On July 4, 2002, the U.S. Army rolled out a project that it had worked on in conjunction with the U.S. Navy for four years. The project cost $7 million in initial costs, and thousands of man-hours had been dedicated to its development. The government hopes that it will serve as a new and effective tool for the expansion and sophistication of America's military strength. But this project is not a new weapon or a new type of armor. It's a video game.
"America's Army" is a first-person tactical shooter video game that realistically simulates aspects of combat faced by the United States' real-life troops. It has all of the quick response, challenge and graphics of a high-end major-release video game. But it has the added punch of being created with all of the resources and research capabilities of the U.S. military behind it.
The result? Players are hooked. Since its introduction, the game has developed a worldwide following, except in those countries against which the United States has embargoes. Countries like Syria and North Korea are banned from importing or downloading the game. But elsewhere around the globe, serious clans -- teams of gamers who play together -- have formed to take part in competitions and tournaments to see who's the best at rooting out evildoers. So far, the Army says 7 million users have registered their downloaded copy.
The realism of the game didn't come by accident. Before it was released in 2002, the developers brought in a Navy experimental psychologist to advise on how to increase the game's psychological effects (like fear) on the physiology of its players (like changing their heart rate) [source: Webb]. Even the game's developers were put through training applications and combat simulations in real life before they created "America's Army." And the game was released in double Dolby digital sound -- all to create a more realistic experience.
Perhaps the best part about the 3-D graphics game is that it is absolutely free. Anyone over the age of consent (which varies by state) in the United States can visit the "America's Army" site and find a number of download sources. Depending on bandwidth, the 2.5-gigabyte file might take an hour or three to download. After installation, however, gamers aren't allowed directly into battle. First, a player must prove his worth through training.
Read the next page to find out how players go from training to missions.