America's Army

From Academic Kids

This article is about the computer game America's Army. For the actual U.S. Army article, see United States Army.
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America's Army
Missing image
Americas Army's CD cover

Developer(s) U.S. Army
Publisher(s) U.S. Army
Release date(s) July 4, 2002
Genre First-person shooter
Mode(s) Training and Multiplayer
Rating(s) ESRB: Teen (T)
Platform(s) PC (Windows, Linux, Mac); Xbox, PS2

America's Army (AA) is a tactical multiplayer first-person shooter 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.[1] (

The gameplay is similar to that of Counter-Strike, a Half-Life modification and 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.[2] ( 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 MK 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, whose member Professor Michael Zyda is, called attention that Department of Defense's simulations were lagging behind commercial games and advised joint research with the entertainment industry.

Missing image
U.S. Army promotional campaign: NASCAR team
and the new slogan:
"An Army of One"

In 1999, when the U.S. Army recruiting numbers hit their lowest point in thirty years[3] ( 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$2.2Bn, 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 to the U.S. Navy's Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, to create a research centre 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.

Version history

  • 1.0 (AA: Recon) - July 4, 2002
  • 1.0.1b (AA: Operations) - July 25, 2002
  • 1.1.1 (AA:O) - August 2, 2002
  • 1.2.0 (AA:O) - August 23, 2002
  • 1.2.1 (AA:O) - August 27, 2002
  • 1.4 (AA:O) - November 27, 2002
  • 1.5 (AA:O) - December 23, 2002
  • 1.6 (AA:O) - March 17, 2003
  • 1.7 (AA:O) - May 1, 2003
  • 1.9 (AA:O) - August 10, 2003
  • 2.0 (AA:Special Forces) - November 6, 2003
  • 2.0a (AA:SF) - December 23, 2003
  • 2.1 (AA:SF Downrage) - June 1, 2004
  • 2.2.0 (AA:SF Vanguard) - October 19, 2004
  • 2.2.1 (AA:SF Vanguard) - November 18, 2004
  • 2.3 (AA:SF Firefight) - February 18, 2005
  • 2.4 (AA:SF Q-Course) - May 16, 2005
CD cover for AA: SF versions
CD cover for AA: SF versions

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]." [4] (

Being developed by Ubisoft in collaboration with the U.S. Army, America's Army is planned for release on Xbox and Playstation 2 by 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.


Missing image
Screenshot of the first training map

America's Army is a round- and team-based tactical shooter with a gameplay similar to Counter-Strike in which the player controls a soldier of the U.S. Army from the first person perspective instead of Counter-Terrorists or Terrorists.

Before a player is allowed to play online, he has to go through four of fourteen training maps first and have his progress saved online in a player account. Accomplishing the other training levels enables the player to virtually become medic, special forces unit and sniper.

In the multiplayer part, the main section of the game, players fight as either the "U.S. Army" or, on "Special Forces" maps, Indigenous forces against an opposing team called "OpFor" (Army lingo for "Opposing Forces") and that is specifically referred to as insurgents, enemy forces or terrorists.

One of America's Army's unusual features is the design of the player's opponents.

Missing image
Difference in depiction of the same player, the left as the "US Army" and the right as "OPFOR"

The players characters' are divided into two teams, usually into an Assault group and a Defense one, with the Assault losing the round if the time limit runs out, which is usually set to ten minutes. No matter whether Assault or Defence—the side the player joins is always depicted as of the U.S. Army whereas the other side is portrayed as the OpFor on all occasions.

The players on each team see themselves as American soldiers carrying American weaponry, such as the M16A2. They see their opponents as non-uniformed foreigners carrying Eastern bloc weapons, such as AK-47s (the counterpart of the M16A2 in the game), except for in training maps, in which the only distinguishing features are the players' characters' uniforms.

Missing image
Round-start on AA 's most often played map

Each round starts with the two teams spawning simultaneously. Unlike in Counter-Strike, players can never see themselves or other team-members as the OpFor and do not buy their equipment but always start with the equipment of the soldier class chosen.

The round ends with only one team winning, which can only be done by either completing the objectives, or killing all members of the OpFor, or when the round's time limit is reached. For example, the objective on the most often played map is to kill the rebels' VIP, who is trying to survive and escape, or, if you join the other team, you must escort him to the escape zone.

Every death your main character suffers by another player, every destruction or killing by him of an objective which he is assigned to protect and especially every killing of teammates caused by his friendly fire will be saved permanently and has an extremely negative effect on your player's score and "HONOR", a number next to the player name, the game consequently calling the actions dishonorable.

Every healing of injured teammates as well as every killing of opponents' figures, by contrast, increase your score and "HONOR", the Army game consequently calling the actions honorable in general. The accomplishment of the "U.S. Army"'s aims, instead of their opponents aims, affects your score favorably and therefore your "HONOR" as well, indirectly calling the objectives of the U.S. Army honorable and the objectives of its opponents dishonorable at the same time. The score and, as a result, "HONOR" are saved in the players' accounts. The developers claim this reward system (HONOR) is "modeled after" the values "Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless-Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage" but since it is an indicator of the time a player has played the game rather than the skills he has, players with a high "HONOR" level are often looked down on as addicts.[5] (

Missing image
Spectator-view of a battle in America's Army

Any player character killed before the round is over become "spectators"; their chat/voice messages cannot be seen/heard by the players still alive, but they can watch the rest of the round. In contrast to Counter-Strike, the developers of America's Army have done little so far to prevent spying spectators from communicating with those still playing, which has become the most popular type of cheating, widely called ghosting. Players whose protagonist is dead receive information through the chat and the view as spectator and are capable of using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) communication programs such as Teamspeak or Ventrilo to let certain living players take advantage of that information, especially information on players' positions, health conditions and weapons.

Depending on server configuration, spectators will have the possibility of watching the rest of the round in one to three ways. The first, which is always available, provides a view from the eyes of a specific player of his team, chosen by the dead player; the second allows the ghost to rotate his view around the chosen player; the third is from certain fixed viewpoints that allow the dead player to observe the entire map.

The game is a medium-paced tactical shooter, in a similar vein to the "Tom Clancy's" series of shooters. Pacing is fast in the sense that players can be killed in one (or few) hit(s), but the players' movements are a lot slower and the gameplay contains fewer firefights than Unreal Tournament and Counter-Strike.


Missing image
E-interview about America's Army on ARD

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'.[6] ( While officially the Army neither admits it is a recruitment tool nor propaganda, inofficially Chris Chambers, the deputy director of development for America's Army, admits it is a recruitment tool,[7] ( and "the Army readily admits [America's Army is] a propaganda device," wrote Chris Morris, a CNN/Money columnist and director of content development.[8] (

"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 analyse the professor concluded that America's Army is relatively realistic if realism was a "nave 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.[9] (

Missing image
Project originator of America's Army

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, another recruiting tool that, according to the Army Subcommittee Testimony from February 2000, has the highest chance of recruiting than "any other method of contact."[10] ( 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.[11] (

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.[12] (

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,[13] ( with one side stating it will help close the cleft between military and civil life and the other argueing it contributes to a militarization of society.[14] (

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.[15] (

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.[16] (

Missing image
Director of the MOVES Institute, Professor M. Zyda, presenting AA:Special Forces

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?".[17] ( 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.[18] (

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."[19] (

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