While the release of this information may interest the appetites of first-person shooter fans, this raises some interesting questions
not addressed by the press release.
First, does the United States Army (and government) realize that computer games and other forms of media can influence someone (in
this case, to be a better soldier)?
Secondly, if the above is true, what would be the benefit of trying to encourage people to play this game -- in effect, attempting to
create a market segment of influenced people, ready to play the role of soldiers?
I. Prehistory: Marine Doom
Perhaps some of you remember Marine Doom. In short, it was a war simulator, designed by Lt. Scott Barnett of the United States Marine
Corps, and intended to train soldiers in techniques to repel and then attack waves of oncoming troops. For those who have not played
it, the game actually served quite a realistic simulation for its time, encouraging the use of cooperation through fire team
movements, decision-making during the fog of war, and replicating a war-torn battlefield. While sounds and graphics were very basic
(for example, the new shotgun reloading brings up old frames of the original Doom shotgun reload animation that the designers never
took out), it served its purpose -- so much so that Lt. Barnett recalls Marines fighting in order to play more of it, after the
training finished and the computer labs were closed. So were they fighting to play because they were being influenced, or because
they liked playing computer games? Either answer will generally yield the same result.
Many of us have heard of the phrase Operant Conditioning. This is a
psychological term that, in essence, simply states that by rewarding a subject, you can modify its behavior. Applied to something
like Marine Doom, we can easily see the potential for addiction that this causes, especially when we see that Marines were quite
literally fighting for access to the simulation. Operant Conditioning is the same psychological device that games like Diablo take
advantage of in order to addict players to the game. Players will constantly click, over and over, in order to achieve a reward
(increasing experience levels), even when this repetitive activity goes on for far longer than someone not addicted to the game would
reasonably spend. Games like Marine Doom rewarded the players with a sense of fun and camaraderie
, and whether the players are
enjoying the game simply because they liked playing computer games, or because they were being addicted to play through Operant
Conditioning, the end result is the same -- that this allowed for imprinting, slowly and over time. The Marines in training were
being influenced by the game's content. Barnett also says that one of the reasons he chose this medium was "Kids who join the Marines today grew up with TV, videogames, and computers. So we thought, how can we educate them, how can we engage them and make them want to learn?"
Whether this made Marines more apt at battlefield tactics and decision making is a good question, but unneccessary. The imprinting was already done on them -- that playing these games was fun, and that part of that fun was being in an environment of warfare, where you take orders, kill the enemy, and move on. These games, along with other specially tailored simulations, can turn Marines into USMC material.
Does Uncle Sam know something that we don't? It's been long debated over just how influential media can be, and we know that while Pong might not make people want to take up tennis, we also know that media plays a huge role in propaganda and brainwashing. Can media also create soldiers from citizens?
II. Spotlight: America's Army
As a DevTeam member and Lead Level Designer for "America's Army" all I can say is that if you have loved ANY action/miltiary themed game such as CS,OF,DF,GR, [AmberEyes's note: CounterStrike, Operation Flashpont, Delta Force, Ghost Recon] etc... get ready for a new girlfriend. This is without doubt technically superior to anything currently available, has 'True' low end hardware support, looks extremely pretty, is simple to understand yet has layers of depth, and is a blast to play! Get ready folks, the Army has done something very special and you are going to love it and the Army like never before.
Lead Level Desinger
-post on Blue's News messageboard
This brings us now to the subject of America's Army. The acquisition of the Unreal engine for this project (for the record, there are two licensing options for this engine -- the first is a flat fee of $500,000 US dollars, the second is $250,000 US dollars + 5% royalities) says two things: The first, that they're willing to spend more money for an engine which is more attractive to play, and the second, that they are willing to look at this in terms of cash as an important option for training. However, they have made no indiciation that they are pursuing this as a simulation for their Marines. Rather, that it is a game being released for the public.
What's the connection? Well, realizing that the lessons the USMC learned in their creation and exectution of Marine Doom (as shown above), they've obviously seen that this type of training is a viable method to pursue. So why release a game like this to the public? Personally, I can only see two reasons.
The first is for propaganda's sake. In a time of War of Terrorism and low recruitment numbers, the United States Military needs all the help it can get. The United States Military also knows that one of its larger criticizing parties is the more tech-oriented culture, who sees technology and mass communication as a means to achieve peace, not fuel the war machine. Is this a way to embrace that culture? Does this mean that the military realizes that it still has a battle amongst its own civilians, in order to convince them that the military is right?
The second reason is much more sinister. What good would releasing a game do, when the game is tailor-made to introduce tens of thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of people to war, cleverly dressed up like an innocuous computer game? Remembering our lessons on Operant Conditioning, we certainly don't expect people to become commando fighters overnight, or neccessarily to even show an increase in recruitment numbers; we can easily see that a population, saturated with something like the warfare simulation in America's Army, would become desensitized towards violence, and questioning the military's actions. Just as sex and violence is toned down in movies, the release of this game (and others like it) may serve to distance the player from the reality of war.
Because remember, as Brian Ball said above, ...you are going to love it and the Army like never before.