by James Sterrett
Article Type: Comment
Article Date: August 14, 2002
Product Name: America's Army
Category: First-person Shooter
Developer: United States Army
Publisher: United States Army
Release Date: Released
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Files & Links: Click Here
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Knickers in a Twist?Since the announcement of the Army’s first-person shooter, America’s Army: Operations, and its companion Sims-alike, America’s Army: Soldiers, quite a number of folks have gotten their knickers in a knot over the game. Is it a good thing? It is worthwhile? Will it work? Should we be disturbed by this new trend? Why did Uncle Sam spend over seven million dollars on this project?
Money for America’s Army apparently came from the recruiting budget. From this fact, many immediately conclude that the purpose of the game is to recruit computer gamers into the U.S. Army. Perhaps so, but in all probability the route is roundabout. Certainly anybody who plays the games won’t have had a lot of direct training. It’s perfectly obvious that mouse and keyboard skills, even when honed to razor perfection in a computer game, have about as much in common with using a firearm as watching the Olympic freestyle finals on TV has to do with learning to swim. Even the cooperative angles of the game are seriously muted compared to the teamwork that needs to exist in an infantry squad.
“It’s perfectly obvious that mouse and keyboard skills, even when honed to razor perfection in a computer game, have about as much in common with using a firearm as watching the Olympic freestyle finals on TV has to do with learning to swim.”America’s Army might possibly lure computer gamers into joining the Army. This prospect causes some to rant and wail in horror that such recruits will enter the Army and expect their computer-game skills to stand them in good stead. Again, this is much ado about nothing. The Army’s drill instructors have had decades of practice in producing soldiers from recruits displaying various degrees of recalcitrance, arrogance, and stupidity. Is George Gameboy really all that much different from Mike Moviehead or Chuck Comic? From the point of view of the drill instructor, the differences are probably minimal, as each brings unrealistic expectations to the parade ground. Moreover, while America’s Army is exciting stuff, it’s unlikely many recruits are going to join blindly expecting to be magically freed of Army discipline. The military is famous for Mickey Mouse discipline carried to an extreme that frequently looks ludicrous to civilians. That’s an integral part of the Army’s image around the world.
Image is the key to the concept of America’s Army. We hear “recruiting” and we presume it’s a direct sales pitch. The pitch is more subtle than people give it credit for. The image of the U.S. Army around the world and at home is often negative, whether it’s people who dislike it on ideological grounds from the left or right, or simply for its seemingly endless chain of cost overruns. America’s Army is a public relations campaign. It’s an example of information warfare.
When you play the game, you always play as a soldier in the U.S. Army, tasked with a noble mission. People like to be the hero in games they play, and practically always identify with the characters they control. Hence the game’s design decision: game players from around the world are induced to play the game, and, in the process, to identify with the U.S. Army: to see themselves as being on the U.S. Army’s side against whatever threat is portrayed. This is clever stuff. Instead of combating the negative aspects of its image head-on, the U.S. Army is trying to outflank the opposition by creating a counter-swell of positive image.
“…game players from around the world are induced to play the game, and, in the process, to identify with the U.S. Army…”Compared to the cost of a TV ad, America’s Army is quite inexpensive as a PR campaign, and $7.5 million is hardly out of line for the cost of developing two triple-A class computer games. America’s Army will probably do its PR job and in those terms it is probably a worthwhile investment. There may be a small bump in recruiting numbers, but more important, in the long term, is the potential for gaining ground in the public relations battlefront, where victory can lead to distinctly easier struggles on the shooting fronts. Given that most people with the wherewithal to own a computer also have enough of a stake in the current world economic system to maintain it, and that the U.S. Army is generally tasked with operations that theoretically support it, we ought not complain overmuch.
Nothing New, Really…Should we be worried that the Army is getting into publicity?
Quite frankly, those who see the game as some dramatically new step are wrong. The U.S. military has long been quite helpful to anybody who will portray it in a good light. Filmmakers regularly get access to everything from helicopters to aircraft carriers, and the cost is very often written off by the military as “training” so that the filmmaker can spend cash on big name stars instead. The catch? The military wants to see the script, and it insists on ensuring that the script will make it look good. If they want changes made, you make the changes or lose your access to free footage. If you think about the amount of money blockbuster films have to spend on special effects, it’s likely that the money spent on America’s Army is a drop in the Pentagon’s PR budget bucket. Game companies have frequently found themselves able to get similar support. In the end, I’d rather see my tax dollars go into entertainment that’s free for me, such as America’s Army, than lining the pockets of some corporation because they got cheap access in the name of PR.
Is the Army getting into games cause for especial concern? Hoo boy, the military is releasing a game that will brainwash me into an Army Robot, just like Doom turned me into a crazed mass-murdering maniac. Or are we worried by the notion that the government is actually wising up to the concept of PR? What’s new? If you want some good old examples, try reading a translation of Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars or Xenophon’s The Ten Thousand. Try the TV series Victory at Sea, or the movie Casablanca. Fun, entertaining, and “ever-so-slightly” propagandistic media have been wielded by governments ever since the first ruler hired the first court bard.
“Hoo boy, the military is releasing a game that will brainwash me into an Army Robot, just like Doom turned me into a crazed mass-murdering maniac.”Whether or not advertising is good or evil is open to question. Like most things in life, advertising is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can serve the benign purpose of providing accurate and useful information to consumers about products. It also serves to manipulate and deceive those same consumers. America’s Army, both the Operations 3-D shooter and the Soldiers Sims clone, officially seek to inform the gaming public about the United States Army. Naturally, the Army isn’t going to portray itself in a bad light. Yet the evidence so far is that they aren’t doing anything unethical. In and around all the fun, bright lights, and loud sounds, it’s rather hard to play Operations and avoid the notion that combat is an extremely dangerous occupation that’s likely to leave you maimed or dead in short order. We’ll have to see what exactly winds up in Soldiers to judge the material presented there.
In the wider view, if you’re worried about the impact of propaganda and advertsing, good! But America’s Army shouldn’t be your target. If it took the game to wake you up, then your own alertness is what ought to worry you. Monty Python’s Life of Brian reminded us that we are all individuals who have to learn to think for ourselves. Old advice, perhaps, but still good. If you let any single book, person, or idea—let alone a computer game—inform your view of everything, you’re already a dead man walking in terms of information warfare, advertising, and propaganda. Fortunately, the majority of people have enough innate suspicion to steer them clear of trouble most of the time.
- Full Game Download [203 MB]
- Patch 1.0.1B [2.1 MB]
The patch allows you to set up and execute your own dedicated America's Army server. See the README for details.
- Readme for Patch 1.0.1b [4 KB]
- Commo Pack Mod
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