Uncle Sam Wants You…to Play Video Games
Photo Source: Flickr
Military innovation and activity frequently mirrors societal trends and technological innovation. For instance, it is not uncommon for military innovation to trickle down to consumers. Wristwatches, jeeps, and GPS are examples of consumer products born from military innovation (Digital Trend). Even the popular candy, M&Ms, was consumed by troops before the general public (History). The military has also inspired entertainment, according to Task & Purpose, as of 2014 there are 1,000 video games on record with a “modern military setting,” and one can only assume that number has only grown since 2014. However, consumer products have also influenced the trends and strategies when it comes to military conduct. Video games serve as one such example when it comes to influence.
The first time the military officially collaborated with a video game manufacturer was in the 1980s. The military took note of Atari’s game Battlezone, so the military collaborated with the game company in attempt to create a training simulation for infantry fighting vehicles (Task & Purpose). While two prototypes were made, no one actually trained with the video game. By the 1990s, the military started to see how video games could work generally as a supplement for training. The military began to recommend the landmark first-person shooter game, Doom II as a supplement for training. Military trainers would also use an arcade combat simulator on the Super Nintendo to teach soldiers (Under the Radar). Instead of a controller, trainees would use a gun replica that shoots light. The TV screen would react accordingly depending on the accuracy of the “shot.” The gun would help soldiers learn how to zero a rifle and learn other basic aspects of marksmanship.
With new strides in technology, the military has continued to use video games as both tools in training and recruitment. For instance, the military has already spent $1 billion dollars on its Simulation, Training, and Instrumentation Command or STRICOM (ABC News). The game acts as an immersive simulation experience in which a soldier experiences all of the sites, sounds, and smells of real combat. It also allows any type of soldier to train in any sort of terrain, including accurate representations of current active conflicts’ terrain such as Afghanistan. It has been lauded as one of the best ways to train soldiers without dropping them into real combat. Even if a player “dies" in the game, they are able to assess how they could have helped prevent it, thus training them for real combat. One of the most controversial ways that the military has implemented video games has been in the form of the America’s Army video game series (Under the Radar). Since its start in 2002, the game has gone through different iterations, including America’s Army: Real Heroes and its most recent release from 2015 America’s Army: Proving Grounds (Steam). America’s Army: Proving Grounds is available for free to download off of Steam, and you can pick a copy of the game up at any recruiting office. The game was financed and developed by the US Army, and it also has its logo emblazoned all over the video game landing page. The game includes basic training and a marksmanship test before players are allowed to play with each other online (Task & Purpose). The player can only play as a US army soldier against a generic “opposing force.” However, this game is not without its protests. The game is currently rated T for teen, which allows anyone over 13 and over to play it (Steam). Iraq Veterans against the War, an organization, has spoken out against the game, as they accuse the game of glamorizing war, especially to people as young and impressionable as 13 (PBS).
The military has always been an influence on American society as a whole. It is integrated into our technology and our entertainment. However, consumer technology has also influenced the United States Army in the form of video games. The military incorporated both current video games and has developed its own to better prepare soldiers for the battlefield, even going as far as making an immersive simulation experience. They have also attempted to affect the populace through its own video game series, America’s Army. However, this latter example has not come without its protests. Groups have been concerned that this game has been attempting to recruit impressionable adolescents into the United States Army. This is not the first time concerns have been raised over violence in video games, but for some, it provides another layer of concern when a governmental entity is releasing it to the public, especially a game that was rated for ages 13 and up. Perhaps it shows that we are due for a reflection on our media and its effects on youth or whether or not it is a concern. As virtual reality becomes a consumer product, we should start having conversations about whether or not video games like America’s Army are a concern and what to even do about this concern. In all of these simulations, they do not cover the psychological effects that war has on the human mind. As we take steps into making the virtual more realistic and as the army increasingly uses this technology, this might be the best time for us to consider and discuss the issue.