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The Military is making a video game - Issue #6

Games, Politics & Labor
The militaries around the world are making video games. Call of Duty works with the Pentagon on one of their games and the Americans seem to be always winning in video games.

Try to imagine for a couple of seconds, one of the Call of Duty or Battlefield games. As I am closing my eyes, I imagine realistic weapons, fast-paced combat that seems to resemble reality, and tons of destruction around. Someone is shooting a missile out of a rocket launcher, a building collapses, yet I somehow come out victorious. Out of the mayhem, I come out as the winner, and very seldom does it occur for me - of course on the side of the American Army - to lose.
If I were to say outright that the Army is involved in the production of military-like video games, you will accuse me of poor-taste conspirationism. What if I told you that on the 4th of July 2002, the American Army released an online video game called America’s Army in the style of Counter-Strike. You are a soldier, you have to shoot, to accomplish some objectives, and relate to your teammates in a militaristic jargon. The big difference between this and Counter Strike is that it is completely free, and it has no in-game purchases. Nothing. The U.S. Army has enough to keep it going. It doesn’t need our $5 for some skins.
A screen capture from America’s Army website.
A screen capture from America’s Army website.
Before America’s Army Proving Grounds, the U.S. Marines were the first to be very enthusiastic about video games. In 1997, they have modified a version of the game Doom, calling it Marine Doom. The U.S. Army is not the only military organization to have a video game which it allegedly uses to recruit people. In 2009, the British Army was using a DOOM-style online video game to recruit potential soldiers. People’s Liberation Army from China uses Glorious Mission, a military, first-person shooter video game, that is distributed through Tencent (the company that holds a big share in League of Legends and Epic Games).
But the military involvement in video games doesn’t only stop at the production of some shooters aimed for recruitment. A couple of years ago, Dave Anthony - one of the writers working on the Call of Duty franchise - was invited for an unpaid fellowship on the Atlantic Council, a nonpartisan Washington-based think tank that advises on the future of unknown conflict. The experience he had by working on very futuristic titles such as Call of Duty Advanced Warfare, where soldiers are becoming invisible by wearing a certain suit, where missiles are even more precise, gave him the expertise to advise on the future of warfare. In the words of Anthony:
“As a director and writer, my job is to break expectations and established thinking without fear of failure in order to create new and fresh ideas … It’s timely as the threats we face today don’t play by established rules. Our enemies are starting to use our own technologies and systems faster and more efficiently than we are.”
On the same title, Call of Duty Advanced Warfare, there was a Pentagon adviser involved in the thinking, design and implementation process. Additionally, they consulted soldiers and futurologists to build its vision of war against private military contractors. Michael Condrey, the co-founder of Sledgehammer Games, the studio behind the game declared:
“Three years ago, right after we finished Modern Warfare 3, we started thinking about how to change Call of Duty. We brought in a lot of outside help – military advisers, futurologists - we got together with a scenario planner from the department of defense, who is active in the Pentagon. His job is to think about future threats and prepare ‘what if’ scenarios for the US government. So we asked him, what do you think will be the conflict of tomorrow?”
Call of Duty Advanced Warfare. Image part of the press kit: https://www.igdb.com/games/call-of-duty-advanced-warfare/presskit#images
Call of Duty Advanced Warfare. Image part of the press kit: https://www.igdb.com/games/call-of-duty-advanced-warfare/presskit#images
With military advisors working on video games, developers moving into discussing the conflict, and the various military organizations developing their own video games, what is the relationship between video games and the military? Additionally, not to mention that gamers are targeted by military ads, where they show soldiers controlling drones with the game controller. The military conflict is portrayed as a real-life version of the game, in which if you can play a video game, you can fly a drone (if you do not believe me, go and Google some of the images).
Another important point to discuss is the discourse present in those military video games and how does it legitimizes certain narratives. Why is everything just so victorious, despite of the hardships you are going through? Why does the video game industry refuse to talk about the real implications of being a soldier: killing others, maybe being involved in a conflict in which you didn’t even want to drag yourself but there were no opportunities where you were coming from, mental illness, PTSD, etc?
The truth is there are video games who deal with this, but they are harder to digest for an audience that is infatuated with the dopamine-inducing killing of Arabs, in the name of peace and prosperity. If you want, go check out Spec Ops: The Line, and even Kane & Lynch, even though the latter is not as related to direct military operations as the former.
Spec Ops : The Line The Most Disturbing Scenes
Spec Ops : The Line The Most Disturbing Scenes
🦮 On a personal note
I love video games like Spec Ops the Line and those that shake you from the bottom-up. I do not believe all video games should be fun to play, but rather there should be more with disturbing elements, that could contribute to the awakening of the people. Awakening from a state of numbness in which they find themselves, ignoring politics, not caring about what those in power do and feeling hopeless about change being possible. Only by confronting the disturbing nature of our society, maybe only then we will be awoken.
I have received a couple of e-mails from those of you that are reading the newsletter. I love to communicate with you through electronic post and I hope to receive more in the future. If you have recommendations, please write to me :) I will be very interested in writing more diversely.
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Radu Stochita
Radu Stochita

Newsletter following the research process for my Honors Thesis which aims to understand the labor relations inside the video games industry.
Writing once a week (at least) about working inside the video game industry, the politics of games and their relationship to society.

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