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[infowar.de] Business Week 22.05.02: The Army's New Killer App
Business Week Online
MAY 22, 2002
NEWS ANALYSIS :TECH
The Army's New Killer App
The Pentagon aims to attract a new generation of recruits with video
games that simulate grunt life from boot camp to the battlefield
The 62,000 video-game executives flooding into the Los Angeles
Convention Center on May 21 might have thought the security staff had
gone overboard. Parked out front were a Bradley Linebacker fighting
vehicle, an Avenger Humvee, and a cadre of soldiers. But they weren't
there to deter terrorists. This convention was selected for the
unveiling of a suite of video games called America's Army.
These are 3-D action games like dozens of others, except for one thing:
They're created by the U.S. Army.
Inside the convention center, site of the 2002 Electronic Entertainment
Expo (E3), attendees sampled the games in a 1,400-square-foot Army
command post, which featured real-live air-assault sergeants rappelling
down ropes from the ceiling. Quite a show for the first-ever appearance
by the military at E3. Fictional soldiers have long starred in video
games. But unlike other publishers, the Army won't try to reap millions
off its games. Starting in August, it'll distribute its titles free to
young people considering military careers.
SIMS WITH A MISSION.
To start the games, players create their own customized soldier
characters, then guide them through boot camp and various missions --
kind of like The Sims but with barracks, M-16s, and stints in Fort
Leavenworth military prison. The players can also participate in
Web-based team missions with other potential recruits from all over the
country. "We want to teach kids what it's really like to be a soldier,"
says Casey Wardynski, director of the Army's Office of Economic &
America's Army is the latest link in the military's partnership with the
$9 billion U.S. video-game industry. The armed forces have long used
computerized combat simulations to train service personnel. Now, they're
relying on the game industry to add richer, more realistic graphics and
countless plot twists.
In 1999, the Army teamed up with the University of Southern California
to launch the Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT), a collaboration
among entertainment executives and gamemakers committed to dreaming up
new systems for training soldiers.
America's Army was developed at another new institute called Modeling,
Virtual Environments & Simulation (MOVES) at the Naval Postgraduate
School in Monterey, Calif.
SHOOT TO KILL.
The games-and-defense partnership makes sense in terms of both
technology and recruitment, since most game fanatics are males in their
teens and twenties. "We need to attract more people from this
tech-literate group," says Michael Zyda, director of MOVES.
Clearly, realism is a big draw. Designed with $6 million in Army grants
for the PC, the games feature real video footage from Army sites, such
as caves in Afghanistan and the obstacle course at Fort Benning, Ga.
Bits of recorded speech add depth to the action: Smoke cigarettes in
boot camp, and your drill sergeant shows up, barking reprimands. "There
are millions of potential speeches and scenes," says executive producer
John Hiles, a research scientist for MOVES.
When it comes to killing, the game doesn't pull any punches, which may
alarm video-game critics. Warns clinical psychologist Jeanne B. Funk, a
University of Toledo professor who writes about violence and the media:
"Games meant for older audiences get into the hands of young children."
Unlike Halo and Grand Theft Auto 3, however, where part of the fun is
shooting everything in sight, America's Army uses death as a means of
completing missions. "You don't get points for killing," Wardynski says.
And trigger-happy players who hit fellow soldiers wind up at
At ICT, folks look forward to more collaboration. "Hollywood weirdos,
computer nerds, and the military -- what a combo," says Executive
Director Richard Lindheim. "But it's changing the way the Army does
business." Parents be advised: The situations in these games may be
By Arlene Weintraub in Los Angeles
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