How weaponized Xbox controllers inspired a new art exhibit

shooting box, from September 1 to 24, is an exhibition curated by Rachel Berger of the California College of the Arts (CCA). The centerpiece of the show is that of Berger Chip I, an Xbox controller cast in lead and copper, a commentary on what she sees as the cynical use of Xbox controllers in weapon systems.

“The military deliberately blurred the line between toys and guns,” Berger told Forbes.

chip i is part of a long tradition of sculpted versions of everyday objects placed in galleries to give them another look. Berger, a design professor and chair of the CCA’s graphic design program, worries that childhood games are becoming military hardware.

“I believe the apparent innocence of the Xbox controller is the key to its danger,” Berger says.

Controllers made headlines a few years ago when the US Navy began using them to operate the photonic mast – the modern version of a periscope – in their Virginia-class submarines. Previously, a custom controller was used, but it was clunky and unintuitive, and was priced at $38,000. Game controllers have proven to be much easier to use and cheaper to replace.

These Xbox controllers can even be used to aim and fire the high-energy laser weapons the Navy is now integrating into Virginia-class photonic masts.

The same controller is used in the development of other unmanned systems such as the US Army’s Robotic Wingman vehicle.

Berger argues that while there may be benefits to using this material, there is a less obvious downside.

“The Xbox controller is certainly much cheaper and much better designed than anything the military could come up with, but I think it’s ‘expensive’ to use in terms of the consequences of blurring the line between toys and weapons,” says Shepherd.

His point is underscored by the design history.

“Early consoles offered a range of specialized input devices in addition to the classic controller: light guns, shuttlecocks and flight sticks, even fishing rods and maracas,” says Berger. “Xbox and PlayStation, today’s major consoles, have converged on a similar all-in-one controller, with a complex combination of thumbsticks, d-pads, buttons, bumpers and triggers.”

The modern Xbox controller is therefore a complex piece of kit, but one that many people are used to using after years of Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty.

“Proponents of military use of Xbox controllers prefer terms like instinctive and intuitive to describe the rapid adoption of the hardware by soldiers,” Berger says. “But it’s not like the controller’s 16-button analog dual-console gamepad is easy to master. It is that having spent hundreds of hours playing with the joystick in their childhood, the soldiers have already mastered it. They find the controller to be intuitive because of its familiarity, not its simplicity. »

Berger notes that the military uses the Xbox 360 controller rather than the newer Xbox One, apparently because the older design is more familiar to those who now handle military hardware. Some 27 million have been sold and many are still in use.

Other exhibits at shooting box exhibit includes another Berger Xbox controller, Chip III, and an exhibit showing America’s Army, a video game developed as a recruiting aid and distributed as a free Xbox download – and a memorial to American servicemen killed in Iraq created using the US Army’s messaging system. There’s also video from CNN’s Desert Storm coverage, quickly dubbed the video game war. Other items include a lead mold for World War I toy soldiers and the casts and other items used to create Ball i.

But why should the military use of practical commercial equipment provoke such a strong reaction? Maybe because it has more to do with culture wars than military operations.

“At the end of the day, I believe the reasons the military reassigned controllers is a smokescreen,” Berger says.

Berger suggests that the training and ergonomic aspects are less important than what the controller represents.

“By virtue of its status as a designed object, the Xbox controller is inscribed with far more consequential meanings and values ​​than the military acknowledges. In a chilling echo of the simulator that turns out to be real in the science-fiction novel- fictional Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, the military reuses a beloved item from the Gamer Generation’s childhood for America’s war machine.

Shooter Box runs until September 24. Details can be found here.