On my first day of basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, I'm given an M16 and told to attempt to qualify as an infantry marksman. I'm nervous because I've never actually fired the weapon before and the voice of the drill sergeant is stern and unforgiving.
I settle into a prone sniper position overlooking the firing range. In my anxiousness, I almost forget to load the magazines of shells into my rifle. Suddenly, targets—red, two-dimensional silhouettes of human forms—begin to spring up in the field in front of me, mostly along the tree line. As I gaze through the sights of my rifle, I can hear myself breathing, not quite relaxed, but steady, at least. I squeeze off round after round, trying to methodically dispatch each target. A persistent mist bleeds from the trees, giving the impression of an early morning autumn chill.
I actually feel pretty warm, since I'm sitting at my computer, in my heated house, taking my first tenuous steps in the US government video game, America's Army. Created at the urging of the Army's Office for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, which oversees recruitment, America's Army is intended to put Americans, primarily teenaged Americans, into contact with the new face of the Army.
In 1999, when Army recruitment numbers dropped to their lowest in 30 years, Congress prodded the military to try "aggressive, innovative experiments" in order to maintain the Armed Forces. Colonel E Casey Wardynski noticed that a large segment of the target market for Army recruitment was preoccupied with playing video games on their home computers, and in a flash of inspiration, a three-year, $6 million dollar Army project was born.
That's about three times the computer gaming industry average for creating what's called a "first-person shooter"—a game where players use guns to kill a series of enemies. The Army claims their game involves much more than that, saying in promotional materials that "[t]he Army's game is an entertaining way for young adults to explore the Army and its adventures and opportunities as a virtual Soldier. As such, it is part of the Army's communications strategy designed to leverage the power of the Internet as a portal through which young adults can get a first-hand look at what it is like to be a Soldier."
This year marks SFR’s 40th anniversary. Celebrate with us by reading excerpts of stories that have graced our pages through the years. With Veteran Day this week, the Army continues to use games to recruit and train new soldiers.