America's Army: Video Game Propaganda

Critics have often said the (First?) Gulf War was a video game war. Perhaps the notoriously literal-minded military did not realize that was not meant as a compliment. At any rate, America's Army is an officially endorsed video game from the Army. It's a first person shooter with online multiplayer, involving teamwork, more camouflage than you can shake a stick at, and being yelled at by drill sergeants.

Pages of tiny, unresizable text about teamwork, reminiscent of horribly bland, Pollyanna-ish corporate mission statements, greet you as you enter basic training:

"[Basic Training's] purpose is to transform young American volunteers into disciplined, motivated, physically fit Soldiers who believe in teamwork and espouse the Army's seven core values: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless-Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage."

Here is an non-exhaustive list of issues:

  1. The download is well over 300 Megs. It took 3 tries to get all of it. The first two tries stopped 70KB short of the end. I have a cable modem, but it still annoyed.
  2. Not even counting the 300 Meg download, the install, to put it politely, blew. Why did it install the .NET FrameWork? Why did the reboot of said .NET framework screw up the main install, which I had to re-start? Why did I have to make my own shortcut?
  3. The online registration sucks. Not only is the server slow, I never received my email with the passwords in them, even with two tries. I finally was able to get a forgot password email sent. (Do I really need to say that registration is required? About the Army?)
  4. Why did the game forget that I had completed the marksmanship course—twice? You have to pass basic training to play in the online games.
  5. Speaking of online games, why doesn't the server list exclude servers I don't have a high enough level for?
  6. The game freezes and crashes occasionally.
  7. Most annoying is an obstacle course designed to teach you how to move, in which one a wall/rope climb kept stopping me, and the help did not explain why (it said keep right, I kept right and it still made me start over again.)

I did find a few pluses:

  1. During boot camp, if you shoot the drill sergeant, the weapons handing out guy, or the dude in the tower keeping an eye on the shooting range, you get sent to a nicely stereotypic jail cell, complete with a harmonica echoing in the background.
  2. The aiming features realistic breathing effects, especially noticeable with the scope.
  3. The ability to say, oh, the latest piece of government propaganda? I played it.

Posted by Chad Lundgren on Sunday, February 23, 2003 (Link)