It's All Too Real
"I can't believe we get to play video games all day!" exclaimed Sam to his teammate Nathan. "I thought we'd have been sent out into some war zone in the Middle East. How did we get so lucky?"
Nathan turned to Tim and said, "I don't know, but we're getting close to our next target."
Tim and Nathan were one of about 100 soldiers in a nondescript building on a military base in California. Each of them were at a computer on folding tables. Each team had a sign with a number on it. Tim and Nathan were #46. On one wall of the building was a massive screen showing the position of every team on the map, so they could track themselves relative to everyone else. Their stats appeared next to the map on the screen. Every team competed against each other for the high score.
Every day was almost exactly the same. They'd wake up, do some physical training, eat breakfast at the mess hall, play games in the building for a few hours, return to the mess hall for lunch, more games, back to the mess hall for dinner, and then back to the bunks for bed. The same ritual was performed by every team in the building.
Only one strange thing broke the monotony. Every so often, a sergeant would emerge from his office down the hall. He'd then walk up next to a team, whisper something to them, they'd walk down the hall into his office, and they would never be seen again. Their dot on the map and stats would then disappear from the board. A few days later, another giddy pair of soldiers would appear to take their seats at the computers. The dot and blank stats would appear for them and the cycle would continue.
Tim and Nathan were a well-oiled machine. Tim handled the rockets and turrets while Nathan flew. They continually received missions and the general area of a target terrorist along with a grainy picture would appear on their map. It then became their responsibility to track them down and kill them with a minimum of casualties before they could kill anyone else. Killing was their business and business was good. They were risk takers but it was paying off because they were always ranked top 5 on the screen.
"Amazing how good the graphics can be but the controls are a bit laggy", Nathan commented.
"Yeah, and there's a long wait time between rounds. It really breaks the flow but maybe they're trying to be realistic? I don't know", Tim responded.
One day, they received a mission that was was not so easy. The mission environment was a very crowded town and the general area given was not very precise. Tim and Nathan were getting a bit frantic.
"I don't see the guy! Can you get any closer?", shouted Tim.
"It won't let me get any closer! It says we'll spook the guy if we do so we can't!" replied Nathan.
"Well, can you zoom in? I just see a bunch of walls and dirt paths. There's no clear visual on the guy!"
"I can zoom in where I think he went. He keeps moving though!"
"I got a rocket ready. He can't outrun that."
"Wait, he's running toward a crowd! Hold your fire!"
Tim pulled the trigger and they both watched on their screens in horror as a rocket flew into a crowd of happy people and then exploded. Suddenly the game quit to desktop and they were confused. The noise of footsteps behind them grew louder and louder until a head appeared between them.
"Log out of your terminals and follow me to me office now," the sergeant hissed.
They walked down the hall with their heads hung low and sat down in the chairs in front of the desk in the office. The sergeant walked behind them and shut the door before returning to his chair.
"What the fuck was that?!" the sergeant shouted at the top of his lungs. "You just blew up a Iraqi birthday party! 35 people are dead because of you two!"
"D-dead?" Tim stammered. "That was for real? I thought this was all a game. You've got high scores and everything."
"Game?!" the sergeant continued. "You think this is a fucking game?! We don't play games here. Those are real drones! Those are real rockets! You're a real murderer!"
There was a knock at the door. The sergeant opened the door and two MPs entered. They placed Tim and Nathan in handcuffs and walked them out.
As Tim and Nathan were led out of the building, the position dot and stats for team #46 disappeared from the screen.