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'Game of Drones' Is the Worst Headline

A brief history of the most overused pun in journalism.

Image: Vile Hyvonen/Flickr.

Hey, you know what is always a really great and hilarious idea? Taking something controversial (drones) and mashing it up with a super popular fantasy series that takes place in a world without technology because hey, “drones” and “thrones” totally rhymes. 

Every newsroom around the country has, at one time or another, had to cover drones, and what better way to do that than with some sort of pun? The word “drone,” after all, is really easy to rhyme. More creative but still terrible headlines include Drones, Drones on the Range (do they know how that song goes?), Drone Home, Dronehenge, and Drone Ranger. But in terms of sheer numbers, “Game of Drones” easily wins the War on Terror-ble headlines.

Game of Thrones debuted on HBO on April 17, 2011—it took Bill Maher roughly three months to feature the phrase on his show in what appears to be the first use of the phrase when referring to drones (some dude used it to whine about how George RR Martin’s series is super boring). But use of the phrase really took off when Jon Stewart used it in December, 2011 for a segment about Obama’s drone war. Since then, it’s become the go-to phrase for editors looking for something totally punny for a drone article.

Before we continue: There is, sort of, one acceptable reason to use “Game of Drones” in a headline, and it comes to us thanks to a group of hobbyists who have created the Game of Drones web series and fight club (the Aerial Action Sports League). That move has made compiling this list ever so-slightly more difficult. We’ll let articles that specifically reference the fight club slide. 

It’s not just the media, though. A bunch of think tanks, universities, and researchers have used the phrase to get you really thinking about the potential implications of the technology and what it might mean if we keep moving forward. We know that, because they all have subtitles such as “The Uses and Potential Abuses of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in the U.S. and Abroad."

I'd be remiss if I didn't include this amazing, St. Patrick's Day-themed image the folks over at Drone Free St. Louis made for a parody article today.

Why do we care? Mostly because the phrase means absolutely nothing, is lazy, and has been done, literally, hundreds of times at this point. It takes an issue that is either deathly serious (drone strikes abroad) or really complicated (drones at home) and boils it down into a meaningless pun. Not all of these articles ae bad—in fact, many of them are very, very good, important, and necessary. But it’s time for a permanent moratorium on "Game of Drones" as a headline. Because by now we know that, just like winter in Westeros, drones are coming. These eyes in the sky will spy. There will be drone moans. Drone on, guys.

The Economist 

Game of Drones

What it's about: Commercial drones might be bad but hey maybe they'll be good, too.

The Washington Free Beacon

Game of Drones

What it's about: China's getting drones and that's bad!

Tech Crunch

Gilmor Gang: Game of Drones

Main Idea: Imagine "a world where drones drop things off and pick them up, too." The horror.

The American Prospect

Game of Drones

What it's about: The story is an insightful take on the role drones play in America's foreign policy.

Forbes

Game of Drones

What it's about: Drones are both bad and good!

Defining Ideas

Game of Drones

What it's about: Drones are cheaper than airplanes.

Art News 

The Art World's Game of Drones

What it's about: People are making surveillance and drone-inspired art.

Mashable

When Journalism Becomes a Game of Drones

What it's about: A good, first-person look at the hurdles one of the country's first drone journalism programs had to go through.

Al Jazeera

Game of Drones

What it's about: US media is covering up news about drone strikes to preserve security secrets

DW

Game of Drones

What it's about: A general explainer on all things drones for an English-speaking German audience.

Documentary Film 

Game of Drones: The President and the White House Fly

What it's about: The U.S. sure likes using drones to kill people, doesn’t it?

Cato Institute 

Game of Drones

What it's about: What happens when drones come to the US?

PETA 

PETA’s Game of Drones

What it's about: Hunters suck, let’s spy on them with drones.

Guns Magazine 

EXCLUSIVE: Game of Drones

What it's about: God, PETA is annoying.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Game of Drones: A Global Affairs Pub Quiz

What it's about: Getting drunk and showing off your foreign policy knowledge.

Academic paper 

A Game of Drones: The Legality of the Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Targeted Strikes and Targeted Killings

What it's about: The legality of the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in targeted strikes and targeted killings. What else?

The American Conservative 

A Game of Drones

What it's about: Drone strikes are bad.

Huffington Post 

Game of Drones: Learning From Bees

What it's about: Bees, not unmanned aerial vehicles. How fun!

Boston Herald 

Amazon Plays Game of Drones

What it's about: Amazon sure is crazy. Gotta love this lede: “Unmanned drones hurtling over tall buildings and busy highways to deliver gadgets and groceries to our doorsteps: What could possibly go wrong?”

Counter Punch 

The Game of Drones

What it's about: The subhead is “welcome to the age of Murder.gov.” You can guess from there.

NorthJersey.com 

Game of Drones is One-Sided

What it's about: Drone strikes are bad.

The Harvard Crimson

Game of Drones

What it's about: Drone strikes are bad. So many bonus points for a political cartoon that (badly) tries to tie the show and a Predator drone together.

Emory Journal of International Affairs

GAME OF DRONES: ‘WINTER IS COMING’ FOR ALREADY ICY SINO-JAPANESE RELATIONS OVER THE SENKAKU ISLANDS

What it's about: Cramming as many Game of Thrones references into a story about a sticky foreign policy situation.

World Future Society

Agriculture, the New Game of Drones

What it's about: Drones are going to make heavy agricultural machinery useless

BetaBeat

Game of Drones: Does NYC Have an ‘Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Problem’

What it's about: Too many people are flying drones near tall buildings, which is scary. Bonus points for the subhead, which is “Rise of the machines,” which is something a machine would write.

Military.com

Afghanistan: Game of Drones

What it's about: A quick video checking in on our drone war.

TechRadar

Game of Drones: Amazon’s PR Stunt is Tomorrow’s Terrifying Reality

What it's about: Expect “skies dark with drones” any day now.

Amnesty International

Game of Drones

What it's about: The organization launched a seven-week campus tour to educate young people about the targeted killing program by “taking a thematic cue from the shadowy figures in the popular ‘Game of Thrones” television show.

Arab News

The Unending Game of Drones

What it's about: An op-ed begging us to stop targeted killings in the Middle East, please.

VICE

Afghanistan’s Game of Drones

Main Idea: Hey, we’re guilty of it, too … not once, but twice. Whatcha gonna do about it?