Play games like America's Army and Rainbow Six, along with full-scale military simulators all under the watchful eye of Army recruiters? What could possibly go wrong?
At the Franklin Mills mall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, just past the Gap and China Buddha Express (according to the New York Times, anyway), the Army Experience Center is buzzing with all sorts of gaming delights. Teenagers grind away at World of Warcraft while behind them, on the networked array of Xbox 360 consoles, a Halo 3 tournament rages on. Lines form for one of three full-scale, military simulators. Teens pile into an armed Humvee, load up their M4 carbine assault rifles and tear through a scenario, all while real Army recruiters look over their shoulders, propaganda beaming all around.
The U.S Army has always aimed for impressionable teens, but their latest tactic seems a bit underhanded, considering we've always been told that war isn't a game.
Opened in August, the Army Experience Center is a first of its kind facility, having replaced five smaller recruitment locations in the surrounding area, though at the same operating costs. The operation comes at time when the Army is looking to improve enlistment numbers, specifically those in weaker, urban areas like Philadelphia, where their presence is much more limited.
So goes the Experience, visitors fill out an information sheet at a check-in desk upon arrival where they may also opt out of being contacted by a recruiter. Afterwards they're free to roam about the facility and watch Army films, partake in a possible career survey and of course, play lots of video games.
The Times points out that so far, the operation has not exactly been a success with only about 35 visitors having enlisted at the center, which is slightly below the recruitment rate of the previous five locations it replaced. My biggest fear has always been that kids growing up playing wars games such as Call of Duty will think that those games are direct reflections of what it is actually like to serve in the military, and to see the Army blur these lines even further seems distasteful. I have the utmost respect for those who choose to serve their country in ways that I never could (for I am but a skinny nerd), so I would hope that the military would respect those they recruit by not using their hobby, one that has already been nailed to the cross far too many times in the name of violence, as a gateway drug into something far more dangerous.