Since July, the U.S. Army has quietly joined the video game business. Its new product, "America's Army," is hot. More than 950,000 users have already registered online, and countless others have obtained the video game from its many recruiting offices nationwide.
Each player must first make it through boot camp, where they learn how to fire Army-issued machine guns and rifles. It's your typical basic training, and it's long before the serious play begins.
The real fun, for most users, is in what the video game industry calls "the first person shooter." In the second half of the game, the player's point of view is that of a sniper staring down the barrel of a gun. The effects are designed to be so realistic, the screen moves anytime the digital sniper breathes.
Player can play alone, or use their software to play with other "soldiers" on the Internet. The army reports that on any given weekend, more 400,000 players join it. And to state the obvious, the game has a level of violence, and is rated "T" for teens.
Parents Are Concerned
Jack Thompson, a father and a Miami attorney is fighting the Pentagon. He says it's wrong for the military to unleash this game on America's youth.
"I'm a father of a 10-year-old boy," Thompson says. "And every day I drop him off at school, I know that he's at greater risk because some of his classmates, as well as others in the general population, train obsessively in these shooter games."
Thompson, who has represented the parents of children killed in school shootings, says he will file an injunction in federal court next week, if the Army doesn't pull the plug.
"While the Defense Department was trying to find the serial sniper in the Washington, D.C., area," he continued, "they were training new snipers to take their place."
Of chief concern to some parents is the price of the Army's war game. It's free. It doesn't cost kids a dime. And, it's "cool," because it's the real deal. Who knows more about real combat than real soldiers?
David Walsh, of a media watchdog group called Media and the Family, says that's a dangerous recipe for young teens.
"It isn't the blood that's just a concern," Walsh says, "It's putting kids in the role of being shooters and snipers."
Army: Real-Life Situations
The Army admits its game is popular and that it targets teens. But military brass say they only intend to recruit, not teach.
Lt. Col. Casey Wardynski, who came up with the idea, says the Army has long needed new ways to reach young people.
"We don't train you in the game," Wardynski says, "[Instead] we show you what our training looks like and show you what our units look like, and what the opportunities are."
"The idea," he continues, "is if [teenagers] find that interesting, they can do more research and more exploration and arrive at the doorstep of a recruiting station."
The Army points out several key differences between this game and the bloodbaths that are more popular in the video game world. For one, a soldier never gets away with killing innocent people, and he loses points for breaking the rules of warfare. A soldier's actions could get that soldier sent to jail or kicked out of the game. At which point, the player would have to create a new identity, and repeat basic training.
The Army says that unlike most video games, this one is more "real," with real rules, in real-life situations. But for some families, it is still too real.