Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Americas Army Works

        Tech | Video Game Titles

America's Army Controversy and Protest
A screenshot of “America’s Army" taken by Dr. Joseph DeLappe during his “dead-in-iraq” protest
A screenshot of “America’s Army" taken by Dr. Joseph DeLappe during his “dead-in-iraq” protest
Courtesy Joseph DeLappe

On the surface, "America's Army" looks like any of the other successful first-person shooter video games available for gamers. It features firefights, terrorist enemies, blood and earned a "Teen" rating for violence. But unlike other popular combat games, "America's Army" was developed and distributed by the U.S. government. Because of this, the game has generated some controversy. To opponents of the game, the use of "America's Army" as a recruiting and propaganda tool is reproachable. To others, it's a poor use of millions of taxpayer dollars.

The fact that the game glorifies violence carried out in the name of the United States is cause enough for some to protest. In August 2007, a group of anti-war Iraq War veterans demonstrated against an Army recruiter who showed the crowd gathered at the Black Expo in St. Louis, Mo., how to play "America's Army." "War is not a game!" the protestors shouted [source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch].

Another opponent to "America's Army" prefers to protest in solitude. University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor Dr. Joseph DeLappe spends about three hours per week online in the midst of "America's Army." But rather than take part in missions, DeLappe spends this time typing the name of each of the 3,817 American troops killed in Iraq since 2003 [source: iCasualties.org as of Oct. 9, 2007]. DeLappe calls his "online gaming intervention" campaign dead-in-iraq. By naming the troops who were lost in Iraq, DeLappe hopes to remind players of the real-life consequences of war [source: DeLappe].

By agreeing to the terms of use and license agreement for "America's Army: Special Forces," a player allows the completed maps he submits to become property of the U.S. Army.

These completed maps are used in conjunction with an online tracker the Army developed for "America's Army" to glean a clear picture of what type of combat situations and weaponry individual players excel at. This information is stored in a database maintained by the Army. One of the game's developers told journalist Gary Webb that those players who stand out from the rest may receive an e-mail from the Army offering information on going from gamer to soldier, if the player is interested [source: Webb].

So does this mean that "America's Army" is quietly training the soldiers of tomorrow today? It looks that way. It would be incredibly beneficial to the U.S. military for new recruits to arrive at basic training with experience. Gary Webb reported that the Army sought to double the size of its Special Forces unit and changed the name of the game to help aid with recruitment.

At least one department in the Army considers the game real enough for other real-life applications. The Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center has begun testing conceptual weapons in the game to get a better understanding of the weapons' properties before any prototype is actually constructed.

For more information on "America's Army" and the real-life Army, visit the next page.