Editorial: America's Army Isn't Brainwashing You

Remember that game America's Army from a few years back, the free first-person shooter developed by the Army to be used as a recruitment tool? An activist group in San Francisco apparently just found out about it and they're none too pleased. The result is one of the most absurd anti-video game protests ever.

On Wednesday, Direct Action to Stop the War held a protest march outside the San Fran offices of Ubisoft Entertainment, one of the companies which collaborated on the Xbox and Xbox 360 ports of the 2002 game. DASW, in its press release, states that America's Army targets children under the age of 17, making it "a clear violation of international law (the U.N. Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict). No attempt to recruit children 13-16 is allowed in the United States, pursuant to treaty."

The group demands that Ubisoft (along with other companies collaborating on America's Army projects) end their contracts with the Army or place a warning label on the games that states, "This game is designed to recruit children in violation of international law. Military service can be hazardous to your health." As you can tell, the warning label idea is intended as more of a "fuck you" than a legitimate idea. Hazardous to your health, heh heh. It's funny because people actually do die in the military!

A warning label that said something to the effect of, "This game was developed by the United States Army for recruitment purposes" might make sense but for all I know, the game's box already states that. Either way, it's painfully obvious that the U.S. Army was behind the game. Their logo is all over the damn thing. Furthermore, if I'm not mistaken, to get your hands on America's Army you either have to download it from the U.S. Army's website or pick up a disc from an Army recruitment center. There's no secret as to the intent of the game.

Nerd that I am, I looked up the U.N. Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict touted in DASW's press release. As you might expect, it's more geared toward preventing kids in Sierra Leone from being forced to join militias and less geared toward preventing kids in Wisconsin from playing a video game that may or may not lead to them joining the military upon reaching the appropriate age. Compulsory recruitment for armed forces is prohibited in the United States for anyone under the age of 18, and voluntary recruitment is prohibited below the age of 17 - both of these rules are compliant with the U.N. protocol and they're not being subverted by America's Army. The game markets the armed forces to teenagers, sure, but it's not signing them up for duty. It's no less legal than a U.S. Army television commercial.

So why protest the game? It's because apparently lot of people think video games are some form of cyber-hypnotism and if a gamer commits a violent act in a video game, they're going to mindlessly imitate it in the real world. This is a little more peculiar than the usual "Grand Theft Auto story forces teenager to throw little sister down flight of stairs" story because America's Army isn't being accused of compelling kids to become criminals; it's being accused of compelling kids to become soldiers. Regardless of your views on the conflicts overseas, there's nothing inherently wrong with being a soldier.

"But-but-but that's not the point! The game's brain-washing teenagers and forcing them to become soldiers!" No, it isn't. People join the military for a variety of important reasons, none of which have anything to do with the caliber of graphics in the recruitment video game. I've played America's Army and it is certainly not so colossally, mind-fuckingly good that it would cause the player to instantly join the Army. Neither is Call of Duty 4, and that game is pure sex. It's the height of cynicism to assume people are stupid enough to base a decision as large as military enlistment on a video game experience.

Some concede that the game isn't actually hypnotic but that it seduces young people by glorifying military work. I'm sure it's a lot more fun than actual military work but in every multiplayer FPS I've ever played, I die a horrible death at least once a minute. I'm also constantly outwitted and outperformed by loud-mouthed fourteen year olds. I imagine violent video games, as with any violent media, could desensitize someone but making someone less averse to violence doesn't mean they're about to jump on the next C-130 to Iraq. Would any young person think a video game clearly made by the Army for the purpose of recruitment would actually be a realistic depiction of what military life is like?

Direct Action to Stop War is, as their name implies, trying to stop the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their reasoning (I assume) is that if they stop outlets for recruitment like this game, eventually the supply of young soldiers would dry up and our government would be forced to make peace. Or they'd just invoke stop-loss policies to maintain troop levels. Or start the draft up again. But hey, good thing we got that video game off the streets! There's nothing illegal about the Army (along with Ubisoft and other companies) making video games to promote the military, there's nothing insidious within the game itself, and there's nothing wrong about someone joining the military. I have no problem with a group with anti-war goals but they're attacking the issue from the completely wrong direction.

Pete Haas

Staff Writer at CinemaBlend.