Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Enjoy the Video Game? Then Join the Army

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Enjoy the Video Game? Then Join the Army

Article excerpt

This summer, Matt and Doug Stanbro, two brothers from Chelsea, Ala., traded in their game controllers for M-16 rifles. They're two of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of American teenagers inspired by a "shoot'em-up" video game to join the Army.

On the same day the brothers graduated from basic training last week, the Pentagon released the latest version of "America's Army," the combat-style video game.

"I never really thought about the military at all before I started playing this game," says Pfc. Doug Stanbro in a phone interview from Fort Jackson, S.C.

With more than 3,000 US soldier deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11, the use of a video game and incentives such as free iPods to recruit replacements is a strategy that critics call misguided, even abhorrent. But for the Pentagon, "America's Army" is proving a potent way to communicate military values directly to the messy bedrooms where teens hang out.

"America's Army" is "a sort of virtual test drive," says its creator, Col. Casey Wardynski. "What we are looking to communicate is the ethos of being a soldier ... leadership, teamwork, values, structure."

In a recent informal survey of recruits at Fort Benning, Ga., which was conducted by the Army's video-game development team, about 60 percent of recruits said they've played "America's Army" more than five times a week. Four out of 100 said they'd joined the Army specifically because of the game. Nationwide, the game counts some 7.5 million registered users, making it one of the Top 5 online PC games.

The Army announced earlier this month it expects to exceed its 80,000 recruiting quota this year after missing it in 2005 for the first time since 1999, and officials say a range of recruitment tweaks - including easing up on the tattoo policy and up to $40,000 signing bonuses - have played a role. But few other ideas have been as effective in galvanizing potential recruits as "America's Army."

"The idea was to create a game to get the word out about the Army, and we would make it fun because the Army is fun, and we'll get it right in their living rooms where they're already operating every day," says Col. Randy Zeegers, a military-protocol expert on "America's Army" development team.

Released in late 1992, the game has gone through several iterations. Still available for free for the PC, it's now available for $19.99 for the Xbox and PlayStation. The new version includes digitized commentary from "Real Heroes" - a group of veterans from the war on terror picked by the Army to become modern-day Sergeant Yorks. Those soldiers will be available as action figures for the upcoming holiday shopping season.

Unlike many "shooter" games that require pistons for thumbs, "America's Army" is less about racking up kills and more about building skills, players say. …

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