The Needles

The Needles
America's Army as a Recruiting Tool: Nothing Changes

Andy Chalk | 2 Jan 2008 22:00
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Advertising has been refined and honed to a razor's edge, swamping consumers with a sensory overload of stuff to buy and things to do. But along with this, news and information have also achieved an unprecedented level of ready availability. So while shooting up the bad guys in America's Army is obviously a more visceral experience than walking past a tattered patriotic mural, gamers also have the ability in a matter of seconds to switch from their fun to a detailed and unsparing look at the reality of active duty military service. The increasingly incisive advertising we're faced with is counterbalanced by the ease of access to information we enjoy as a society.

The idea that videogames as a recruitment tool is somehow more harmful or morally objectionable than the more time-honored methods of talking people into signing up fails to give adequate credit to gamers. There is a tremendous gulf between "Playing America's Army is cool," and, "Being in America's Army is cool." At most, the game may encourage players to further investigate the military life, presumably leading to the kind of real research (or at least a few minutes of soul-searching) that should take place before a decision of such magnitude is made. But unless you're willing to buy into the idea that today's youth are a whole lot stupider and more impressionable than those of generations past, the suggestion that playing a videogame in the comfort of your living room will somehow translate into vastly increased numbers of people willing to sign up for two years or more of the army life is absolutely ludicrous.

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There have always been people who find the act of recruiting from the nation's youth an odious policy in and of itself. From that perspective, "recruitment" is simply a more polite term for cynically preying on those too uneducated or naive to know when they're being taken advantage of. And there are also significant numbers of people who think that the Army is an excellent choice for young adults, offering both an honorable career and a great step up on the rest of their lives. But regardless of the perspective, the morality of active recruitment is completely independent of how it's undertaken. What makes exhorting teenagers to join up through a videogame a more dubious prospect than a poster, a television ad or even a movie?

Games take heat because of unresolved concerns over their effects on youth, fueled by unsubstantiated hype and outright lies. But in the end, advertising is advertising and, to borrow a phrase, sometimes a game is just a game. As videogaming became a dominant form of entertainment, elbowing aside traditional print and video media, it was inevitable that advertisers of all stripes would want a piece of the action. While the Army isn't the first organization to turn the medium into the message (see the Ford Racing series for another example) it is the first one to meet with the massive levels of success achieved by the America's Army franchise. For this, we can perhaps blame them for being innovative and forward thinking; but to suggest anything more sinister or harmful, especially in light of a century of precedent, is completely off-base.

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