The “Military Metaverse” of the US military 20 years ago is offline

A game that condenses the “history of cyber conscription” of the U.S. military.

After 20 years, the world’s first “conscription game” is finally going to be discontinued.

Not long ago, the official game forum of “America’s Army” suddenly issued an announcement announcing that the official server of “America’s Army: Proving Grounds” (America’s Army: Proving Grounds) will be shut down on May 5, 2022, and all online services will be shut down. The update and subsequent updates will be terminated. Players on the Xbox and PS platforms will not be able to download the game, and Steam players will not be spared. As soon as the news came out, many game lovers and military fans were sighed.

As a video game led by the U.S. military and costing more than $30 million to build, the “U.S. Army” series has become the first video game project in history with the goal of recruiting soldiers. In 20 years, 20 million gamers and many young Americans have joined the military. Even though these American soldiers are now all over the world, their love for video games has not changed.

The game has been suspended, but people’s curiosity about the game has never stopped. In every corner of the cyberspace, people are still discussing: what kind of game is this? Why is the US military willing to spend a high budget and 20 years to maintain it? Does anyone really enlist in the military for playing games? Where is the next “US Army”?

01 “Military Metaverse” 20 years ago

The origins of the US military and gaming come earlier than any other country on the planet.

As early as the early 1980s, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency began to use video games to study how to “train soldiers” in a pilot project. In the 1990s, with the further maturity of electronic computers and 3D graphics technology, the Doom Warrior developed by id Software “(Doom) attracted the attention of the U.S. military. This popular game at that time not only had the game screen of the era of change, but also brought a different shooting game experience from the past. In the game, players played the role of Duke Nukem to destroy the enemy’s design, which is invisible. It is in line with the goal of the US military training soldiers.

The "Military Metaverse" of the US military 20 years ago is offline

Doom 2 game screen|GameSpot

Subsequently, the computer simulation experts of the Marine Corps modified “Doom 2” into another game “Marines Doom” (Marines Doom) as a tactical training tool. The original monsters were replaced by regular enemies. The purpose of this game is to hope that soldiers learn how to work as a team and make quick decisions in the game.

Afterwards, the U.S. military was out of control. It not only cooperated with MÄK Technology to develop a “Marine Expedition 2000” for the training of the U.S. Marine Corps, but also released it publicly. However, at that time, the military developed games more It is mostly used for collaborative training of soldiers, not for recruitment purposes.

In 1997, Michael Zyda, a professor at the School of Computer Science at the University of Southern California, and others submitted a report to the National Scientific Research Council, pointing out that the development speed of military simulation games by the US Department of Defense was far behind the mainstream at that time. Commercial games, and it is recommended that the military and civilian developers be jointly developed.

The motive of this proposal seems inconceivable today, but at the time it had the conditions of “the right time and the right place”. Due to the continuous decline in the number of recruits recruited by the US Army in the 1990s, and even breaking the lowest record in 30 years in 1999, young Americans are indifferent to the various recruitment notices of the US military, so they use the games that young people are most interested in as a breakthrough. Conscription” project was put on the agenda.

Subsequently, the US Congress passed the “Invasive Innovation and Experimentation Program”, increasing the budget of 2.2 billion US dollars as a reward for the military’s foreign recruits and for improving the image of the US Army.

The program also included the U.S. Army game project, which, after three years of development, was officially unveiled to the public at E3 in May 2002, recognizing that players could see at a glance whether a game was a game or not. It is a high-quality game, and the official production budget has been continuously increased from the initial 7 million US dollars. Therefore, its graphics performance was not inferior to any other similar works at that time. With the official release of the game, it successfully attracted many young Americans who like video games. .

The "Military Metaverse" of the US military 20 years ago is offline

The U.S. military’s display at the E3 game show that year | Photo: gowingnut

The “US Army” series adopts a turn-based system, and the content is similar to “Counter-Strike”. No matter which team the player participates in, the characters displayed in the game are US Army soldiers. Before players go online, they must pass the game training level and upload it. Store training results on the official website, which actually creates a richer citizen database for the U.S. military.

After the training level is completed, players can play the roles of war emergency personnel, special forces personnel, shooters, military Humvee drivers, remote control weapon system operators, etc., and complete various tasks in single-player mode.

The most popular part of the game is the multiplayer part, where all players are divided into two teams: the attackers and the defenders. An interesting setting is that no matter which side the player is on, the player himself and his teammates are American soldiers, and the enemy is a terrorist.

At the beginning of the game, if the weapon carried by your own soldiers is M16A1, then in the eyes of the enemy you are a terrorist with an AK-47, and the core part of the subsequent version of the game still continues this concept.

Unlike other similar games, “US Army” uses simulated military combat as its core gameplay, so real military combat rules are indispensable. The game rewards players by increasing experience points or deducting experience points to severely punish players for their wrongdoings. The behaviors rewarding extra points include completing specific tasks, killing enemies and rescuing injured teammates, and the experience points obtained after completing tasks and rescuing teammates Exceeds the experience gained from killing enemies.

The game will punish behaviors such as hurting teammates and the targets to be protected in the mission. When players are deducted too many points or behave badly at one time, they will be kicked out of the server, or even sent to military prisons.

The original version of “U.S. Army” was officially launched in 2002. It was developed by the U.S. Army’s Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville Army Game Studio [JY2] (Redstone Aresinal in Huntsville) and adopted a free download system, but users must register an account to play, and then have a lot of money. The military even cooperates with game companies to promote the game to other game platforms. Since the military has a sufficient R&D budget, it can ensure the continuous launch of the game even if it does not earn a penny and needs to maintain a free server. Updates and revisions.

After the game was released as planned, the U.S. Department of Defense once stated that the purpose of the game is to connect with young people, inspire team spirit and carry forward the core values ​​of the Army, and make those young people who play the game interested in military careers. enlisted.

In 2003, West Point Military Academy conducted statistics on the freshmen population, and the data showed that 19% of the freshmen had played the “US Army” series of games, and 20%-40% of the recruits had played the game before enlisting. The U.S. Army is a CD-ROM version of the game available in nearly every unit in the United States and sold in the Army Recruiting Office.

Two years after the game’s release, the number of recruits in the United States continued to reach the required target number. Although Paul Pois, director of the Pentagon’s public affairs department, mentioned that officials could not find a specific link between the game’s release and the number of recruits, the US military attracted a lot of money through a game. The goal of young people in the Internet age still seems to be achieved.

However, all this is far from enough.

02 Bringing “virtual warriors” into reality

Using banknotes to attract young people who are eager to make money has always been a common tactic in Western countries’ conscription. However, when people, especially young people, became more and more disgusted with war, and the number of conscripts failed to achieve their goals every year, the US military began to try to use more media to attract young people, and video games were the most important part.

Although compared with similar masterpieces such as “Call of Duty” or “Battlefield”, the “U.S. Army” series does not have an advantage in the game shock effect, but with more realistic gameplay and the earlier popular “game recruitment” concept, More and more young people have a preliminary understanding of battlefield combat through games.

According to a small-scale survey of recruit training conducted by the U.S. Department of Defense after the launch of U.S. Army, about 40% of recruits mastered the use of complex digital main battle equipment in just two months. When asked why, their answer was surprising: Operating these weapons was similar to any U.S. Army game they played before enlisting in the military.

The "Military Metaverse" of the US military 20 years ago is offline

US soldiers playing video games | Photo:

Compared with the thankless post-training, it is a better way to use video games to let those young people who are interested in the army learn about military knowledge in advance, especially practical combat skills.

Casey Wardynski, chief economist of the U.S. Army, said in a 2005 interview with The Washington Post: “The game is designed to give players a sense of the basics of being a soldier. Understanding, but also to give players a sense of self-efficacy, to make them believe they can do it.”

It’s not hard to explain why this project, which was originally planned for only 7 years, ended up lasting 20 years. During such a long time, the game was constantly updated with the needs of military operations and weapon upgrades, despite the annual cost of doing so. They are all in the millions of dollars, but compared to the total draft budget of $8 billion, such an investment is still well worth it.

A 2008 MIT study found, “A surprising 30% of Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 have a more positive impression of the Army because of the game US Army. The thing is, the game has a bigger impact on recruits than all other forms of Army advertising put together.”

With the continuous update of the game, the game content has also been ported from the PC to the home game console, which is tantamount to bringing the recruitment publicity into thousands of households. According to official statistics, since the game was launched, players around the world have reached more than 30 million goals and successfully executed 180 million tasks. Wodesky once commented on the significance of this game: “Compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on recruiting advertising dollars every year, this game developed by the Pentagon with an annual investment of 6 million US dollars is obviously much better.”

However, over the years, this initially revolutionary game has also received a lot of criticism, not only for rewarding killing in “US Army”, downplaying the cruel nature of war, blurring the line between military and entertainment, etc. The discussion of the issue further casts doubts on the behavior of the U.S. military using games to recruit troops.

In 2021, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, publicly questioned the military’s use of games to recruit. In her view, the Internet is full of various Recruiting games are a disaster for teens who are too young to discern: “Those who are 13 or even 12-year-olds are also targeted by game recruitment, and they may be affected by this information on a daily basis.” And this may imperceptibly affect their joining the military in the future.

This suspicion is not unreasonable. Overseas media have previously reported that more than 90% of the US troops stationed in Iraq grew up in online games. At a U.S. Marine Corps base a few kilometers southeast of Fallujah, Iraq, the game relieved their tensions outside of day-to-day combat and became a warm haven for their overseas missions.

The "Military Metaverse" of the US military 20 years ago is offline

Microsoft’s Xbox’s Halo is also a popular shooter game Halo official website

Here, soldiers enter the virtual world to escape the brutal war, their Xbox, PlayStation gaming area is full of war and casual games, but most people are happy to play Halo and put down The Hobbit (The Hobbit). Some people use games to take away the troubles of nostalgia, and some people use games to heal the pain of war, but no one knows how long it will take them to truly get rid of this terrible battlefield. Shake the handle.

“There’s nothing better than gaming when bullets are whizzing past you,” said 27-year-old Sergeant Geoffrey Meeker. After witnessing the brutality of war firsthand, he doesn’t think gaming will solve their problems. Other questions to:

When there are terrorists mixed in with civilians, they can’t tell the difference; when a comrade in arms really dies, the game doesn’t let them start again; when they are in danger and isolated, there is no superpower that allows them to escape unharmed . War is much crueler than games.

03 Games, games are never far away

Under the weight of high unemployment, the young generation Z in the United States who grew up in video games now have to face the choice of enlisting in the military, but at least the game has never been far from them.

Today, at the military training base in Fort Knox, Kentucky, the U.S. military is also conducting the “Game Live Recruitment” project. There are not only the US Army Esports Team, the most famous military e-sports team in the United States, but also the “Live Game Recruitment” project. Become one of the jobs that some young people envy.

“We’ve got Apex Legends, Fortnite, League of Legends, all sorts of hits, and all we do on the stream is tell people who we are , and convey the idea this way: we’re really just like you on the other side of the screen, so if anyone’s interested, we’re always available to chat.”

According to Christopher Jones, head of the US Army Esports Team, young people with the same hobbies are worthy of becoming comrades. Live to learn about the military, and their work is considered a success.

The "Military Metaverse" of the US military 20 years ago is offline

E-sports events organized by the US military | Photo: nexushub

And if you like games and happen to be interested in “game live recruiting”, then just search for US Army Esports on the live broadcast platform, and privately message the other party your phone number, and within 24 hours, the military will call you .

In other countries, gaming has also become one of the mediums for attracting young people into the military. As early as 2009, the British Ministry of Defense launched a project called “Becoming a Thinking Soldier”. In this web game, players have to escape from enemy tunnels, collect and assemble a bomb. While completing tasks, you have to answer multiple multiple-choice questions.

The game was very popular after its release, and the Ministry of Defense website welcomed many young people interested in joining the military. In addition, the British Army Recruitment Office has also introduced virtual reality technology, so that candidates can experience live ammunition training as long as they wear a helmet and sit in a specially designed Challenger-2 tank. “Daily Mail” said that young people will be attracted by the immersive feeling, and have a strong curiosity and yearning for the military camp.

The game is beginning to run through recruiting in other industries, and last year, the Federal Aviation Administration launched a recruiting campaign with the goal of finding 4,300 air traffic controllers over the next five years, especially for gamers, a publicity from the agency said. In the video, the official said:

“In a game like Call of Duty, you have to be aware of your surroundings, like staring at a radar screen and seeing another plane coming from the corner of your eye, or other tiny details.”

Communication scholar Paul Levinson said: “Any technology is a replica of a knife.” The same is true for games. The curtain call of “US Army” does not mean that the US military is no longer recruiting through games. Perhaps soon, we will see more Advanced forms of conscription, perhaps VR/AR or even XR, will not stop as long as the military needs it. As one of the media, from the initial training of soldiers to the subsequent recruitment of soldiers, to the fact that they accompany the soldiers now, they are accompanying this group of people throughout their lives.

But people still can’t predict how the military will use games to influence the public, as Chomsky, a scholar in the field of cognition, said: “The new media becomes a tool for human liberation or a tool for human domination, the key depends on who controls the media. “

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