Militainment: Is Shooting People Virtually Changing Our Opinion of War?

america's army

Snatching the pixelated pin from a virtual hand-grenade and tossing it to frag a digital enemy may be thrilling for gamers, but isn't close to the real thing. But it is close enough for military involvement in gaming tech.

Over at Foreign Policy, there's a neat retrospective of "militainment"—entertainment or educational games with a military theme. It starts with America's Army, one of the most successful video games ever, which has been played by over nine million folk. But it was developed to assist the U.S. Army in recruiting, a goal in which it was fabulously successful—according to a study in 2008, 30% of all Americans aged 16 to 24 had an improved impression about the Army because of the game. It's still used inside the Army for training.

More chilling is the Saving Sargeant Pabletti, commissioned by the U.S. Army's soldier support unit, and designed as a game-based training system to educate about "equal opportunity and prevention of sexual harassment," according to authors Will Interactive. After the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the Army's required soldiers to tackle the game's challenges on the flight over to Iraq—it's a vehicle for teaching how the Army wants fighters to comport themselves properly in the conflict zone.

Saving Sargeant Pabletti

In contrast, there's the pure entertainment offered by Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II. Which is also a phenomenally successful cash cow—on its first day alone, it earned some $310 million in sales, blowing the figures reported for pretty much any blockbuster movie right out of the water.

Here's a funny question though: Is ubiquitous war gaming, combined with 24/7/365 coverage of conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, changing how we view the military? American Army may well be credited with boosting Army public opinion, but is it, with later super-realistic war games like it, actually making young people (the military's recruiting targets) re-think what being in the armed forces really means?

For example, another excellent Foreign Policy article notes that NATO is facing challenges to its U.S-pushed move to become more aggressive, as European NATO allies are much less bellicose. Their social stomach for warfighting is fading away...And given that the two World Wars were cradled there, this is a wondrous thing. But Europe is also one of the primary cores of computer game development in the World...are the tens of millions of gamers partly responsible for subverting European's thirst for war into other channels? As a thesis it's an interesting one.

[Via ForeignPolicy]

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  • Neo Anderson

    Even though generally the text about "America's Army" was interesting, the last paragraph stating that due to two WW's it's "a wondrous thing" Europeans are not "thirsty for war" is as ridiculous as anything I've heard in my life. Does the author realize that even today there are visible signs of horrors, not to mention psychological scars that haunt many Europeans? Moreover, there are still unresolved things, blames, and disagreements about too many issues from those times. We, Europeans do not long for war - too many of us know its effects too personally. BTW, would you please count how many military operations and wars the USA has waged since 1914 (the beginning of WW I) in comparison to all the European countries?

  • Interns RainyDayMagazine

    The capacity to "reset" our baseline is only limited by the amount of exposure to a given stimulus. Repeated enough time, anything can be the norm.

    Porn, blood, beauty...will all become "normal" and will no longer be exciting if experienced 24/7.

    It is how any organism survives...good or bad.

  • Raina Coposky

    The military recognizes the influence and impact of computers and computer gaming on today's youth. The development and success of America's Army is just one example of that. The use of on-line scenario-based training (like Saving Sergeant Pabletti) in specific areas, such as suicide prevention, are becoming more prevalent.

  • Tyler Adams

    This concept of Militainment is fascinating and it's not just in video's in books, movies, tv shows. In a sense, war has become a form of entertainment. Even this year, the Hurt Locker, went to great lengths to put the audience in the middle of a war, to make people feel like they were a part of it. Not only is this entertainment but it changes our perceptions of just about everything that has to do with the military. The Hurt Locker may have been a movie but it wasn't so long ago that we could watch live, real-time footage of wars, and watch we did--for entertainment. For further reference everyone should read a book just released by Roger Stahl titled, "Militainment, Inc.: War, Media, and Popular Culture". It's probably the most comprehensive source to date on the subject.