Articles

Playing War: How the Military Uses Video Games

A new book unfolds how the “military-entertainment complex” entices soldiers to war and treats them when they return

 

Hamza Shaban -

According to popular discourse, video games are either the divine instrument of education’s future or the software of Satan himself, provoking young men to carry out all-too-real rampages. Much like discussions surrounding the Internet, debates on video games carry the vague, scattershot chatter that says too much about the medium (e.g. do video games cause violence?) without saying much at all about the particulars of games or gaming conventions (e.g. how can death be given more weight in first person shooters?).

As Atlantic contributor Ian Bogost argues in his book, How to Do Things with Video Games, we’ve assigned value to games as if they all contain the same logic and agenda. We assume, unfairly, that the entire medium of video games shares inherent properties more important and defining than all the different ways games are applied and played. The way out of this constrained conversation is to bore down into specifics, to tease out various technologies, and to un-generalize the medium. We get such an examination in War Play, Corey Mead’s important new study on the U.S. military’s official deployment of video games.

A professor of English at Baruch College CUNY, Mead has written a history, a book most interested in the machinations of military game development. But War Play, too, lays a solid foundation from which to launch more critical investigations—into soldier’s lives, into computerized combat, and into the most dynamic medium of our time. 

Meet the Sims … and Shoot Them

P.W. Singer -

The rise of militainment.

The country of Ghanzia is embroiled in a civil war. As a soldier in America’s Army, your job is to do everything from protect U.S. military convoys against AK-47-wielding attackers to sneak up on a mountain observatory where arms dealers are hiding out. It is a tough and dangerous tour of duty that requires dedication, focus, and a bit of luck. Fortunately, if you get hit by a bullet and bleed to death, you can reboot your computer and sign on under a new name.

America’s Army is a video game — a “tactical multiplayer first-person shooter” in gaming lingo — that was originally developed by the U.S. military to aid in its recruiting and training, but is now available for anyone to play. Among the most downloaded Internet games of all time, it is perhaps the best known of a vast array of video game-based military training programs and combat simulations whose scope and importance are rapidly changing not just the video-game marketplace, but also the way the U.S. military finds and trains its future warriors and even how the American public interfaces with the wars carried out in its name. For all the attention to the strategic debates of the post-9/11 era, a different sort of transformation has taken place over the last decade — largely escaping public scrutiny, at modest cost relative to the enormous sums spent elsewhere in the Pentagon budget, and with little planning but enormous consequences.

Bringing Truth to the Youth: The Counter-Recruitment Movement, Then and Now

Emily Yates  | Originally published in Truthout - July 16, 2016

Recruiters from the Harrisburg Recruiting Company participate in an event for high school students with Youth and Education Services at the Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pennsylvania, October 8, 2010. Military recruitment has targeted schools increasingly effectively while the counter-recruitment movement is struggling to keep up. (Photo: Christine June / US Army)"Back when we started, recruiters were just blatantly lying to the kids," said Susan Quinlan, the co-founder and volunteer coordinator of the peace and justice group, Better Alternatives for Youth–Peace (BAY-Peace). For 12 years, she's been bringing teams of youth into Oakland, California, schools to inform students about deceptive military recruiting practices. In that time, she has seen the recruitment climate in schools change drastically -- and not necessarily for the better.

"It used to be that recruiters would make promises to the kids that were patently untrue, like offering benefits that wouldn't materialize, for example, so our job was to go in and say, 'No, that's not true,'" Quinlan said. Then over the years, as the wars grew increasingly unpopular and recruitment dropped, the military beefed up the benefits and incentives to more closely match its promises. Many student activists saw that as a victory, she said, and as a result, the work lost urgency.

"The recruiters are still being dishonest," she said, "but it's become less obvious. And they haven't gone away. Now, recruitment is back up where it was before we started, and we're losing our funding."

How 55,000 Female Veterans Ended Up On the Streets

Claire Schaeffer-Duffy | Originally published in National Catholic Reporter -

Recent legislative efforts to extend draft registration to young women have raised an old conundrum for some feminists. Does pursuit of gender equality include support for universal conscription?

While not all feminists are anti-militarists, opposition to war and militarism has been a strong current within the women's movement. Prominent suffragists like Quaker Alice Paul, and Barbara Deming, a feminist activist and thinker of the 1960s and '70s, were ardent pacifists. Moreover, feminist critique has often regarded the military as a hierarchical, male-dominated institution promoting destructive forms of power.

In late April, the House Armed Services Committee voted for an amendment to the national defense bill that would extend draft registration -- already a requirement for men -- to women ages 18-26. The amendment was later dropped, but in mid-June, the Senate approved a similar provision in its version of the national defense bill.

Among the amendment's staunchest defenders was Armed Services Committee member Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.).

"If we want equality in this country, if we want women to be treated precisely like men are treated and that they should not be discriminated against, then we should support a universal conscription," Speier told the political website The Hill in April.

House votes down proposal to defund the Selective Service System

Edward Hasbrouck | Originally published in The Practical Nomad July 7th, 2016

 

This week, during consideration of the annual funding bill for the Selective Service System and miscellaneous other agencies, the U.S. House of Representatives:

  1. Yesterday, voted down (294-128) a proposed amendment to completely defund the Selective Service System; and then

  2. Today, approved (217-203)an amendment that forbids the use of any of the money appropriated for the Selective Service System for Federal Fiscal Year 2017 "to change Selective Service System registration requirements" (such as to require women as well as men to register for the draft).

The effect of these two votes is likely to be limited. But in their current context, they are not a good sign for opponents of conscription and war, and confirm the need for continued, expanded, and more visible resistance to draft registration.

The second of these votes, the one today approving an amendment to forbid Selective Service System funding from being spent in FY2017 on expanding draft registration for women, went the right way but will have almost no effect, even if the Senate agrees to this provision in the final bill. That's because registration of women for the draft isn't proposed to start until FY2018, and thus wouldn't require any funding in FY2017.

The current proposal to expand draft registration to women is contained in the Senate version of a separate Department of Defense authorization bill. That bill would set policy but doesn't contain any funding for this program. The Selective Service System is not part of the Department of Defense, and is funded separately as an "independent" agency. But the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act provides that women would be required to register for the draft, if men are required to register, beginning with women born in 2000. These women would have to register beginning when the first of them turn 18 on 1 January 2018.

Poverty, Militarism and the Public Schools

Robert C. Koehler | Originally published in CommonDreams -

What’s the difference between education and obedience? If you see very little, you probably have no problem with the militarization of the American school system — or rather, the militarization of the impoverished schools . . . the ones that can’t afford new textbooks or functional plumbing, much less art supplies or band equipment.

The Pentagon has been eyeing these schools — broken and gang-ridden — for a decade now, and seeing its future there. It comes in like a cammy-clad Santa, bringing money and discipline. In return it gets young minds to shape, to (I fear) possess: to turn into the next generation of soldiers, available for the coming wars.

The United States no longer has a draft because the nation no longer believes in war, except abstractly, as background noise. But it has an economic draft: It claims recruits largely from the neighborhoods of hopelessness. Joining the U.S. military is the only opportunity to escape poverty available to millions of young Americans. We have no government programs to build the infrastructure of peace and environmental sustainability — we can’t afford that, so it has to happen on its own (or not at all) — but our military marches on, funded at more than half a trillion dollars a year, into ever more pointless wars of aggression.

Glory, glory hallelujah. I’d never been to a Memorial Day parade in my life, but I went to this year’s parade in downtown Chicago because members of the Chicago chapter of Veterans for Peace were going to be there, protesting the militarization of the city’s schools.

Thanks for Your Service, but Don't Tell the Kids About It (We Need Them to Enlist)

Emily Yates | Originally published in Truthout -

Emily, Alex and Rishi, all post-9/11 veterans, prepare to talk to students about military recruitment and their experiences in the Army and Marine Corps, at the Pittsburg High School career fair on May 25. (Credit: Siri Margerin)"Excuse me, are you saying negative things about the military?"

The question came over my right shoulder, from a well-dressed woman whose nametag proclaimed her to be a member of the Chamber of Commerce in Pittsburg, California. We were in the Pittsburg High School gymnasium, the location of an end-of-year career fair for graduating seniors. Two other veterans and I, along with a civilian friend, were tabling there with the Full Picture Coalition, a network of individuals dedicated to bringing students the truth about military recruitment, and we'd been conversing with students for nearly two hours before the woman interrupted us to demand, with eyes narrowed, what kind of negativity we might be spreading. Alex, one of the veterans in our group (and a former Army recruiter himself), smiled at her.

"We're just telling the students about our experience, ma'am," he said. "We're veterans."


 

I was one of the lucky ones -- my recruiter never promised me I wouldn't see combat. Yet that was a common tactic, as others I met would tell me.


 

Another woman, also from the Pittsburg Chamber, approached. I recognized her as the one who'd shown us where to set up our table that morning.

"I thought you were here to tell students about corporate jobs they could get after the military," she snapped, glaring at our display of colorful pamphlets and flyers, including one titled "Questions to Ask Your Military Recruiter." "I think you need to leave."

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