For several years now, the video game, America's Army, has ranked among the top ten online action games and has attracted more than nine million players who have participated in more than 380 million virtual "missions" from basic training to fighting the "War on Terrorism." In recent years, America's Army has improved significantly becoming even more sophisticated and desirable and expanding its application to console versions for Xbox and Xbox 360.
Unless one is naive enough to believe that the Army has invested some $8 million to develop and merchandise this very violent video game for the entertainment and education of our young people, it is clear that the military has realized the value and effectiveness of video games in enticing young men and women to enlist. But hold on, as far fetched as this may sound, naïve or not, that the intent and purpose of these games is to entertain and educate, is exactly what the Army would like us to believe. According to Army Chief Marketing Officer Edward Walters, the new $12 million, 14,500-square-foot, Army video arcade, A.K.A. the Army Experience Center (AEC), at the Franklin Mills Mall in Philadelphia, is not a recruiting station, but "a virtual education facility," that is, "a place for the American public to get educated about the Army and for us to show that the Army is very high-tech and relevant." Major Larry Dillard, the AEC Program Manager, would like us believe that playing Americas Army and "wasting" bad guys from the simulated life size Apache Helicopter, Black Hawk helicopter, and armored Humvee that grace this high tech facility, is recreational, educational, and gives young people "the opportunity to experience the army for themselves, so they have an understanding of what soldiers do, and they can be proud of their service."
Conveniently located near a popular skateboard park in the mall, teenagers as young as thirteen years of age, after having grown weary of throwing "ollies" and "goofy footed kick turns" are welcome to drop in and chill out at the AEC. After providing the army "greeters" (active duty recruiters, dressed not in uniforms but in polo shirts and khaki trousers) with their contact information, enthusiasts are welcome to avail themselves, free of charge, of the helicopter and Humvee simulators and the seventy-nine educational and motivational "gaming stations that include nineteen brand new XBOX 360 consoles and sixty custom built, high performance Alienware." The AEC website boasts that "gamers can play the latest, most popular gaming titles, go head to head in tournaments, or just enjoy an afternoon as a virtual soldier." Hosts (also recruiters) are available to help, answer questions, talk of their personal experiences in the military, or just engage in friendly banter with the gamers. For the most part, the teenagers find this overall experience to be awesome and totally cool. For the Army's part the investment has been money well spent as the Army Experience Center is able to attract the "same number of recruits as five traditional recruiting centers in the area surrounding Bensalem, the Philadelphia suburb where Franklin Mills Mall is located."
If the AEC's plethora of video games and simulators are intended to enable young people "to get educated about the Army," and gain insight into what to expect should they join the military, as a former Marine Corps Officer and College Professor, I would like to offer the following suggestions regarding a few additional "games" that would enhance learning and make the experience more authentic. Perhaps the Army should consider adding the Stop Loss Game in which players are prevented from leaving the Experience Center despite having completed their tour of the facility and instead, are forced to play again and again against their will. And how about a PTSD Game in which four out of ten players will relive the "game" experience for the rest of their lives, or become virtually homeless, or a substance abuser, or commit virtual suicide. Or perhaps the VA Maze Game would be enlightening, in which players must negotiate endless bureaucratic red tape and indifference as they attempt to receive care for their virtual war injuries. Finally, I think that the addition of the Military Rape Experience, an interactive and violent game in which every 3rd female and every 10th male that plays is sexually assaulted, would provide players a more accurate understanding of what lies in store should they decide to enlist in the military.
What is clear is that these games profoundly affect the way our children think and see the world and that the military is utilizing this technology to manipulate our children first to view the military positively, second, to encourage them to enlist and third, to program them to kill. Whatever one's particular point of view regarding military service, to morally object to this influencing of our children is not to be anti-military or even anti-recruitment. Rather, it is to be anti-deception, anti-manipulation and pro-honesty. A moral society and concerned citizenry should not stand idly by while its children are being manipulated into making choices they may not otherwise have made, choices that will affect them for the rest of their lives. In this new era of transparency, truth in recruiting is not radical, nor too much to expect. It is a moral obligation.