While watching the documentary “Digital Nation,” produced by Rachel Dretzin, I became interested by a section titled “The Army Experience Center.” The documentary shows clips of teenagers as young as thirteen playing violent videos games in an arcade run by the Army. The whole goal is to arouse these teenagers’ interest so they enlist. Having strong negative feelings towards war and teenage recruitment to begin with, I decided to research this subject further. Let me take you through my thought process while I struggle with the question; Is the Army Experience Center’s (AEC) use of war video games a moral way to recruit teenagers?
My first source, a radio program titled “War Games Lure for ‘Real Thing” laid the background. Host Jacki Lyden explains how the AEC had closed on July 30, 2010 after being in a Philadelphia shopping mall. It was only open for two years in order to “determine the most effective tools for public outreach” (Army). The center’s spokesman, Captain John Kirchgessner, said the center was successful and had been a “better way to share our Army story than to simply smile and dial and ask somebody if they thought about joining lately” (War). Brian Lepley adds to this by saying, “We have got to reach them the way that they entertain themselves” (Joel). I found these statements to be true. After all, before building the AEC, the Army had shut down five recruiting offices nearby. With half the staff, the Army was able to recruit the same amount of people and still save money (War). This saving of money was good business practices and even benefits tax payers. My perception of the AEC was already looking better.
Though Kirshgessner is confident that these recruits were aware of the difference between war and videogame, Staff Sergeant Jesse Hamilton has a different perspective. He worries that the use of video games as a recruitment tool takes away from the reality of war. He goes on to say, “People screaming, blood, flies, horrible smells – the list goes on and on. And they’ve taken all of that out, and what they’ve effectively left is the portion which they consider to be the fun part” (War). Reading this statement reminded me of why I felt ashamed of the AEC to begin with. It gives kids, who don’t know any better, a false idea of all the different aspects of war. I found myself back to my initial, negative perception of the AEC.
At this point, I knew I needed more first-hand information about the AEC. Keeping with radio programs, I stumbled across one hosted by Rebecca Roberts who goes into more detail about the center as she takes a tour. She describes it as “slick and gadget-heavy as an Apple store” (Army). There are two simulators: a Humvee and two Blackhawk helicopter, a career navigator, a global-base locator, and rows of Xbox game counsels. Everything is free, as long as you are thirteen or older. It seems so innocent, like a teenage boy’s dream come true. While thinking more about the nature of boys, I reminded myself that boys have been known through all generations to play war games. Weather it is Cowboys and Indians, Battleship, or the latest video game. It’s in their nature. The more I thought about violent video games, the more I accepted it as a modern day childhood game. Maybe the AEC is more innocent then I thought.
Yet, even with an acceptance of violent videos games, I still had not applied that to the Army’s use of video games to persuade teenagers into war. Roberts mentions that some have criticized the AEC “for bait-and-switch tactics, masquerading as an arcade when it’s really an Army recruiting station” (Army). The Army calling itself an arcade when it’s really a recruitment center brings a whole new problem to the subject. The Army is not allowed to recruit teenagers who are underage. This makes the Army look untruthful. Though the AEC isn’t called a recruitment center, it is. They shut down those five nearby recruitment centers...