From the Colosseum to Consoles

How much have we actually changed when millions of people kill each other for entertainment?

It’s somewhat perverted how engaging the new Call of Duty is because of how realistic it is to shoot people. As gas flows out from the barrel, empty bullet casings drop to the floor, and blood flows out of the corpse, the player moves onward through the house and gives the next target the same lead-filled treatment.

In-game graphics from the mission ‘Clean House’

It struck me during the game that modern gaming is closing in on a type of photo-realism that many didn’t expect would arise till much later. In doing so, it’s brought to head an important realisation — that we’re quickly closing in on the ability to emulate killing people in a resolution that’s indistinguishable from the real thing. This naturally leads to a moral conundrum that was a cornerstone in Nick Bostrom’s ‘Superintelligence’ book which details how a super-intelligence AI may use simulations of people to rapidly test machine-learning models. For this super-intelligence, the question became whether it’s ethical to simulate killing potentially billions of people? As simulations through gaming become ever-more realistic, at what point do we begin curbing this realism?

There’s a mission from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare that has the user provide air-support for a SAS team by controlling the gun batteries in an AC-130. What many gamers don’t realise is just how realistic this mission is to the real thing — in fact, much of the mission takes its notes from this leaked video. Even the AC-130s have the same callsign, ‘Wildfire’.

As gaming becomes more engrained in mass-culture as the way people relax, we need to think more about how exactly people are relaxing. For many, this type of relaxation is in the form of killing people as a super-soldier and when games are looking to intensify that experience then the question becomes are these type of games inadvertently looking to simulate killing people as best as possible?

It would appear the answer is yes. We speak about how archaic it is that Romans used to visit the Colosseum to watch slaves fight to the death but nowadays we personally choose to play blood-seeking games as our entertainment. When the pixels begin looking more like the photons from the real-experience then at what point is there even a difference anymore?

Electrical engineering/Neuroscience at University of Sydney. Aspiring neuro-trauma surgeon with a few software/hardware goals.

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