Video Games as Military Education
Posted by Skyler Frink
In my video blog I discussed video games in the military, but I feel that there's much more to say on the subject. As a person who has actually played the game that got it all started, America's Army, I feel like I should weigh in on my experience and the impression it gave me. Now, I played America's Army 2, not 3, so there may be some slight differences between my own experiences and those of the current game.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with America's Army, it is a realistic first-person video game with a goal of educating the public on the U.S. Army.
First of all, the game requires you to go through training before you play at all. The training isn't particularly short either, and it took me about an hour to complete it before I could jump into the multiplayer. The training features running through an obstacle course, getting familiar with all the weapons and doing some shooting on a firing range.
This training is designed to help educate players on the Army's standards, and reduce the dropout rate of people in basic. While I can't say I got any more fit than I was when I started playing, I can say I have an understanding of the obstacle course (or at least what sort of challenges there are in it) now and understand some basics about weapons in the army. It really does go into great detail explaining things and drives home that the Army is full of well-trained individuals.
The additional training you can take to become a sniper or medic go into even more detail. Becoming a medic is particularly difficult, as you need to listen to several lectures, complete with slides, and then complete an in-game test. At the very least I took away the ability to make an effective tourniquet, and more respect for those who choose to become medics.
Once in the game you are given the option of many different maps to play on, each with their own scenario. None of these scenarios require killing anyone else (you can reach the other side of the map "bridge crossing" without firing a shot, for example), though it's generally impossible to win or lose without any casualties.
Interestingly enough, there is also a "training" map where each time is representing different teams in the U.S. Army on a training course that uses actual training gear (it looks more like laser tag than actual combat). Instead of being killed when shot, characters sits down if they are eliminated and wait until one team wins. Again, this highlights the professionalism of the Army and gives a peek into what training is like.
It's the professional atmosphere of the game that really gives it some useful educational value. Between the extremely useful in-game audio commands (yes, it includes Hooah!) and the realistic objectives, the game breeds respect and education. Even the community is friendly and welcoming, unlike many online gaming communities. After experiencing the training the players are united by at least one common experience, and the title itself tends to attract a more respectful crowd.
The game gives an extremely positive view of the Army, and does so without being preachy or boring. As a teenager I wasn't playing it to be educated, I was playing to be entertained, but some education couldn't help but rub off on me.
More companies should make games that educate in a way America's Army does: by allowing players to experience every aspect of what you're trying to teach them. From the classroom to the firing range to the battlefield, America's Army gives an impression of what it's like to be in the Armed Forces. Unlike other games that drop you right into combat, America's Army gives context and is all the better for it.
Now to see if I'm still of any use on the virtual battlefield...