A drone pilot reflects on how his job is like playing a videogame

With the election coming up, military drone strikes are getting more attention. President Obama has increased the role of drones in the military and Mitt Romney has given every indication he would continue the trend if he wins the election. Unmanned, the grand jury prize winner at Indiecade, deals with a day in the life of a drone pilot.

Since the strikes are coordinated from afar, it’s hard to know how connected the pilots are to the violence they perform. An anonymous drone pilot at Medium Difficulty explained what it’s like to be a drone pilot and why the distance from actual violence is problematic:

I still feel nothing about the deaths I witnessed and participated in remotely. There’s no revelry or regret. I have no traces of PTSD.

So what’s the difference between me and the 200,000 combat vets with PTSD? I’m not a psychologist but my best guess is likely the same as yours. I was behind a monitor the whole time. Every death, injury, gunshot, and explosion was only as real as watching it on the news or playing it in a video game. At the end of my mission I’d get a “congrats!” over IRC chat or through my headset. I’d log off, shut down my computer, and go back to my bed for a night of sound sleep, completely emotionally and physically untouched after helping to kill a real live human being.

It wasn’t until one particular mission, late in the summer, when a call was made to fire into a tree line by two Apache helicopters, that a light bulb went on. Everyone was so sure and so complacent that our target was hiding in the treeline that the order to fire was given without a second thought. As it turns out, he was indeed hiding in the treeline, but was using a large group of women and children to shield himself. After the Apaches fired, women with children in tow went scattering as fast as they could to the shelter of the mosque about a hundred yards away across an open field. Once we realized this, the firing stopped. However, I honestly don’t know how many people were injured that morning.