Army Recruiters’ Boffo Video Game

Samantha Salvato

The military openly admits that America’s Army videogame is part of their arsenal of propaganda. Image: ArrayAmerica’s Army Ubisoft

August 2004: 14 year-old Jason loves playing video games, especially the ones with lots of action. A friend recently told him about one of the newest "first-person shooter" games, America's Army. After his first test of the game Jason is hooked. What he finds so enticing is that in the game he plays the role of a real US soldier in the Army, even using the Army's real weapons. He plays the game often and becomes very proficient. He doesn't think about how removed he is from life on a battlefield or a street in Baghdad. He is in the middle of the action, and at the same time he is at a distance; he feels no pain, he does not bleed and when he puts the controller down and walks away, he does not suffer from PTSD.

America's Army, an online war game developed by the Pentagon, was first released in July 2002. This high-tech "first- person shooter" game is now ranked in the top 10 of all downloadable PC games and is available for free. (Note: the "first-person shooter" is a video game genre that centers the play of the game on the gun and other projectile weapon-based combat through the first person perspective.) Since its release the game has had 26 revisions and can also be played on the most popular game systems such as PlayStation 3 and XBox 360

The popularity of this game was no surprise to its creators, for its design was based on extensive market research. Before the creation of America's Army recruiters had difficulty reaching young tech-savvy gamers. Many of the popular games since the mid 1990s are the "first- person shooter" games such as Doom and Halo which are known for their engrossing graphics and violence. America's Army effectively mimics these popular games, while also introducing young men and women to the systems, gadgets and machinery of the Army.

According to the official America's Army website, the game "provides players with the most authentic military experience available, from exploring the development of soldiers in individual and collective training, to their deployment in simulated missions in the War on Terror." Essentially, people playing the game are virtually "fighting" the war that has killed thousands of soldiers and hundreds of thousands of civilians over the past nine years. To make the game even more true to life, the weapons used in the game are the same as those now used during actual combat: the M16A2 Rifle, the M4A1Carbine, the M203 Grenade Launcher and more.

Beyond the use of "authentic" weapons, the game also simulates the roles, training regimens and missions of actual Army experience. When recruiters interview potential enlistees and learn that they have played the game the recruiters will often ask for their scores to see how well they performed. We see, therefore, that the game not only serves as entertainment for teens and young adults, but also as a tutorial for future soldiers. Being part of the War on Terror is exciting and fun.

November 2007: It is Jason's senior year and there is a college and job fair at his high school. Jason has never been too fond of school and unlike a lot of his friends, he does not have a great desire to go to college. Recruiters from the Army are also present at the fair and Jason is attracted to the uniforms and gold emblem he has seen for the past three years on his favorite video game. He heads over to the table and chats with the recruiters. He leaves with a packet and a smile, excited to go home and talk to mom and dad about possibly enlisting in the Army.

Of growing concern is the increasing research about the impact that long hours in front of the television or the computer has on young people. Of specific concern here is the desensitization to the consequences of violence: the horrors of brutal wounds, chaotic noise, psychic pain, confusion, despair. When one plays the violent games over and over and over, the brutality becomes familiar rather than frightening.

As a recruiting tool, America's Army far surpasses the posters and TV commercials that promote heroic US Army men and women. The game allows those who play it to learn a lot about the military while enjoying the latest in entertainment technology. Safe at home they experience the excitement of war, not the obscenity of its reality. There are no dead children or maimed buddies in their living rooms.

April 2008: After boot camp and several months of training, Jason is deployed to the war in Iraq. He feels ready and excited to fight for the real America's Army

Samantha is student at Le Moyne College and is currently interning at the Peace Council.