Gamifying precision-guided firearms

Gamifying precision-guided firearms: Bugs and daffy wouldn't stand a chance

If you were born before 1985, then there is a good chance you watched Looney Tunes on a Saturday morning and followed the exploits of the Elmer Fudd, Bugs Bunny, and Daffy Duck hunting episodes with anticipation but no element of surprise. Poor old Daffy Duck, at times disguised as a rabbit, just couldn't outwit Bugs during rabbit season! And Elmer Fudd was one of those hunters you felt sorry for—a thousand shots fired, some on target, but he never really could finish off his rival.

When the crosshairs in the heads-up display are centered on the tagged target, a squeeze of the trigger will deliver a TrackingPoint proprietary round with great precision.
A modern-day remake of an Elmer Fudd cartoon might feature a precision-guided firearm, such as those in the TrackingPoint XactSystem series [1], making Fudd's rifle in Looney Tunes look like something out of ancient history. The modern cartoon might also be a little boring, with a short and predictable ending: shoot to kill the rabbit, and that's it—dead. There would be no great chase necessary, no teasing the target animal out. Daffy would be annihilated with pin-point accuracy the first time he came into Fudd's field of view.

The Rifle

The three TrackingPoint bolt-action rifles released in 2013 at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas were developed with sport in mind rather than combat or law enforcement. The rifles (Figure 1) contain a computerized and networked tracking scope and nonvolatile storage space to record everything seen with the optics. Looking through the scope presents the shooter with a computerized heads-up display (HUD) that is similar to the sort you might find in a first-person-shooter video game. There is also the ability to “tag” a target, which is then tracked by the rifle's built-in software. When the crosshairs in the HUD (Figure 2) are centered on the tagged target, a squeeze of the trigger will deliver a proprietary TrackingPoint round with great precision.

Figure 1. A TrackingPoint precision-guided firearm. (Photo courtesy of Oren Schauble.)

Figure 2. A screenshot from the HUD of a TrackingPoint precision-guided firearm. (Photo courtesy of Oren Schauble.)

The TrackingPoint rifles have a Wi-Fi server on board, allowing them to be paired up with an external iOS device. In this way, an iPad app can mirror the rifle's HUD, allowing a spotter to assist with shots while looking at a bigger screen. TrackingPoint has a guided trigger, ballistic calculator, tracking engine, and integral laser range finder, with the ability to hit a target from about 900 m away.

Game Hunting, or Hunting Game?

With the addition of a computerized HUD and the ability to mirror the view from the rifle's optics on an iPad, hunting game is becoming ever more like a hunting video game. As one SIMHQ forum user wrote: “Might as well mount [a TrackingPoint rifle] on a drone and go nail Bambi from hundreds of miles away without the horrible inconvenience of all that going outside!” [2]

The similarities with video games continue with the ability to upload photos and videos of your kill, captured by the rifle to share with members of your social networks—a feature found in many current video games [3]. It's not hard to imagine a hunting-game craze with repercussions not only in the virtual world but in the physical. We could also point to the potential for cruelty to animals. Users might feel compelled to create an interesting clip that could go viral, and a single clean shot might look somewhat uninteresting to everyday YouTube viewers (despite the fact that hunters boast of quick kills). Using a TrackingPoint rifle is about more than sport. Hunting has been gamified.

There is nothing to stop these kinds of “sports” from becoming even more successful than the online games played by South Koreans and watched by more than a million people on television [4]. Because a living thing has been killed, we are creating our own reality-show-style scenes that are glorifying the kill. This cannot be healthy. Would we take a camera into a slaughterhouse and film the actual end-to-end process and put it on the Internet for comments or even “likes”?

Virtual and Real-World Hunting

TrackingPoint has a guided trigger, ballistic calculator, tracking engine, and integral laser range finder, with the ability to hit a target from about 900 m away.
The TrackingPoint rifles seem to create a game-like experience reminiscent of real-world, location-based, role-playing games (RPGs) where one fights virtual monsters with real-world personas in a given neighborhood. In 2011, YD Online [5], a Korean mobile gaming company, launched GEO Hunters [6], a location-based iPhone RPG app that sets gamers to fight monsters in their vicinity. What's of particular interest is that special “hidden monsters” appear based on current world news. The CEO of YD Online, Dr. Hyun Oh Yoo, believes the influence of real-life elements makes the game “even more relevant and engaging.” Yoo added, “Location-based technology has revolutionized game mechanics, and GEO Hunters takes this type of experience one step further by using Google Maps to create a fun, addictive gaming environment…We wanted to create a mobile game that combines actual geography with fantasy, while creating a community of engaged competitive players.”

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My fear is that the line between violence in the real world and virtual world is starting to blur because of the location-based element that fixes monsters (as well as yourself and other gamers) to a physical location on the Earth's surface. Your feet might be touching the ground, but your head is in a virtual world as you move around trying to capture, tame, feed, and build your own army to protect the world. I can envisage people feeling trapped by virtual monsters surrounding them and not knowing which way to turn to maintain their position in the game. The longer you are in the game, the higher the stakes, after all. So despite knowing it is just a game, a gamer might accidentally step into traffic in the physical world to avoid capture in the overlapping virtual world, risking—at best—serious injury. Gamers may also become suspicious of people around them and fear the close-up tap on the shoulder that means “game over.” The separation between the part of the game conducted virtually and the part of the game relevant to a physical location begins to melt away.

Implications

With modern-day rifles like those in the TrackingPoint series, real-world violence (such as shooting at game) is being presented as it might be in a video game. It could be easy to dismiss the impact of the death of the target animal as something less significant if you're watching that death through an HUD or on an iPad. While there is much research still to be done in this area, it surely warrants concern. No doubt, we will have to rethink what it means to pull the trigger in the future—someone who selects a graphic on an iPad app might well plead that he or she were simply engaged in a game that went too far.

All of this comes even before augmented reality hits the mainstream gaming scene. Users might recant that it “felt like they were taking a photograph” or “they were just playing an iPhone app” and that they weren't actually holding a gun when the round was fired. We may be raising a generation of gamers who are good at real-world hunting, but we might also be raising gamers that won't know the difference between virtual and real shooting [7], [8].

I wonder if the TrackingPoint rifles come with a sophisticated security system—no one seems to have mentioned this just yet. What might happen if one was able to take control of someone's weapon wirelessly?

Thankfully, at about US$17,000, these precision-guided firearms don't come cheap. The price tag minimizes the risk that the guns will be seen as children's toys for creative play. That said, there's now an iOS app that allows kids to fire virtual NERF guns in an augmented-reality game that looks a lot like TrackingPoint.

Yes, TrackingPoint guns promise exciting technology, but, as a Looney Tunes character might put it, “That's not all, folks!”

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This article was adapted from Katina Michael, “TrackingPoint Bolt-Action Rifles Are Game-Changers, Not a Game,” The Conversation, February 2013, https://theconversation.com/trackingpoint-bolt-action-rifles-are-game-changers-not-a-game-11592.

Keywords: Games, Target tracking, Weapons, Tablet computers, Computer bugs, weapons, computer games, precision-guided firearms, TrackingPoint XactSystem series, Daffy Duck hunting episodes, Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Looney Tunes

Citation:  Katina Michael, 2016, IEEE Consumer Electronics Magazine, 5(1), Jan. 2016, pp. 99 - 101.