The latest instalment of the popular America’s Army (AA3) video-game series has recently been released to widespread acclaim. Whilst there are many similar ‘first-person shooters’ currently available, AA3 is unusual in that it is downloadable at no cost since it was developed by the United States (US) military as a recruitment tool.
This reflects an increasing use of combat video-games with ulterior motives, both by the world’s military as well as by those politically opposed to conflict. Indeed, the US army now has a dedicated hi-tech public-relations centre where the wider general public can experience such games for themselves. Since the use of video-games can be seen as specifically targeting children, however, this recruitment strategy has been fiercely criticised as unethical.
Such condemnation raises a number of important questions as to the social role of video-games. For example, the fundamental morality of trivialising an issue as serious as war by treating it as mere entertainment is highly debatable. This is particularly the case as such games rarely attempt to depict the suffering and human cost that is an inevitable consequence of military action, thereby sanitising the true horrors of war. The social consequences of such portrayals of violence within video-games have previously been the subject of much discussion.
Furthermore, a growing number of these games are based on ‘real’ rather than fantasy scenarios, and so can often be seen as rewriting history by presenting a simple dichotomy between ‘good’ and ‘evil’, rather than accurately portraying the complex uncertainties faced by combatants during the actual fighting they claim to represent.
Alternatively, such games could be viewed as useful educational simulations that question the morality of war itself by giving a player the opportunity to experience a historical conflict from the perspectives of all the different parties involved.
Such issues have been the topic of recent heated debate surrounding the announcement and subsequent abrupt cancellation of a video-game based on the controversial battle for Fallujah.
‘America’s Army’ official website
‘US Army Experience Center’ official website
‘Six Days in Fallujah’ press release from Konami
Cancellation of ‘Six Days in Fallujah’ from the Guardian
Li, Z. (2003).The Potential of America’s Army the Video Game as Civilian-Military Public Sphere
Baldwin, M. W. & Dandeneau, S. D. (2009). Putting Social Psychology into Serious Games