?
PS: That's a really good question. It might shape expectations, the technologies that people think they should have, and then they become real. What are we seeing among Millennials, or Generation Y, is that because they grew up being able to control so much, they take that expectation with them into schools, the workplace, and the military. When I was a kid, my parents could tell me that "if you're not good, we're not going to let you watch your favorite show." My son is 2 years old, and he already knows how to use an iPad to pull down videos of firetrucks from YouTube whenever he wants to see them. We're seeing this move into education -- professors and teachers talk about this -- and into the military. I talked to a Navy SEAL training officer who said, "With my generation, if we were told to run for the wall, we ran for the wall. With this generation, if you tell them to run for the wall, they ask why." But then he added, "If you tell them why, they'll figure out a better way to do it."
We're seeing far greater capability at multitasking, but we're also seeing partial attention-deficit disorder. I was at the Combined Air Operations Center where we coordinate our air missions in the Middle East, and I was standing behind a young airman with 36 different chat rooms open, each one a different air mission over Iraq that he was coordinating. But then I read our last QDR [Quadrennial Defense Review], and we're seeing the impact of this. Read our strategic documents; we identify priorities, but we don't set them. We try to do too much at once.
FP: How about the impact of these games on the public's perception of warfare?
PS: Again, they are an entertainment platform. But you'll notice that in the TV commercial I was in, everything that we were exploring a year ago as we were building out the game -- well, news kept popping that confirmed the trends that we were identifying as important. Those who play the game will learn about trends and issues that are real and that are familiar to those in the defense base, but are not known widely: the criticality of rare-earth elements, the moving of more systems into the AI and robotic space. But when people point to video games, I point to something bigger in the perception of war: the end of the draft. Millions of kids are playing this game, but each year the U.S. Army has to persuade a little over 70,000 to join. During World War II, the U.S. public bought $185 billion in war bonds. During the last 10 years, we bought $0 in war bonds and gave the top 4 percent a tax break. If you want to talk about connections between the public and war, there are bigger things going on than video games.