- This article is about the computer game America's Army. For the actual U.S. Army article, see U.S. Army.
America's Army (AA) is a tactical multiplayer first-person shooter game owned by the U.S. government, financed through U.S. tax dollars and distributed free by the U.S. Army as a global public relations initiative to present a positive image of the current U.S. Army and help with U.S. Army recruitment. Released on July 4, 2002, America's Army was developed by the MOVES Institute at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, and is based on the Unreal engine.
America's Army's developers call the game a playable recruiting tool whose success led to further versions of the game and other games of the same genre being developed, such as Under Ash (Palestinians), Full Spectrum Warrior (U.S. Army), Kuma:War (Department of Defense), Special Force (Hizbullah), Close Combat: First to Fight (U.S. Marines), SOCOM II: U.S. Navy SEALs (U.S. Navy) and USAF: Air Dominance (U.S. Airforce). Unlike America's Army, which is freely downloadable, the other examples of similar games are sold. Critics have charged the game serves as a propaganda device.
America's Army falls into the subgenres of advergame and serious game. It is relatively authentic in terms of visual and acoustical representation—especially pertaining to weaponry—but not modern war. Unlike Special Force and Under Ash, the game does not feature realism.
The gameplay is similar to that of Counter-Strike, the most widely played online first-person shooter at the time and for the past few years. Counter-Strike had been taken as the model for America's Army, according to Professor Michael Zyda, the director and founder of the MOVES Institute.
Whereas its developers claim America's Army is played by several million players, statistics show that the game has had an average of roughly 3,000 to 6,000 players playing online at any one time between 2002 and 2005. By contrast, between 70,000 and 100,000 players play Counter-Strike under the same counting conditions. America's Army can mainly be found as a free download on the Internet or on a CD-ROM at United States government recruiting centers. It continues to receive regular add-ons and patches to sustain and increase player interest.
Shortly after computer-based wargames were permitted on government computers for U.S. Marines in 1996, U.S. Marine simulation experts created Marine Doom, a modification based on the commercial game Doom II to be used as a tactical training tool.
On account of Marine Doom 's success the U.S. Marine Corps signed a contract with MÄK Technologies in the following year, which led to the development of Marine Expeditionary Unit 2000 being the first game funded and developed by both the Department of Defense and the commercial game industry. The game was released as a training game for U.S. Marines and as a commercial computer game to the public.
A report in 1997 by the National Research Council, of which Professor Michael Zyda is a member, called attention that Department of Defense's simulations were lagging behind commercial games and advised joint research with the entertainment industry. In 1999, when the U.S. Army recruiting numbers hit their lowest point in thirty years after two straight years of missed recruiting targets, the Congress of the United States decided to carry out "aggressive, innovative experiments" with regard to the number of recruitments, and the Department of Defense raised its spending for recruitment to more than US $2.2 billion, which not only paid for the Army Game Project, but for an entire promotional campaign to polish up the U.S. Army's image. For instance they had a new slogan being invented and made a title sponsorship of a team taking part in NASCAR races, where America's Army was later allotted as well.
A report by Michael Zyda induced the U.S. Army to spend US$45 million at the U.S. Navy's Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, to create a research center to develop advanced military simulations.
Lieutenant Colonel E. Casey Wardynski, an economics professor at the United States Military Academy, West Point, who later became director of the Office of Economic and Manpower Analysis (OEMA) at this academy and the head of the Army Game Project, exhibited to the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel as well as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Military Manpower the idea of an online computer game designed and distributed by the United States Army. He managed to convince them of the cost-effectiveness the project would have, and from then on he has collaborated with Professor Zyda.
In 2001 the French software company Ubisoft granted the Department of Defense to use Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear for training military personnel.
On July 4, 2002, the United States' Independence Day, the first version of America's Army, named Recon, was released after three years of development and it was made available for free as either a download or on CD. Its production cost US$7.5 million and it quickly became one of the ten most often played online first-person shooters, mainly due to the gameplay similar to Counter-Strike, the game's easy availability, the new Unreal Engine and the large number of free servers sponsored by the U.S. Army. The Army is spending US$3 million a year to develop future versions of the game and US$1.5 million annually to support them (e.g. through servers). America's Army: Soldiers, a Role Playing Game in development stage that was to elucidate career paths in the U.S. Army, failed and was brushed under the carpet.
In 2003, Ubisoft 's commercial Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield was licensed to be adopted by the U.S. Army for testing soldiers' skills.
On November 6, 2003, version 2.0 of America's Army was published, with the full title of America's Army: Special Forces. The developers gave no reasons why the game foregrounded the U.S. Special forces in this and the following versions, and only a Navy-produced booklet found by the investigative journalist Gary Webb explained this shift. It stated that "the Department of Defense want[ed] to double the number of Special Forces soldiers, so essential [had they proven] in Afghanistan and northern Iraq; consequently, orders [had] trickled down the chain of command and found application in the release of [this version of America's Army]." 
Also developed by Ubisoft in collaboration with the U.S. Army, America's Army was released on Xbox and PlayStation 2 in summer 2005 under the name America's Army: Rise of a Soldier.
According to Wardynski, after other government agencies, such as the Secret Service, had shown interest in the game, a governmental version similar to the public version of the game has been developed to be used for training.
Apart from the common controversy that surrounds games rewarding the virtual killing of other human beings, America's Army caused additional debate and disagreement that helped it become the subject of journalistic and academic research.
America's Army is a figurative and written type of message presentation intended to globally give an approving impression of the present U.S. Army. In the official Frequently Asked Questions page of America's Army, the developers, too, confirm this in a statement giving the reason why people outside the United States can play the game: "We want the whole world to know how great the U.S. Army is."
Although America's Army claims to represent the real Army and gives largely true information, it contains partisan bias and fails to paint a complete and balanced picture of the U.S. Army along with its conflicts, mainly playing down or excluding negative facets of the Army. For example, the game leaves out aspects of collateral damage and harassment in the U.S. Army. For these reasons, the game—if considered to accurately portray reality—misleads and creates a false impression of reality.
With the real U.S. Army and its interventions being representatives of U.S. politics, the game America's Army, which has a governmental background, globally promotes a one-sided and self-glorifying message about this army with its interventions. Since the game is directly as well as indirectly asserted by the developers to represent reality, the truth, instead of fantasy, the word 'propaganda' is justified for the message presentation America's Army even in the narrower, politically-defined, interpretation of 'propaganda'. While officially the Army neither admits it is a recruitment tool nor propaganda, unofficially Chris Chambers, the deputy director of development for America's Army, admits it is a recruitment tool, and "the Army readily admits [America's Army is] a propaganda device," wrote Chris Morris, a CNN/Money columnist and director of content development.
"What is interesting about America's Army," a professor at the New York University noted, "is not the debate over whether it is thinly-veiled propaganda or a legitimate recruitment tool, for it is unabashedly and decisively both, but rather that the central conceit of the game is one of mimetic realism." In this analysis the professor concluded that America's Army is relatively realistic if realism was a "naïve and unmediated or reflective conception of aesthetic construction," similarly as how games with the same graphics engine would be, such as Unreal Tournament 2003 or Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, but, he wrote, this interpretation of 'realism' would belittle a "larger understanding of realism." He explained the three possible definitions for 'realism' in video games—as opposed to 'realistic-ness'—and deduced that America's Army, despite having had the chance to, does neither achieve nor try to approach realism in any way, except for expressing a nationalistic perspective.
The Army game and its official webpage, which needs to be visited to be able to play the game, contain links to the governmental website goarmy.com, another recruiting tool that, according to the Army Subcommittee Testimony from February 2000, has a higher chance of recruiting than "any other method of contact." Leading American players to it is a major goal of the game and it was confirmed that twenty-eight percent of all visitors of America's Army 's webpage click through to this recruitment site.
In the Frequently Asked Questions section of the game's official website, its developers argue its suitability to teenagers. "In elementary school kids learn about the actions of the Continental Army that won our freedoms under George Washington and the Army's role in ending Hitler's oppression. Today they need to know that the Army is engaged around the world to defeat terrorist forces bent on the destruction of America and our freedoms," it reads.
America's Army, considered by the U.S. Army to be a "cost-effective recruitment tool," aims to become part of youth culture's "consideration set," as Army deputy chief of personnel, Timothy Maude, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The earliest use of games in recruiting came from to advergaming pioneer BrandGames which delivered simulation-based games for corporate clients Merrill Lynch (1999) (http://www.brandgames.com/clientswork/merrill_lynch_financialgamescollection/index.html) and KPMG (2001). BrandGames also created the first-ever multiplayer 3D world for recruiting for Deloitte (2004) which is part of high-school curricula across the country. ( http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/lifestyles/family/s_653491.html?source=rss&feed=7 ). America's Army is the first game to make recruitment an explicit goal and the first well-known overt use of computer gaming for political aims.
The game also extends the military entertainment complex, as so-called "militainment" further blurring the line between entertainment and war, with one side stating it will help close the cleft between military and civil life and the other arguing it contributes to a militarization of society.
Research papers of four different universities that have analysed America's Army all confirm that the game is propaganda and one also says that "video game propaganda, whether morally right or wrong, is here to stay. It is not a passing phase, but an effective way that the U.S. government has discovered to recruit soldiers and something other nations are now beginning to experiment with as well." The paper predicts that "video game propaganda will prove to be most effective" as well.
After the paper had been released, a poll by I for I Research said that 30 percent of young people who had a positive view of the military said that they had developed that view by playing the game. At the United States Military Academy, 19 percent of 2003's freshman class stated they had played the game. Enlistment quotas were met in the two years directly following the game's release.
M. Paul Boyce, an Army public affairs officer at the Pentagon, was quoted as saying it would never be possible to find out what difference the game has made to recruitment numbers, but that he hoped no one has been recruited because of the game on the grounds that America's Army makes no attempt to help answer "hard questions" about the Army, such as "Is it right for me, is it right for my family, and is it right for my country?". In fact America's Army focuses on the technological aspect of war rather than the moral one and has also therefore been referred to as How We Fight, alluding to the U.S. government's series of films named Why We Fight, which supported the war effort for World War II. 
In an interview with the American journalist Gary Webb, Professor Zyda said: "We thought we'd have a lot more problems. But the country is in this mood where anything the military does is great. ... 9/11 sort of assured the success of this game. I'm not sure what kind of reception it would have received otherwise."
- America's Army website (PC) | America's Army website (consoles) | The MOVES Institute website (developers)
- AA-Overview.com (Independent and non-sponsored fansite)
- "Simulated Sniping - U.S. Army Recruits Teens With Internet Game" by ABC News (on January 11, 2002)
- "The Army's New Killer App" by a journalist for the U.S. business magazine BusinessWeek (May 22, 2002)
- "U.S. Army using games to recruit soldiers" by a journalist from ZDNet for CNET Networks (May 23, 2002)
- "Army targets, misleads U.S. youth" by a student for the UCLA's ASUCLA Student Media (May 28, 2002)
- "Your tax dollars at play" by one of the leading global news networks: Cable News Network (June 3, 2002)
- "Join The Interactive Army" by one of the largest U.S. news agencies: The Associated Press (July 2, 2002)
- "Uncle Sam wants you (to play)" by the largest paper in Florida: St. Petersburg Times (August 19, 2002)
- "'America's Army' Targets Youth" by the oldest weekly newpaper in the U.S.: The Nation (August 23, 2002)
- "In Wartime, Teens Go Back to Their Quarters" by a journalist of the paper Washington Post (April 7, 2003)
- "Army targets youth with video game" by the national U.S. organization Not in our name (November 7, 2003)
- "Army targets recruits with new game" by a large Florida daily newspaper Sun-Sentinel (November 7, 2003)
- "The Pentagon Invades Your Xbox" by a doctoral student for The Los Angeles Times (December 16, 2003)
- "Army Recruits Video Gamers" by a United States major radio and television network, CBS (April 1, 2004)
- "Recruitment hard drive" by a popular British serious broadsheet newspaper: The Guardian (June 19, 2004)
- "War games in a time of war" by one of the leading cable news channel in the U.S., MSNBC (July 18, 2004)
- "Army's war game recruits kids" by a large U.S. newspaper: San Francisco Chronicle (September 23, 2004)
- "The killing game" by the notable U.S. journalist who died in December 2004: Gary Webb (October 14, 2004)
- "4 million decide to be all they can be -- online" by the U.S. newspaper The Detroit News (December 1, 2004)
- "E3 Update: America's Army polishes up its act" interview with Wardynski by GameSpot (May 20, 2005)
- "Militarism and video games" interview with doctoral candidate in Communication at the University of Massachusetts
- "Cyber Sam wants you!" short report by a student of and for the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism
- "Together We Brand: America's Army analysis (13 page) by Shenja van der Graaf and David B. Nieborg in the name of the Utrecht University
- "America's Army: more than a game?" article on America's Army by David B. Nieborg of Utrecht University
- "America's Exclusion: Operation" about the practise of inclusion and exclusion inside AA by Sean Storey for Utrecht University
- "The message is the game, or is it?" about the practise of inclusion and exclusion outside AA by Justin Beck for Utrecht University
- "Virtual Dictators, Real Exclusion" about the practise of community forming in AA clans by Ruud Oud for Utrecht University
- "Empower yourself, defend freedom" comparison between AA and Counter-Strike by Jeroen Steeman for Utrecht University
- "Changing the Rules of Engagement - Tapping into the Popular Culture of America’s Army" extensive thesis (238 pages) by David B. Nieborg
- "Video game propaganda" University research paper focusing on America's Army in the name of the California State University
- "Theatre of war: The military entertainment complex" analysis (42 pages) by two researchers from Stanford University
- "Online-Gaming as Marketing and Sales Catalyst" analysis (with pages 50-51 for America's Army) for the University of St. Gallen
- "The Potential of America's Army as Civilian-Military Public Sphere" extensive academic analysis (149 pages) for [MIT|MIT university]]
- "America's Army Game and the Production of War" analysis (20 pages) by a Master's candidate in the name of the York University
- "Unsettling the military entertainment complex: Video games and a pedagogy of peace" by a Washington State University professor
- "Social Realism in Gaming" analysis of how America's Army is not a realist game by A. Galloway, a New York University professor
- "The Army Rolls Through Indianapolis: Fieldwork at the Virtual Army Experience" Transformative Works and Cultures 2. An ethnographic analysis of the Virtual Army Experience, a recruitment gaming center using America's Army technology, by Robertson Allen, graduate student at University of Washington