Wednesday, August 03, 2005

"But it's only a game!" -- blurring the lines of war and entertainment, with the help of George Lucas

Thanks to Elaine Supkis and Operation Yellow Elephant for inviting me to post. I'm honored to participate in the blog.

Pushing America's Army at E3 2004.

It's only a game?

That's what some people are saying about America's Army.

But it's not.

A March 2005 entry at the blog Game Matters on America's Army - Behind the Scenes is an interesting one in which is published an anonymous gaming list post (with permission) of an individual who was involved with development and notes how the Army seems not to have expected America's Army, at 1/3 of 1 percent of its advertising budget, to have been such an outstanding success.

What's interesting is the developer, who was one of about 28 people working on the game initially, seems to be oblivious to social and political ramifications of one's choices, such as in one's work, and that one does not live in a gaming vacuum. America's Army was initially developed in a Naval Think Tank, but hired outside video game talent to work on the project. I could be wrong but the writer appears to have been one of those hired from outside, and there's a peculiar disconnect going on. He's hyped that the game was in the number three spot on the Gamespy stats and discontented that the Army then began to claim responsibility for development, made some changes to the team and "hemorrhaged talent". Rather than considering what his work means ethically to himself and the other developers and the people for whom it was created as a recruitment tool, he bemoans what he considers to be the decimation of the programming and design staff, and the politics that resulted with the Navy getting pissed at the Army that the Army didn't mention the game was developed in a Naval think-tank.

I don't want to get sidetracked into Army and Navy and hired-on video game developer tussles. That's not the issue here. But I did think it would be interesting to refer to a portion of his argument before looking at how America's Army was developed.


So, one morning about a year ago, the Army shows up in force at the Naval Postgraduate School. They arrive in full dress uniform and bring generals and lawyers with them. They go to the school's Provost and make accusations of mismanagement by the school. They make claims that the game is a failure and that the school has not lived up to its contract. Tempers flare and the Navy and the Army both agree that they should get the hell out of NPS. The Army takes their ball and goes home, and several of the team members are not invited to come along. I think the first resignation came within a month of this event, and the exodus has not stopped to this day. They've probably lost somewhere around 20 people since they took the game "internal", and they'll surely lose more before all is said and done.
At this point, I'm not sure if they're going to be able to ever recapture what they had. The Army is basically clueless when it comes to making games and they don't know how to treat people, especially game developers.
In the end, I'm happy for the experience. It was extremely valuable to me, and was a wonderful opportunity. It was unique and different, and a chance to take a shot at something that no one really had any expectations of. It was also a chance at creating a small snippet ofhistory. The game is far from perfect, but I'm still proud of it simply because of how much was stacked against it. I worked with some wonderful people, many of which I hope will have long and successful careers...Working on the game was a wacky adventure, and not the type of thing most game developers will ever experience. The job of a game developer is pretty strange as it is, but making a game for the Army was a down right surreal experience.

So, America's Army was created with the assistance of outside video game developers who were aware they were working on a recruitment propaganda tool but seem to have been able to divorce this from ethical concerns, instead only approaching it as part of their art and just another job added to the resume.

It's not so simple as that. Nor is it so simple with gamers who hone the skills of others, becoming part of the propaganda community, through participating in the team sport of America's Army.

At its surface "America's Army: Operations" seems like nothing more than a game made to take advantage of the recent success of games featuring realistic military tactics, but in looking into the matter many interesting bits of information are discovered. According to the official web site for "America's Army," Operations is actually designed to be a recruitment tool. If a player does exceptionally well at the game they may actually receive an e-mail from an army recruiter. This certainly changes how propaganda works in that it's not a one-way flow of communication. Being contacted directly as a result of using the propaganda makes the communication two-way and far more effective. This actually may have a psychological effect on certain players because encouraging army enlistment because of the person's abilities harkens back to how guidance counselors and family may encouraged them in the past.
As the quality of games increase the industry becomes more respectable and a more apparent vehicle for propaganda. For now, however, video game propaganda may be highly underestimated despite the industry's current acceptance as an art form by a wide range of people. It is because of this that video game propaganda will prove to be most effective.

Source: Video Game Propaganda, Travis Woodside, Cal. State

Michael Zyda is the Director of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering's GamePipe Laboratory, located at the Information Sciences Institute, Marina del Rey, California, and from 2000 to 2004 was the Founding Director of The MOVES Institute (Modeling, Virtual Environments and Simulation), at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California. This paper at, "From VIZ-SIM to VR to Games: How we built a hit game-based simulation" was written by Michael Zyda, with Alex Mayberry, Jesse McCree and Margaret Davis, and details their development of America's Army and admits much about the game as a propaganda tool aimed at teens.

America's Army is not just a recruitment tool, of course, it is a "training simulator".

Program managers want games for their next training simulator or combat-modeling system. Corporations want their messaging put forward in game form. These desires are sharpened by the enormously successful career of the "America's Army" game, the first "serious" large-scale game ever produced...
Why do so many people want games for their next training simulator?...The average "America's Army" fan spends something like sixty hours in the game, counting those who completed the basic-combat training, and it is only one of the top-five on-line games: their cumulative hours must be staggering. Ask any parent of an avid on-line gamer--the number of kids hooked and time spent is scandalous. Games and their interfaces have become second nature to youth.
Games are also attractive for their immersive qualities. As a rule of thumb, there is more immersion in a typical game than in a typical training simulator. Teenagers often enter a game world before dinnertime, after which it is difficult to prise (sic) them out to eat: need more be said?...
So there are strong reasons to move our training simulations to a game basis...
One of the larger problems is the generation gap. Games mean 'frivolous wastes of time' to the older generation, so it is hard to convince them to buy off on such training systems or even the term 'game-based simulation.' Eventually this resistance will fade, but at present it is our biggest impediment. Meanwhile, we know we have to move (to game-based simulation). When we hear stories about nine-month learning curves for the latest combat-modeling system, we (cannot) but think of the five minutes it takes to drive (the latest) game. As a community, we want our systems to offer training in five minutes. We want our systems as immersive as games. We want them entertaining, so that work is play and people don't leave. In short, we want our training systems so immersive that soldiers forget to eat.

A question asked in the report is "Why Did We Start Thinking About Games?" Seems like a given but here's their answer...

The 1997 National Research Council report entitled 'Modeling and Simulation - Linking Entertainment and Defense' (Zyda & Sheehan, 1997) states that games and interactive entertainment--not defense research expenditures--have become the main drivers for networked virtual environments. To keep up with developments in modeling and simulation, that report indicated, DoD ought to examine networked entertainment for ideas, technologies and capabilities. We thought a lot about this insight when forming the MOVES Institute as a center for research in modeling, virtual environments, and simulation, and game-based simulation became a focus.

The paper goes on to discuss what individuals are going to make up the working body of the team that develop the games. People with formal education aren't of particular interest. What's desired are individuals with good demo reels whether they be personal, for companies or from schools. It's remarked upon that they will be young people, the executive producer and creative director being perhaps 30 years of age.

We will have to ensure that the games people and training people get along. Put military officers in charge of the project, and we have an extra dimension of fun and understanding. One group shows up at 11 am in t-shirts and flip-flops. The other group comes in at 6 am in uniform--but leaves at 5 pm, while the gamers toil till midnight. This makes for a prickly cultural interface and requires patience and understanding...

As a training simulator, AA is a first-person shooter (FPS) game, in which play is real time and the the player's point-of-view is through the eyes of his character. The goal of the developers was to create a game that had the appeal of "Counterstrike", but which had a heavy emphasis on realism, "Army values and training".

They hired three game-industry veterans as team leaders.

The first version, released July 4 2002, was a "runaway success" and a number of players "flocked" to the game. America's Army was downloaded 500,000 times the first weekend. The Army's servers were overwhelmed. People were having to wait days to play. When the game was introduced, one had to complete a sort of on-line basic training. The game used an authentication server that validated players' having completed this training before allowing them into the game server, these single-player training courses being rifle-range, obstacle, weapons-familiarization and tactical. When those courses were finished, then, going on-line, one participated in a multi-player training exercise before being introduced to the additional scenarios. "Until a user had played on-line and was part of a winning team in the MOUT McKenna training level, he could not proceed to other missions." But this caused a problem and finally this on-line-training requirement was changed so that only completion of the single-player levels was necessary.

On August 1, 2002, version 1.1.1 was released, the "Marksmanship pack".

This release added the Army's sniper schools and the M24 and M82 rifle positions to the game, features originally scheduled for the initial July 4th release, but fallen behind schedule. Eligibility to play the marksmanship levels was based on scores from the original rifle-range training level. A player who shot 36 out of 40 targets in the final test could try to qualify as a sniper. Only those players who passed the marksmanship training levels could take a sniper position in on-line play...AA opened the sniper role only after other team positions were filled, meaning there were only a few sniper positions available at any time. Virtual fratricide broke out as people killed team members just to steal their sniper rifles...

When visiting America's Army on-line game I noticed the remark in a featured "blog" (not a blog at all, instead a featured testimonial), supposedly made by a veteran who played the game, that the game should be played as a team. And above apparently paints a reason for this remark.

With the release of 1.1.1, the MOUT McKenna on-line-training requirement done away with, there was a player revolt against this among those who saw the training as a badge of honor. But it was deemed as essential in order to free up bandwidth.

The army at this point added a MILES-equipped grenade to the missions, MILES being a laser-tag system used in training, and the game thus also became a simulation of a simulation, a number of the AA missions based on MILES scenarios.

With the release of 1.2.0, airborne and ranger schools were introduced.

While the airborne school came with two training levels that depicted an abridged version of the Army's actual training...we discovered that a realistic grenade (in a game) does not necessarily equal a fun experience...

No doubt. So modifications were employed such as players being made aware of when a grenade had been tossed by a particular sound.

By the release of Version 1.5.0 in December of 2002, there had been some legal problems caused by "a Miami attorney on a crusade against violence in video games...the development team was required to make several modifications to counter the negative press generated by this man..." for which reason the word "sniper" was removed from the game, and parental controls were added so parents could monitor language, weapon usage, mission types and limit displays of blood.

The ability was added to let you know when an active member of the U.S. Army was playing the game, strengthening "camaraderie between military and civilian players".

In a later release, a distinctive patriotic theme song was added to open the game.

A combat medic training sequence was introduced, involving three classroom lectures and a field-training exercise. A new damage model was introduced that changed the earlier scenario where, say, bullets striking a player meant suffering a percentage of damage "while the remaining portion was doled out over time in the form of blood loss." Now a medic could treat a player and remaining damage would be avoided.

The 2.0.0. release in 2003 added the Special Forces and the Indigenous Forces roles. If one didn't pass SF training to play in the new missions, one could play them as an indigenous soldier, which "reinforced the point that a major duty of SF units is to train and fight alongside indigenous forces in foreign countries."

The paper notes a number of other changes and things like weapons additions to the game, and is a good outline of the course taken in introducing the general public to army training simulation camouflaged as a game. This general public--remember--acknowledged as being teens who will likely be playing 60 hours a week, entirely immersed to the point of forgetting to eat.

Not only are older teens targeted, but their younger siblings as well, who would be introduced to the game through their older brothers and sisters and grow up with an acquaintance and acceptance of it.

The paper by Michael Zyder mentions that America's Army Version 2.0 was the last release developed by the MOVES Institute, the Army choosing to take over development in March of 2004.

How do you get the web development community to play nice with the Army and not end up feeling that their art form is being intruded on by the military? The paper says they picked and supported the best team they could find, supplying video-games for them to play, sofas for them to rest on, an open and dimly lit area to work in so that no one was isolated and everyone was thus aware of the game as a "whole", gave them an industrial canteen, a secretary so they didn't have to be involved in any administrative work, "and shielded them from direct contact with with the client. Result: they stuck together and worked like madmen."

With no ethical concerns apparently about what they were creating.

Just a game.

Acknowledgments stated the development team was pictured in the 2004 Erba Buena guide, Michael Capps being original executive producer, John Falby doing all contracting, hiring, purchasing, and Rosemary Minns who as team mom kept administration away from the development team and "guaranteed the flow of sugar snacks so necessary for the game's proper development."

Nothing about the ethics of these video game developers working on military propaganda targeting youth and blurring the lines of entertainment and war, supposedly training them in their homes for real life military.

Except that no one can really be trained for real life war, can they?

Bringing the War Home: The New Military-Industrial-Entertainment Complex at War and Play, by Nick Turse, lists Epic Games, NVIDIA, the THX Division of Lucasfilm, Dolby Laboratories, Lucasfilm Skywalker Sound, HomeLAN and GameSpy Industries as all having participated in the development of America's Army.

As I figure it, so much for George Lucas raining all over Iraq's parade in a May 2005 interview.

''In terms of evil, one of the original concepts was how does a democracy turn itself into a dictatorship,'' Lucas told a news conference at Cannes, where his final episode had its world premiere.
''The parallels between what we did in Vietnam and what we're doing in Iraq now are unbelievable."

Lucasfilm knew what it was doing when it hopped on the target-teen militiatainment band wagon. The THX Division of Lucasfilm LTD is also listed as a "partner" up at the America's Army website. And Lucas is ragging on Iraq??

Lucas is too old to qualify for Operation Yellow Elephant, but individuals employed by his company ought to think several times over about what they're doing. And Lucas, well, seems to me he's not got much of a right to come down on America in Iraq and at the same time be making money off partnering with the military to produce military recruitment propaganda to teens.

If you're against the war, partnering and making money off sending kids to fight in it seems a mite hypocritical.

Crossposted at Idyllopus - meanwhile back at the ranch


At 03 August, 2005 12:29, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what the fuck are they doing writing computer games when there are brown people out there to kill?

At 03 August, 2005 12:53, Blogger Karl said...

Thanks for the post; it's an area I hadn't considered previously.

But let's try to keep this blog on-topic.


At 03 August, 2005 14:56, Anonymous Anonymous said...

george lucas should enlist the PUSSY

At 03 August, 2005 15:54, Anonymous JasonB said...

The new and improved OYE BLog - where anyone who does or says anything that Ms. Tinfoil and her brigade of anonymous commenters disagrees with is a chickenhawk.

And to think, this blog was one of the bet new blogs in the liberal blogosphere at one point. All good things, I suppose.

At 03 August, 2005 17:34, Anonymous deerp said...

Seems to me you could have saved a lot of time and just said, "If you design a game that is intended to be used as a recruitment tool, then you support the war and should therefore enlist or you're a chickenhawk."

At 03 August, 2005 17:49, Anonymous Benchy said...

Hey Elaine,

maybe deerp should be the new editor!

At 03 August, 2005 17:54, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's amusing how JasonButtnugget keeps running back to let everyone know how offensive and stupid he finds this site...

One has to assume "tinfoil" was one of the words in his vocabulary homework this week.

Hang on, I'll call you a waaaaaaaambulance.

At 03 August, 2005 18:07, Anonymous deerp said...

It's all a moot point really. Anybody who's any good is playing Ghost Recon 2 or Battlefield 2. Only the scrubs who can't hack it play America's Army.

At 03 August, 2005 18:15, Anonymous stinkeye said...

What in the Zeitgeist have we come to? Why, when stinkeye was a budding young Venus Fly Trap, profiteering was done the old fashion way; overcharge for hammers!

The only recruiting agents in the paleolithic entertainment industry were "The Ballad of the Green Berets" and a bunch of flinty John Wayne movies.

Now, armed with what you have taught me today, there isn't any teenager at any pool party who will be safe from me for the rest of the summer. I am clueless
about gaming but I've never let ignorance stop me from opening my big mouth.

Every last one of the little beasts I have seen grow up and who still thirst for Auntie Stinkeye's wisdom will get a crash course on this.

Then they will have to sign my standard blood oath form that requires the continued worship of me as well as the promise to NEVER, EVER, play Three Card Monte with the Military in whatever guise they come.

At 03 August, 2005 18:26, Blogger idyllopus said...

I am curious about the negative reaction to the subject of military gaming. My own opinion on violent gaming is beside the point, as I have not targeted violent gaming in general. The games with which I'm concerned are those which are being developed by the military for public consumption. They may be enjoyed by gamers who are able to divorce them from their military inspirational fount, but the fact remains that these were specificially developed as recruitment and propaganda tools, and that the civilian community is deeply involved in that development, making money off of it and promoting these games as though they are only another facet of the gaming sport and art form. The ability to disregard these facts for sake of monetary self-interest, on the part of the developers, and for self-interest on the entertainment level, for gamers, is of concern to me and disconcerting.

Anonymous commentators are scarcely my brigade. Whether pro or negative, when comments are framed only to bait they amount to troll static.

I would appreciate some clarification as to what is considered Operation Yellow Elephant material. Young Republicans, I understand, have been of specific interest but I'd observed postings of a broader field, and if my posting on the subject of military gaming and other recruitment propaganda that is promoted, participated in, or off which a profit is made, in a fairly direct track, by the civilian population, is considered off topic, then I am wondering what the parameters are. I have no desire to use OYE as a soapbox for issues that may not fall in line with OYE.

At 03 August, 2005 19:19, Anonymous Sally said...

deerp is right although most of the posts dont fit here anyhow they are making OYE about how much each contributor hates any given group, not about the all important goal of getting Repukes to kill brown poeple

At 03 August, 2005 21:21, Blogger Elaine Supkis said...

This site is a group effort.

Some of us are MOTHERS. Being moms, this means we are not very young and we all have draft age kids and we can see what is coming next: the draft.

Although "snarky fun" is possible, it isn't the sole response. We are looking at a giant tragedy here and the authors of this farce are all chickens who run from war and attack our soldiers like Hackett, when they come home, talking about disaster.

I joked around but this week the news is just way too grim, really. My blog is much bloodier and sadder than this one, even though I still post funny cartoons and jokes about NASA etc, the war news is all very grim.

Our goal isn't to get the stupid brats of the GOP to put their money where their fat lips are, it is to highlight their collective cowardice and to shove into their faces the bloody mess they support and lie about.

We want them to join us against the war or go over there and die.


JC sought to do this with humor and grace but I note, there isn't a large movement afoot to do anything with the material we all brought here.

TIME IS RUNNING OUT. The military disaster will probably lead to a possible nuclear war and this war could very easily spread to America riding on concealed nukes. Then it will be too late! In September, we are going to try to get the biggest anti war demonstration in American history in DC. I will be posting a lot of stuff about that as time passes. I hope everyone prepares for this march. It is the best we can do, under these circumstances.

At 03 August, 2005 21:24, Blogger Elaine Supkis said...


Some of the posters here want easy fun. Snark city. And if they are so hot about it, all they have to do is produce some and email it to me.

I will publish it here. OK, gang? Let 'er rip.

At 03 August, 2005 21:39, Anonymous Anonymous said...

so you'll pretty much print any shit anybody bangs out? and what the fuck have you been smoking that you think theres going to be a nuclear war?

At 03 August, 2005 21:57, Blogger Elaine Supkis said...

Nope. It has to be a lot better than your posting. Writing articles is hard work. Hard. heh. Are you up to this? If not, whine on!

(Geeze, this is getting awfully familiar! People who can't cough up anything but verbal hairballs!)

At 03 August, 2005 21:58, Blogger Elaine Supkis said...

History lesson for the day: this is virtually the anniversary of the USA dropping a nuke on civilians so they could end a war rapidly. If we think this might not happen again, well, dream on.

Defeat is dangerous. We lost in Iraq. Now either they have to start the draft or get out. Or try one last time to "win". All are frought with many dangers.

At 03 August, 2005 22:24, Anonymous Anonymous said...

writing articles is hard it must be even harder to write ones that have anything to do with the fucking OYE mission

At 03 August, 2005 22:54, Blogger Elaine Supkis said...

Which is what? Have you leafletted your campus with the stuff we post here?


According to the kid who went to the Young Republicans convention, not ONE yellow elephant sticker or leaflet was seen.

Now, I and JC can't do all the work. It is up to everyone to do the real work here. And that is to take material and go forth.

This blog isn't an "entertainment" site. If you think it is, hooray. If you don't want reality biting, then tough, I ain't gonna rock you to beddy bye.

At 03 August, 2005 23:17, Blogger MJS said...

Feed a troll and you keep it alive for a day. Teach a troll that you won't feed a troll and it will die of loneliness.

Not that anybody asked.


At 03 August, 2005 23:20, Blogger Elaine Supkis said...

I don't assume anyone is a troll. Unless they just start cussing and causing annoyance then, under the bridge they go.

At 04 August, 2005 02:27, Blogger idyllopus said...

Thanks, Elaine. I think I've got a better grasp of the situation.

Over at my blog I have done plenty of comedy but this is deadly serious business to me as someone looking at not only immediate consequences for US/global corporate actions, but several generations hence. I'm the mother of a young son, concerned about what he will be living with as an adult, and worried about getting him through the propaganda in one piece, with a mind that's able to analyse what the govt and global corporate pitches at him, awake to questioning who profits and at what and whose expense.

I grew up in the shadow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in a pretty intimate way. Those shadows were my childhood companions and will always remain so, exposed to contaminated food supply and environment, a situation the government knew about but kept secret for decades, near an area that is today the most radiation-polluted place in the Western Hemisphere, and the target of the most complex and expensive environmental cleanup effort in history, racing against time, the Columbia River in serious jeapordy. If I come equipped with what some people deem a tin-foil hat, the govt put it on my head; I was a subject of radioactive-pollutant impact testing along with many other children, and I'm aware that the left and right hands in the govt frequently don't have a clue about what the other is doing, much less caring to inform the general public. I'm horrified by this administration pursuing nuclear weaponry such as EPWs, selling bunker busters to Israel, projecting their use in Iran, possibly Syria, and as an answer to North Korea. If we think our occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq is disastrous and are aware and concerned about contamination from uranium-dupleted ammo, that will be nothing compared to Iran.

I have been amused at the humor used in pursuing Young Republicans and exposing their hypocrisy. My perception of it was, however, serious business and not simply entertainment, and Young Republicans aren't the only ones endangering the children with their hypocrisy or ignorance. There are those who say they are one thing but are of another stripe, or who haven't considered the full ethics of their actions. The last thing I want is for any one to die furthering this govt's policies. I would prefer them to wake up to the lies and brainwashing.

At 04 August, 2005 02:31, Blogger idyllopus said...

Correction: uranium-depleted. Sorry.

At 04 August, 2005 03:29, Blogger Karl said...


Thanks again for your post.

The purpose of Operation Yellow Elephant was to highlight the contrast between strong, personal political support of U.S. military intervention and the failure of these otherwise eligible individuals actually to consider serving, personally, in our military.

Given ongoing recruiting problems, this is a legitimate political issue. I am continuing to see commentary in the media highlighting these sentiments.

We do have a diversity of perspectives on this blog but its purpose is to help our country avoid even worse problems.

General anti-military sentiments may be sincere but are off-topic. Our focus is encouraging the strongest supporters of U.S. military intervention to put themselves (and/or their circle of influence) where their politics are.

Karl Olson


At 04 August, 2005 04:24, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elaine, OYE has been a failure. A horrible failure. This blog has become nothing more then a place for liberals to pat themselves on the back and act like they're better them conservatives (who you unfairly lump into the 'pro-war' catagory). And what's with the rants about videogames? It has nothing to do with Republicans enlisting. From a once noble all inclusive liberal operation, OYE has become nothing more then a vehicle for the fringe.

At 04 August, 2005 05:06, Blogger Karl said...


I agree with anonymous just above.

On this blog, please, let's keep to the topic.

Karl Olson

At 04 August, 2005 12:06, Blogger Elaine Supkis said...

OK, Karl.

Where are YOUR articles? Eh? Hello? I hear crickets chirping. You have time to belly ache but no time to do any real work.


At 04 August, 2005 13:25, Blogger Karl said...


In answer to your question, I posted an article July 31.

Articles need a few days in the sun to accumulate comments.

My open letter to the Center for Military Readiness got buried by these long, off-topic posts.

I trust that this is fully responsive to your concerns.

Thank you.


Karl Olson


At 04 August, 2005 13:26, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 04 August, 2005 13:28, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 04 August, 2005 13:58, Blogger Karl said...

anonymous is right!


At 04 August, 2005 19:23, Anonymous Rachel said...

looks like idiopuss needs a new hobby too

At 06 August, 2005 22:57, Anonymous Anonymous said...

that one fucking long post

At 07 August, 2005 16:23, Anonymous Anonymous said...



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