YORK In 1998, the band Rage Against the Machine decried "the thin line
between entertainment and war." Today, even that thin line is in danger of
In a new twist on President Eisenhower's concept of a "military-industrial
complex," a "military-entertainment complex" has sprung up to feed both the
military's desire for high-tech training techniques and the entertainment
industry's desire to bring out ever-more-realistic computer and video combat
games. Through video games, the military and its partners in academia and
the entertainment industry are creating an arm of media culture geared
toward preparing young Americans for armed conflict.
Such cooperation wasn't always the order of the day. In the late 1980s, the
creators of the combat-simulator video game M1 Tank Platoon weren't allowed
by the Army to even set foot inside an actual tank. But by 1997, everything
had changed. That was the year the Marine Corps signed a deal with MÄK
Technologies to create the first combat-simulation video game "to be
co-funded and co-developed" by the Department of Defense and the
entertainment industry. A year later, the Army signed a contract with MÄK to
develop a sequel to its commercial tank simulation game "Spearhead" for use
by the U.S. Army Armor Center and School and the Army's Mounted Maneuver
Battle Lab. The military has been gaming ever since.
* In 2001, the
Department of Defense drafted the video game "Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six:
Rogue Spear" into service to train military personnel in how to conduct
small unit operations in urban terrain.
* In 2002, the Army launched "America's Army," a training and combat video
game developed at the Naval Postgraduate School with the assistance of
entertainment and gaming industry stalwarts including Epic Games and the THX
Division of Lucasfilm Ltd. The game, which is free to potential recruits
either online or at recruiting stations, cost taxpayers between $6 million
and $8 million. It has been, in the Army's eyes, a huge success, becoming
one of the five most popular video games played online.
* This year, a sequel to "Rogue Spear," "Rainbow Six: Raven Shield," was
adopted by the Army to test soldiers' skills. The Army also signed a
$3.5-million deal with There Inc. to create a virtual environment for
warfare-simulation training. One project already underway is the creation of
a virtual Kuwait that can be used to train personnel to anticipate and
defend against an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait City.
* The Navy, not wanting to be out of the action, assisted Sony in producing
the video game "SOCOM II: U.S. Navy SEALs," which was released this year.
initially the Pentagon saw in the video game industry only a means of
training young, computer-savvy recruits more effectively, the mission has
evolved into a two-way street in which the military has embraced
entertainment titles at the same time the entertainment industry has
embraced the military.
War," developed by newcomer Kuma Reality Games in cooperation with the
Department of Defense and slated for general release next year, is being
billed as the first shooter game that will allow players to re-create actual
military missions, such as the raid that killed Saddam Hussein's two sons.
Each combat assignment will be introduced by television footage and a cable
news-style anchor. Kuma boasts a team of military veteran advisors, who "
make sure the missions
are as realistic as possible." A retired Marine
Corps major general leads the company's military advisory board.
Next year will also mark the release of the next generation in militarized
war games: "Full Spectrum Warrior" a video game for Microsoft's Xbox
system. The game is a realistic combat simulator that allows the gamer to
act as an Army light infantry squad leader conducting operations in the
invented nation of "Tazikhstan
a haven for terrorists and extremists." And
"Full Spectrum Warrior" is not just any old military-themed video game. It
was developed under the watchful eye of personnel at the Army's Infantry
School at Ft. Benning, Ga., and is actually a revamped version of "Full
Spectrum Command," a PC game/combat simulator used by the military to teach
the fundamentals of commanding a light infantry company in urban
environments. Thus, unlike other shoot-'em-ups that use violent imagery and
military themes strictly for entertainment purposes, "Full Spectrum
Warrior's" pedigree is that of a combat learning tool.
The "Full Spectrum" games emerged from a new kind of partnership being
forged at the Institute for Creative Technologies, a $45-million joint Army/USC
venture designed to link up the military with academia and the entertainment
and video game industries. In addition to creating "Full Spectrum Command"
and "Full Spectrum Warrior," the institute is involved in a number of other
military projects. These include "Advanced Leadership Training Simulation,"
a partnership between the institute and entertainment giant Paramount
Pictures designed for training soldiers in crisis management and leadership
skills; and "Think Like a Commander," a collaboration among the Army, the
Hollywood filmmaking community and USC researchers designed to "support
leadership development for U.S. Army soldiers" through software
With military spending budgeted at nearly $400 billion in 2004, a video game
industry generating more than $10 billion a year, a transnational
entertainment and media industry with annual revenues of some $479 billion,
and no public outcry over the militarization of popular culture, the future
of such collaborations seems assured. Can the day be far off when the
Department of Defense gets a producer credit for a Paramount film and Kuma
Reality Games is granted office space in the Pentagon?
Before that happens, we need to start analyzing the effects of blurring the
lines between war and entertainment. With more and more "toys" that double
as combat teaching tools, we are subjecting youth to a new and powerful form
of propaganda. This is less a matter of simple military indoctrination than
near immersion in a virtual world of war where armed conflict is not the
last, but the first and indeed the only resort. The new
military-entertainment complex's games may help to produce great battlefield
decision makers, but they strike from debate the most crucial decisions
young people can make in regard to the morality of a war choosing whether
or not to fight and for what cause.
a graduate student, devotes much of his time to studying the fall-out of the
Vietnam War, especially Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among Vietnam
veterans for Columbia University's Department of Epidemiology.
Other Articles by Nick Turse
The Tip of the Iceberg:
Report on Vietnam War "Tiger Force" Atrocity Is Only the Beginning
The Military-Industrial-Entertainment Complex
Takes Training Over "There"
Bringing the War Home: The New
Military-Industrial-Entertainment Complex at War and Play