Military Games: A Reflection of Reality?

Randy Nichols’ article, “Target Acquired: America’s Army and the Video Games Industry,” highlights the growing use of video games by the military for ideological and recruitment purposes.  These “serious games” serve as teaching tools that provide players with an idea of what military life is really like and it encourages them to join various military branches.  However, these serious games supported by the military (and the government) can only teach so much to the average gamer.  In the entertainment-driven industry of video games, there are limitations to how educational a game can be before a player’s disinterest sets in.  Nichols explains that these serious games come at a time when there is a greater need for “familiarity and technical aptitude” with respect to vehicle and systems operations.  The question then becomes how much relevant knowledge can be taught through a video game that will be fully applicable in a war setting.  Merely pushing away at buttons in a game where the controls are simplified to be player-friendly is not likely to be reflective of the often more complex technological settings of the military.

Serious games also tend to lack the true realities of war, especially in terms of the hardships faced by frontline soldiers.  Playing “serious games,” where an individual’s full physical capabilities are never tested, does not prepare video game-influenced recruits for the physical requirements of the military.  Nor does it prepare them psychologically for the mental strain and personal loss in war.  While the death of a teammate non-player character (NPC) may not elicit any emotional reaction to the average player, the death of a human teammate in the midst of battle may come as a terrible and unprecedented shock.  This leads me to highlight the next poorly represented hardship of war: death of one’s self.  In serious games, a player’s character may die countless times, repeating scenarios or missions that become increasing predictable until success, and little consideration is spent on the value of survival.  Thus, a new recruit may enter the military with the misconception that he or she can accomplish objectives with little injury to one’s self.

One last thing I would like to address in Nichols’ article is the notion that these serious games promoted by the military increased recruitment rates in 2002.  Are there possible alternative causes for these increased recruitment rates?  It is highly likely that the events of 9/11 had immense impact upon recruitment efforts as many Americans took the attack as a personal offense.  The arousal of such nationalism, not only by the government but also by the public, in the face of such tragedy no doubt led to the increase of new recruits in all the branches of the military.

These “serious games” may not be the most effective recruiting and teaching tools as initially perceived.  After all, the average player primarily sees them as a source of entertainment rather than education.

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2 Responses to Military Games: A Reflection of Reality?

  1. knystrom2013 says:

    BPR #2

    This is definitely a weird debate to have for me, since the army developing games is something personally very new to me. I feel stuck somewhere in the middle but I’m leaning towards your school of thought on this one.

    However, there are some counterpoints that I think are worth bringing up. One is the subject discussed in class about how it wasn’t the game itself that made people want to go out and do this, it was their sense of duty. This might be extreme to some extent, but getting kids exposed early in life to these types of games may have future soldiers looking back on their gaming experience and wondering, only unconsciously and ever so much more slightly, if the army is something that is right for them. One thing that wasn’t discussed was the strong elements of teamwork in these types of games. With games like World of Warcraft, players can either go solo or team up. But in the cases of wargames like Call of Duty, teams have to work together really closely to achieve their goals, and even if everyone has their differences, you can bet they’re all trying their best to get the best strategy and achieve victory. I think it’s partly that thrill of on-the-spot strategy making that the army must see as something gamers love about America’s Army, although like Nichols, I still have my doubts about placing effectiveness on one single cause.

    This ties into the second point I was going to make, which is about my own personal favorite games. Through both anime and RPGs, I have become entralled with the worlds of fantasy, with swords, magic, and mythical beasts. If there was still a samurai army out there somewhere, with the same codes of honor and brotherhood as in my RPGs, I would definitely be less inclined to immediately refuse any offer to join this army. Granted, I in no way want to join any sort of army now, but that glorification of the world is something that has been repeatedly fed into my mind for over a decade. The only difference is, I like to experience it in my mind rather than play it out in reality. But perhaps others might feel differently. It is hard to say, because this subject is still so new, but because America’s Army is attracting so many users (much to my surprise), It is unfortunately tempting to say that they may reap the rewards when their younger players come of age.

    Your point about repeated deaths is an interesting one too. Unlike games like Dark Souls, where death is a heavily punished event, dying in most FPSs is simply a point for the other team. It makes me wonder what games like Braid teach us about death, since it cannot have any due to the reversal of time. Ironic that it could possibly teach us more when looked at more closely, but I suppose that this is a contemplation the army wants to avoid inspiring in its audience.

  2. cstabile says:

    America’s Army raises some difficult questions about the relationship between fantasy and reality, as both A. and K. point out above. It’s harder to defend AA (for gamers, at least — I suspect that all these games look alike from the outside to those who believe that video games cause real world violence) than it is to defend something like the Star Wars franchise, or games involving ninjas, pirates, or Harry Potter. My uneasiness about AA is its use as a recruiting ground for the military, which has everything to do with my own political beliefs. That is, I don’t think that AA makes people kill other people, but I think it’s part of an ideological system that glorifies militarism and sees honor only in violence.

    That said, I think you’re right A., that the surge in recruiting probably had much more to do with 9/11 than it did with AA. Good catch.

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