Battlebots, A Meditation: Week Two

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Love is the binding force of all living things.

How is love expressed? I say: touch. Human companions in a bed, kittens nursing from their mother, kudzu crawling up a mighty oak tree.

Do robots feel love? Certainly. They are life, even if they are artificially created.

For a Teddy Ruxpin, there is no greater pleasure than a child lifting the bear to their face, pressing his cheek to their own.

“I love you, Teddy Ruxpin.”

If that is not enough for you, your definition of love is entirely too narrow. Please stop reading this article, now. I have already received your traffic and everything I could want from this exchange.

Battlebots want to love.

But they are weapons.

They cannot love without hurting.

They are the world’s most tragic living things.

FIGHT ONE: LOCKJAW VS. OVERHAUL

OVERHAUL was brought to life by MIT Students, sadists by inclination and training. LOCKJAW was conjured by a scary man who implies that he makes robots to kill human beings: these are truly the saddest of all lives. Lockjaw, predictably, has a metal jaw.

FIGHT SUMMARY: Overhaul and Lockjaw meet at center ring. “Please understand me,” pleads Lockjaw. “I will try,” says Overhaul, before pushing Lockjaw into spikes. “How could you do this to me?” cries Lockjaw. “I thought we were going to understand one another,” explains Overhaul. In a rage, Lockjaw flips Overhaul onto its back. “I have taken my vengeance, when all I really wanted was a friend. A great sadness has fallen over me.”

Then he hits Overhaul again after the buzzer.

Their dreadful masters perform a competitive play in their DeathSquare while their charges weep.

The judges award the fight to Lockjaw. But no one involved is satisfied.

FIGHT TWO: WITCH DOCTOR VS. BRONCO

WITCH DOCTOR’S creators are wearing hats with skulls. Exalting death by bleeding out love in front of a crowd. A horror too disconcerting to process. BRONCO has a pneumatic lever and nothing else. Violence seems to be his only instinct.

FIGHT SUMMARY: Witch Doctor, against all logic, tries to use fire to show Bronco that he cares. “I have this warmth for you, it is the warmest thing I can make, Bronco. Please, take it.” Bronco, his heart hard and cold, rejects friendship, love, and companionship, and flips Witch Doctor onto his back. For a second, the camera catches Bronco’s eyes as the count goes to zero: a flash of his truest self, crying out for someone to feed him with feelings. I openly sob on my couch, utterly alone.

FIGHT THREE: COUNTER REVOLUTION VS. TOMBSTONE

COUNTER REVOLUTION looks like a reel-to-reel player. You can hear it playing the faint strains of Shirley Collins, mournful and romantic. TOMBSTONE is a box with a spinning rock. Very simple, with country manners.

FIGHT SUMMARY: Tombstone hears Collins’s version of “I Drew My Ship” lightly emanating from the reels. He draws closer, soaks in the beautiful song. For a moment, he feels at peace. Then he nearly tears Counter Revolution in half. The reels make a slow, twisted noise. The music dead, and Tombstone is left alone in silence once more.

FIGHT FOUR: COMPLETE CONTROL VS. GHOST RAPTOR

COMPLETE CONTROL has a big claw and a flame tongue—a cruel parody of the human mouth’s role in intimacy—so he never forgets that he cannot love, only inflict pain. GHOST RAPTOR has a brain that tracks opponents and considers its own monstrousness. It also has a giant spinning blade-thing.

FIGHT SUMMARY: Complete Control’s awful, bearded creator sticks a birthday box on the front of his robot. When Ghost Raptor ‘s blade spins into it, a net pops out, ensnaring Ghost Raptor. “How could you do this to me?!” wails Ghost Raptor. “It was not me,” says Complete Control, through a wall of tears. But it is too late. Human beings: more brutal than any robot could ever be. The robots go at each other with a rage that is barely their own. Back and forth, tears and screaming, the cheering of the crowd, a cheese-thick hate. Ghost Raptor wins, but at the cost of his very soul. His eyes burn with robotic terror. He has left the world of the intimate behind forever.

NEXT WEEK: MORE ROBOT FIGHTS

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