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.