Militarized Gaming as Recruitment Tools

Video Games Are U.S. Army's Most Powerful Recruitment ToolCall of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 met instant success when it released just before Veteran’s Day this year, selling 4.7 million units the first day. While millions rushed to play a game based on military combat, roughly 70,000 young Americans chose to join the Army last year. Another game not quite as popular, America’s Army, was developed by the U.S. military to aid in recruitment and in order to play, you have to register your information through the Army’s recruitment website. According to The Washington Examiner, it appears to be working.

The article cites a 2008 MIT study that found “30 percent of all Americans age 16 to 24 had a more positive impression of the Army because of the game and, even more amazingly, the game had more impact on recruits than all other forms of Army advertising combined.”

An Air Force colonel cited in the Examiner article said young recruits who are avid gamers with minimal training and experience are “naturals to the fast-moving, multitasking nature of modern warfare.” It seems war-based video games have inadvertently helped train people to become better warriors, so it makes sense to use video games to build interest in the Army. What do you think? Is recruiting for the military through video games the right way to go? - Source

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A visitor plays "Halo Wars" during the 2008 E3 Media & Business Summit in Los Angeles.The Pentagon's embrace of video games is part of a much larger phenomenon -- "militainment" -- that is reshaping how the public understands today's conflicts. The term was first coined to describe any public entertainment that celebrated the military, but today it could be redefined to mean the fascinating, but also worrisome, blurring of the line between entertainment and war. For example, while America's Army is technically a publicly funded recruiting and training platform, its main commercial rival is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, a game published by Activision Blizzard. The two games compete for market share, but also over who can better define contemporary war zones.

Nowadays, it seems like every major FPS involves players in some kind of military or paramilitary organization. Gears of War and Halo: ODST do it in the future, while Call of Duty did it in the past and now the present, with Modern Warfare.

Although this makes sense in historical context, it also has the effect of changing the perception of the military and war in video games. The events of Doom and Half-Life are extraordinary, with a lone person taking up a gun and using it to survive. They are the solitary hero because they have to be the solitary hero. In games like Half-Life and Deus Ex, the military forces of the state are the enemy. In more recent games, as members of the military, the player is now a representative of the state. And in order for their premises, settings, and storylines to work, video games have to justify the actions of those militaries. This necessarily means that the violence of the state - war - is now the focus of most first-person shooters, instead of survival. And those wars have to be justified and even glorified for the games to work.

The Potential of America's Army as Civilian Public SphereThis thesis, researched during 2002-03, examines the political life of the America's Army fan community, comparing the activities and identities of three exceptional gamer groups (real life soldiers and veterans; Evangelical Christians; and hackers) to the official understanding of the game's purpose.

The thesis fieldwork with soldiers and veterans was carried out during the lead-up to, and after the outbreak of second Gulf War, and includes an interview with a new Army recruit attracted to the profession by America's Army. In addition, the West Point officers who conceived the game concept were extensively interviewed about the underlying rationale of the game.

As the first major government-produced video game culture -- one which asks the player to "Defend Freedom" and "Empower Yourself" -- this thesis looks beyond the controversy to ask what the America's Army community today signifies for the future of political practice in the game medium as a public space. A Habermasian public sphere framework is applied.

The thesis argues that the exceptional America's Army gamer groups' grassroots activities demonstrate how objections about the presumed triviality and irrelevance of gamespaces as political spaces may be refuted.

game America’s ArmyThis paper explores the characterizations of enemies in military-themed video games, with special attention given to the games Conflict: Desert Storm and America’s Army. I demonstrate how the public enemy of America’s Army is one not confined to any nationality, ethnicity, or political agenda. This marks a significant departure from games such as Conflict: Desert Storm. I argue that the production of this abstract enemy—what I call the ‘‘unreal enemy’’—is significantly shaped by a biopolitical system that intertwines the military and electronic entertainment industries. This arrangement delocalizes power, distributing it through a network of institutions and subjects. Throughout, I use ethnographic examples that explore how this abstract enemy has been constructed and juxtaposed against more concrete and personal figures, such as the America’s Army Real Heroes, individuals upheld as the embodiment of personal achievement in the U.S. Army. I conclude by asserting that the unreal enemy of America’s Army is, ultimately, an enemy that is not exclusive to a video game, but one that exists as an anonymous specter, ever present in the militarized American cultural imaginary.

Adolescents, America’s Army, and the Government-Gaming NexusThis paper uses a political economic (Bettig & Hall, 2003; McChesney, 2000; 2004; 2008; Meehan, 2005, Mosco, 2009; Wasko, 2005) lens to examine the U.S. government’s video game, America’s Army. America’s Army is a first-person shooter game available for free online that has military recruitment as its primary goal. The U.S. Army launched America’s Army on July 4, 2002; it has been downloaded more than 42 million times and has a virtual Army comprised of 519,472 “soldiers.” This paper studies the history of the government production of America’s Army and uses industry and government records to explore the current ties between the public sector and transindustrial gaming conglomerates. The issue of the video game and its intended youth audience becomes even more problematic when one considers how the government combines its strength with powerful corporate interests to disseminate violent media to adolescents with military enlistment and commodification as primary goals. As a result, this paper conceptualizes the “government-gaming nexus” to explain the relationship between the U.S. government and private transindustrial media organizations to better understand how that structure functions in society. Praxis strategies focus on ratings, education, and regulation.

Margot Susca, Ph.D.
The Florida State University
College of Communication and Information

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