The idea of using videogames to recruit for the military is nothing if not controversial, but at least one former British Army officer says he fully supports the idea and wishes the U.K. would embrace the concept with the same enthusiasm as the U.S.
It’s hard to precisely gauge just how much impact videogame-focused recruiting has had on overall enlistment numbers, but it’s enough that the military continues to fund projects like the America’s Army franchise and maintain a presence in the virtual world of Second Life. But the idea of using videogames to attract impressionable youngsters to a life of military service doesn’t sit well with everyone; veterans groups and other organizations have launched protests against the Army’s involvement in gaming and last year an anti-war group accused Ubisoft of breaking international law by developing a game it said was intended to recruit child soldiers.
One former British Army soldier, however, thinks recruiting via videogames is perfectly acceptable, although he says that the U.K. wouldn’t dare be as bold about it as the U.S. “Our army is run by people that are still far too distant from the young soldiers that they lead,” former Major Neil Powell said in an interview with Eurogamer. “The US Army is miles ahead of us on that; they understand completely their target audience.”
That “target audience” is the young male demographic for whom the action and intensity of videogames has a particular appeal, who Powell said are “precisely [what] the British Army wants.” He acknowledged that game-based recruiting was bound to spark a “moral debate” but added that any method of enticing young men to go off to war would, or at least should, inspire the same kind of questions.
“If we are going to accept that we need an army as a society, then we have to make sure we have sufficient numbers of staff in that army. And if people aren’t going to join as a first job of choice because of things like piss-poor wages, because of things like abominable living conditions, and whether or not we choose to fund it in order to get jobs done, then we’ve got to recruit somehow,” he said.
“I do have a problem with this pious, self-righteous attitude of some in the civilian front who want an armed force, want to have the safety that an armed force provides in terms of defense, but they drop their guns and say it’s morally wrong when we use videogames to recruit into the armed force,” he continued. “Most people like the security that an armed force brings them – they like the pomp and circumstance – but they don’t want to send their own sons to join it.”
A veteran of the Balkan wars himself, Powell said no game can accurately reproduce the experience of the battlefield. Nonetheless, he said he doesn’t have any real moral qualms about using videogames as a recruitment tool. Noting that television ads have long attempted to make the army look “sexy,” he explained, “When you see adverts for Lloyds TSB Bank you don’t see them advertising repossessions, you don’t see them advertising the huge bonus crisis and how much is being paid to certain key members of staff. You just don’t see the negative side to it.”
“In much the same way you could argue whether it’s moral for the army or any of the armed forces not to show, for instance, the repatriation at Brize Norton [the main logistics base where dead soldiers are brought home] or to show you soldiers at Headley Court, limbless. We don’t do that – is that morally right?” he asked. “We know the army’s not like that. There are huge amounts of time that you’re bored and in crap accommodation; they don’t show you the crap kit; they don’t show you the absolute hardship that soldiers put up with. It just looks great fun.”