The U.S. Army has spent $12 million on a new facility in Philadelphia that abandons the use of recruiters selling the Army life in favor of video games and loud rock music, according to a Reuters report.
Dubbed the U.S. Army Experience Center, the facility at the Franklin Mills shopping mall in Philadelphia sports 60 computers preloaded with, 19 Xbox 360 controllers, and video displays that "describe military bases and career options in great detail," Reuters reports.
Visitors to the center can play games that allow them to fire on enemy combatants from a Humvee or engage in helicopter missions where the player is firing on the enemy from an Apache or Black Hawk helicopter.
The center first opened in August as the first step in what is a two-year experiment on the part of the Army to recruit more service people. So far, the experiment has proven successful: Reuters reports that 33 full-time soldiers and 5 reservists have have joined the U.S. Army since its inception. More importantly, that recruitment tally bests the five "traditional" recruiting centers it replaced.
For its part, the Army says it's not necessarily trying to recruit young soldiers. Instead, it says the Experience Center is being used as a way to inform the public.
"What we are doing here is reaching out to Americans, giving them the opportunity to understand their Army," Maj. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, head of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, said in a statement. "Oftentimes, people have a negative perception of the Army, but the negatives are a very small part. Our soldiers are well-trained, well-equipped, and serving a great mission."
That's an interesting take, but one that deserves some more contemplation. Is the U.S. Army Experience Center really just a place to teach people about the "real" Army? Or is it a place to coax people into joining through video games?
Perhaps the answer to that question isn't so simple. Undoubtedly, people join the service for a number of reasons: stability, financial aid, patriotism, and education. But it's no secret that the Armed Forces have had trouble recruiting people in recent years, and although the military contends that it has met its quota for 2008, finding people to join isn't as easy as it once was.
Maybe that's why it has turned to video games to recruit new soldiers. After all, most of the people joining have grown up in an environment where first-person war games are the norm. Shooting a virtual character on-screen in Call of Duty has become second-nature.
Retired Lt. Col. David Grossman has written extensively on the impact that video games and U.S. Army simulators can have on the lives of children. He claims that video games and similar programs like the U.S. Army Experience Center "condition" soldiers to be "desensitized" to killing, and he even goes so far as to call some violent video games "murder simulators."
But an equally compelling argument can be made in proving that violent video games do not cause children to become desensitized and that the U.S. Army Experience isn't the first step in training potential recruits to kill.
But I digress. Based on the Center's recruitment figures so far, it's not a stretch to say the "experience" is working quite well for the Army. After all, if one game-equipped facility can replace five traditional recruitment offices, it certainly suggests that people are warming to the idea of joining the Army through video games.
Is it right to use video games as a means of recruiting soldiers? That's debatable. On one hand, the U.S. Army should have every right to recruit individuals as effectively (and honestly) as possible. But on the other hand, its use of video games suggests that it may be trying to glorify the real business of the Armed Forces.
In the end, compelling arguments can be made on both sides. Still, the question remains: would video games get you to join the Army?