The Case FOR Video Games as an Army Recruitment Tool

Stop it hippies!  You’re fighting the wrong battle.

Let me start by saying I whole heartedly support our country’s right to peaceful protest, which is precisely what hundreds are doing for a second time at the new state of the art $12 million Army Experience Center in Philadelphia. 

The Army Experience Center (let’s call them AEC) boasts a relaxed atmosphere where potential army recruits aged 13 and up can talk to recuitment officers, go hands on with the latest military technology, try out humvee and apache simulators, and (and this why it is relevant to us) play America’s Army with fellow recruits on networked PC’s and XBOX 360’s.  For those not familiar with America’s Army, it is a video game developed by the Army to simulate battlefield scenarios, encouraging real world tactics to survive and proceed.

Unsuprisingly, this has caught the ire of peace loving anti-war citizens across the nation.  It is quite understandable why they would be displeased at the Army’s use of a video game to encourage recruitment into a military currently fighting a war in two countries. 

May 2nd protest in which seven people were arrested.

May 2nd protest in which seven people were arrested.

On May 2, the date of the original protest, the marchers carried a banner proclaiming that “war is not a game.”  Obviously.  So obvious in fact, I dare you to find one member of AEC who would argue this fact. 

You may recall a little matter of a game (that was supposed to be) called Six Days in Fallujah in which you re-enacted the real world battle of Fallujah as told through the eyes of the allied soldiers, as well as the insurgents, that fought there.  The game came under such public scrutiny that Konami, the game’s publisher, dropped the title.  Those who remember when I was a member of the podcast team may also recall my argument at the time that the title should have been given a chance.  Why?  Because games don’t always have to be fun.  Sometimes they can just be a digital experience.  “Experience” carries a much different meaning than “game.”  Experiences can be used to teach, to train, to prepare, and to improve one’s self.  Games are entertainment.  Would we run into these dilemnas if video games were instead called digital experiences?  Hard to say, but to the Army’s credit, their $12 million attraction is called the Army EXPERIENCE Center.  I know of nobody who would protest a flight simulator.  However, flight sims can be found on the same shelves as World of Warcraft and other games.  Does that mean that a flight sim is a game? 

However, my argument for the AEC differs depending on the protester’s reason for his or her protest.  I will list every possible objection I can think of and, in my own endearing way, tell them and you where they are wrong.

The Army Experience Center is glamorizing war.

The first thing you’ll hear when you load up the above youtube video is a bullhorn wielding demonstrator saying this very statement.  This is where actually being armed with some knowledge of the video game industry comes in handy.  Those with the bullhorns and the picket signs have probably very little or no knowledge at all of the juggernaut Call of Duty franchise, the most popular of which is subtitled Modern Warfare.  Nearly everyone who plays it loves it.  However, none of those gamers are under the delusion that it does indeed accurately depict modern warfare.  If there is someone out there who believes that you are denied air support until you kill five enemies in a row, I would love to meet them.  What is my point?  If the Army truly wanted to draw in the masses and glamorize war, they would throw the wildly fun Call of Duty up on their big screens, not the slow paced, thought provoking realism of America’s Army.  America’s Army all but glamorizes war.  It is a tool in digital experience form. 

I am completely Anti-War

Ok, I can respect that.  I think you’ll find very few people who enjoy war.  By all means, protest war.  What you should NOT do is protest soldiers, or protest the recruiting of soldiers, unless of course…

I am anti-military.  If there were no military, there would be no war

You’re an idiot.  If there were no military, how long do you think this country would be here?  Who would protect us?  You would have to be the most naive person I have ever met to think that we wouldn’t need protecting.

This is just an attempt to increase enlistment

Well, yeah, but what’s wrong with that?  This country needs all the soldiers it can get.  Why?  Because I’m not signing up!  I know the risks, and you better believe that the people talking to recruiters do too.  However, contrary to popular belief, the Army does not snag every warm body willing to sign their name on the line.  You must pass an aptitude test.  In other words, you are tested physically, mentally, and psychologically to prove that you would be an asset, not a hinderance on the battlefield.

I am eternally grateful to those who are willing to go and die for me and you should be too.  It is up to the recruiters to go and find them.  The only problem would be if it were somehow possible that these recruiters were duping these young innocents attending their experience.  Which leads to another possible objection.

The Army is using video games to conform impressionable young minds

Again, the army doesn’t take everyone.  If someone passes through the door that is naive, they are shown the same door.  However, I believe their use of recruiting tools is very telling.  If they are indeed forming an impression than they are undoubtedly doing everything they can to form the correct one.  Instead of scoring points in Call of Duty and having the benefit of endless respawns, you are instead put in as close to a life or death scenario as the law permits.  Instead of being presented with an endless enertainment extravaganza, you are shown real world weapons used in real world scenarios.  Instead of a recruiter telling you in words what may happen, you EXPERIENCE it.

Certainly nothing will ever substitute for actually being in combat, but would you rather just throw a fresh recruit out there and see what happens?  I would think you’d want to present that recruit with as much realism as you can to ensure that they know what they are potentially getting themselves into.  Will it always work?  Certainly not.  There will always be soldiers that wish they had made another choice.  The Army Experience Center, however, is the best way I can think of to weed as many of those individuals out as possible.

What do you think?

16 responses to “The Case FOR Video Games as an Army Recruitment Tool

  1. Very good article. I served with the 34th infantry and deployed to combat theaters twice in my time with the unit. I am also an avid wargammer and FPS fan and have been so for years. The fact of the matter is we have an all volunteer military and if you enlist you have to want it to make it through even the basic training. When I did my basic and AIT at Ft. Benning Georgia we had something like a 35% drop out rate for the company which means about 1/3 of those who enlisted where not mentally or physically fit enough to make it as your average grunt infantryman in the US army.

    I’m all for freedom of speech and the right to protest but I believe these people should get their priorities strait rather then play mother hen to gamers who may have an interest in taking on the responsibility of serving our country. There are allot worse things out there a young impressionable kid can be persuaded into doing via the media then joining the army and in my 6 years in the military I never once met anyone who actually made it through the grueling process of becoming a soldier and regretted the experience. It appears the people attending the AEC are more mature then the protesters trying to “protect” them from it are.

  2. Very well put ML.

    Thanks for the words. Most of all though, thank you for your service.

  3. My name is James Hamilton and I am a producer for AL JAZEERA ENGLISH television network in Washignton, DC.
    I am looking in to doing a story about the upcoming protest at the AEC in Philadelphia.
    Your blog raises some insightful and provocative points that I would love to discuss with you over the phone.
    My email address is attached and I would be happy to forward you my phone number so that we could have a conversation.

    James Hamilton”
    Al Jazeera English
    Washington, DC

  4. All I have to say is WOW! You missed the entire point. My son joined the Marine Corps, and served 3 tours. He says what the Army is doing isn’t right, and in fact, is warping young minds! Isn’t that why we have guns in schools? Everyone always cries about the violent society we live in yet you want kids to play violent games starting at what, 13, maybe younger. You people are truly nuts!

    • While I respect your son and the opinion he gave you, I mourn your collective ignorance. Ms. Brower, I am afraid it is you who has missed the point. While we can go round and round about why there are guns in schools and why our society is so violent, what you never EVER heard me say is that I want kids to play violent games. That is a matter for a responsible parent to decide. It is not the decision of myself, or even the Army for that matter.

      The point that you missed is that nobody can go into the AEC and play a video game. What they are doing is experiencing military simulations. Not because it’s fun, but because it is a tool to help them better understand what a battlefield scenario would be like. Because the sim can be run on the same machine that a game can, it is brandished as a game. That would be similar to the fact that I assume you watch television Ms. Brower. Did you know you can use a television to view pornography? Therefore Ms. Brower, YOU WATCH PORNOGRAPHY! Yeah, I know, this is a ludicrous assumption but perhaps you see my point.

      I leave you with this. Ask your son if he ever used a military simulator. Ask him if it was a helpful tool.

  5. Dulce et Decorum Est
    by Wilfred Owen

    Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
    Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
    Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
    And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
    Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
    But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
    Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
    Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

    Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!–An ecstasy of fumbling,
    Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
    But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
    And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
    Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
    As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

    In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
    He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

    If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
    Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
    And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
    His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
    If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
    Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
    Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
    Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
    My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
    To children ardent for some desperate glory,
    The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
    Pro patria mori.


    (“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” translated from latin means “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country”)

    • I get what Wilfred Owen is saying, what are you saying?

      • “War. War never changes…”

        As an avid lifelong student of military history and someone who regrets not applying to West Point immediately after high school graduation, I’ve enjoyed this opportunity to think about one of the major questions concerning the subject of war: what is the totality of the human experience of war?

        To use examples from the simulated scenarios present at the Philadelphia AEC:

        Is it just riding in a hum-vee with your battle brothers?
        Or is it also having that hum-vee rocked by the explosion of an I.E.D. and bearing witness to the horrible tragedy of friendly casualties?

        Is it just crewing a black hawk and scanning the ground for hostiles while zipping along in the sky?
        Or is it also having to haul the mutilated wounded and dead onboard while returning fire into a possibly densely populated urban environment?

        It is just sitting behind giant control screens and data read-outs stationed off-shore or off-site and directing missile strikes and attack packages?
        Or is it also the heavy burden of leadership knowing that there is a significant risk with any action that you take that there will be a human cost on both sides.

        What about Wilfred Owen’s Army Experience in a war almost a century ago:

        Is it the hard-fought glory of the American Marines’ victory at the Battle of Belleau Wood when the gunnery sergeant screamed, “Come on you sons-of-bitches, do you want to live forever?!”
        Or is it also British soldier Wilfred Owen’s personal experience of retreating from heavy artillery bombardment and gas attacks? Is the fourth verse of his poem part of the experience too:

        “If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
        Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
        And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
        His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
        If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
        Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
        Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
        Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues”

        Because if you can say that all of these things are part of the Army Experience too, then they should be included in the simulators which, as you claim, are meant to be realistic training tools for the possible recruit to play. It might make them less enjoyable or entertaining, but that’s beside the point: they’re representative of the army combat experience. Would I include those things into simulators for the already enlisted? Probably not. They need the simlulators to focus on the instructions of tactics, strategy, skills, and techniques. They’re not using them for the rest of the “experience”. They nobly LIVE the rest of the experience.

        Do you know why they’re not playing Call of Duty at the AEC? Because it wasn’t developed to be instructional, but entertaining. It was developed to be “realistic” entertainment. How many times have you beaten a level in any of the Call of Duty installments by yourself without relying on your squadmates or support? Many a time. Do you know what would happen if the Army used Call of Duty to recruit young men and women? Amongst other things, we’d be living in a strange, bizarro, twilight zone world where the movie The Last Starfighter could be a documentary. We’d also have soldiers like me using tactics like “spray N’ pray, hoard the ammo, run n’ gun, etc.” and the Geneva documents would have to be up-dated to address the issue of tea-bagging. I’m kidding. But seriously. That’s ridiculous.

        Did you really get what Wilfred Owen was saying?

        The AEC isn’t glamorizing war, they’re just not relating to potential recruits the whole experience. That might otherwise not be so inexcusable, but it is, given the fact that they’re advertising it as being THE Army Experience. I’m not saying that before the AEC the recruiters sat down and told the recruit all about the ghastly horrors of war, of course they didn’t. But at least then it was an issue that was possibly implied, but mostly omitted. Otherwise, we’d have very few recruits. And, you’re right, that’s a real problem.

        If you can readily admit to yourself that the fourth stanza of his poem, or an experience like it, is part of the average experience of a combat infantryman, then you’re saying you really wouldn’t have a hard time telling a thirteen year old kid playing at the AEC that, “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country”?

        I would be all for the AEC if I thought that it was being used for new, already enlisted recruits to get a taste of what was to come. But if there are kids in the mall who instead of going to put coins in the arcade are going to play war games for free at the AEC and are not even within a year of enlistment age… well, that just seems messed up. The sergeant in the video you provided says that the simulators are the biggest attractions and that they are being “enjoyed”. They must not be completely realistic then, huh? Would children enjoy the reality of war or military experiences?

        I would be more ok with the AEC if they just made the whole thing available only to 18+ or recently enlisted recruits.

        I have visited the army recruitment and the marine corps office twice in the past three years to ask questions and gather information. If they had these simulators, it may have been what sealed it for me. Not because I was ready necessarily or because it was a priority for me, but because it would have played up to what I have always loved about the military and war of every era. I love tactics and strategy. I hold the virtues of honor, sacrifice, duty, and courage, above all else. Nevertheless, I think I would make a terrible soldier. I have authority issues. Maintaining discipline can be a struggle for me. The simulators wouldn’t have shown me or told me those things.

        Regardless, and THIS MAY BE THE MOST IMPORTANT THING THAT I HAVE TO SAY, thank you to all the brave men and women who have served and continue to serve our country, both at home and overseas. You truly are paragons of virtues that are quickly becoming lost in our society and culture. I have the utmost respect for what you do and the causes to which you have dedicated your lives.

        Sincerely, thank you.

        Interesting article, Jeff.

  6. Always my favorite thing to see… People who gain most from what our armed forces, any armed forces that are in the right, are doing or have done are on the front lines of criticizing or demeaning them. It’s the height of naivete to believe the world would be better without the incalculable service our armed forces perform (I would also include the UK, Israel, Canada, etc. in there). Everyone of us, at least the people I know who post here, would be dead if any number of leaders in a certain part of the world had their way. Ask any woman you know who has ever shown her face, or ankle, in public if their world is a better place not living in a islamic fundamentalist world. Find a Jew, African-American, disabled person, or any number of non-Waspy people and ask them if maybe noone should have done something to stop Hitler.
    It would be nice if we didn’t need people to fight for our rights, but we do.

    • Is anyone really saying that “we don’t need people to fight for our rights”?
      Is anyone really saying that “we’re not thankful for the brave men and women that defend our country”?

      You’re right. That wouldn’t just be naive, it would also be absurd.

      “It’s the height of naivete to believe the world would be better without the incalculable service our armed forces perform…”

      As impossible as an ideal as it may seem, is it difficult for you to believe that a world with LESS WAR would be a better place for all humanity?

      People aren’t criticizing the Army. It’s comprised of our courageous sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and friends, who play a necessary and vital role in keeping our country, and our world, a safe place to live. People are criticizing militarism.

      I’m assuming that part of the reason why you are so highly critical of the Islamic fundamentalist “world” is because you associate it with the militarism of those countries, such as Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Is it wrong then for Americans wary of militarism within our own country to exercise their rights and protest?

      Or does that somehow make them seem “unpatriotic” to you?

      Thomas Jefferson writes:
      “Most codes extend their definitions of treason to acts not really against one’s country. They do not distinguish between acts against the government, and acts against the oppressions of the government. The latter are virtues, yet have furnished more victims to the executioner than the former, because real treasons are rare; oppressions frequent.”

      The protesters aren’t protesting against the Army itself, but rather against this SPECIFIC instance of Army recruitment policy and method. Don’t conflate the two.

  7. Fair enough.
    I think my main problem with the protestors, detractors, in general isn’t that they’re pushing for more responsibility from Military recruiters. I believe it’s an agenda issue. I do not believe they really care that a young, impressionable, youth is not getting a realistic war experience and being misled into joining the Army, Marines, etc. Do you think these protests, or other similar protests, have anything to do with what they’re showing at face value? It’s a political stunt to show disapproval of a former administration’s legacy. Call it what it is.
    I cannot remember a time when I was not aware that war was not something I was willing to sign up for. It is not the recruiter’s job to tell you how horrific war is. By the time you’re able to enlist if you don’t have a strong enough grasp on what occurs in a war zone to make an educated decision on whether or not it is the right vocation for you, well, that is a critical level of stupidity. Just like in nature that level of stupidity has consequences.

    • For the most part, I think you’re probably right, tylersir. Although I don’t think that possible aspect of the protest was part of the original article.
      Will I concede that ALL of the people gathered at the protest were there to promote their own agenda and to further show their own disapproval of a former administration’s legacy? No, but like you, I’m inclined to believe that there was probably a considerable number of people there that weren’t just there to encourage more responsibility from military recruiters.
      You’re also right that it’s not the recruiter’s job to tell you how horrific war is. It’s like I said previously, if they were required to do so, then enlistment (and morale) might be dramatically reduced and then we’d have a real problem. Because the bottom line is, like you said before, we do need our armed forces.
      “By the time you’re able to enlist if you don’t have a strong enough grasp on what occurs in a war zone to make an educated decision on whether or not it is the right vocation for you, well, that is a critical level of stupidity.”
      You’re absolutely correct there as well.
      Excellent points, tylersir.

  8. Pingback: The case AGAINST Video Games as an Army Recruitment Tool « Pixels and Grids

  9. Great vantage point Jeff.

    For the record, I work with a young man who is in the reserves. He keeps talking about how he is being deployed and how excited he is. Lucky for him, for some reason, they never let him go. He is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and may be capable of enlisting, and surely incase of a national emergency he would be able to help out, but the Army recognizes his ineptitude and keeps him here.

    You make a great point with your definition of the tool as a “game” merely because it is on a console and/or a pc. Does me playing a drag racing simulator where you can adjust engine output, wing angles, aerodynamics, etc., make me thing I could just go and be a drag racer? No, but it does give me more of an idea of what goes into it than if I were to chug away at “Need for Speed”. Using the simulator for drag racing helped me make the decission, “hey, this isn’t for me”. I believe that is the case for the Army as well.

    Last summer when I was unemployed, one of the stops I made when I was looking for a job was at a recruiters office. They were very up front with me. They told me of jobs that were available at the time, but that those jobs could be filled in a day and there would be a whole different set available when I finally enlisted. We talked about incoming rank and pay scales, bonuses, deployment, the realities of war, and I even to a practice ASFAB. At the end of the day, the decission came down to two things: my 4 children were too young to leave to go active for 2 years, and, while I am not against the Army, I am against the gross misrepresentation that is this war, and I could not let myself be a part of it. I feel as if there was no lying, misleading or anything by the recruiters. I think it would have been interesting had there been a simulator for me to look at when I was there. I cant say it would have swayed my judgement, but it would have been inforemative nonetheless.

  10. Pingback: The Case FOR Video Games as an Army Recruitment Tool Part Two « Pixels and Grids

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