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America's Exclusion: Operation

Sean Storey

Introduction
In July 2002 the worldwide community of online gamers yelled a great HOOYA! For something extraordinary had arrived; a top of the line game with great visual effects and the newest of First Person Shooter (Or 3d shooter, whichever one you prefer) gaming engines… FOR FREE!!! As the saliva of our community of gamers was being produced in great quantities in anticipation of their new free computer game, and as they watched the amount of bytes that was slowly transferred to their computers, the producer of this game; The American army smiled and rubbed their hands together. This was their moment supreme, this virtual recruitment tool would revolutionize recruitment, no more recruitment offices, no more visiting schools, no! It would be like the beginning of world war one, when every able body enthusiastically enrolled themselves for honor, loyalty and not to forget adventure! Or would it? Wasn't it just another game? Like so many others? This question did not just occupy the minds of the developers, but also the minds of our little group of students. We looked at the game and started to analyse it bit by bit. Everyone of us focused on one point. And I focus on the game itself; does the game exclude people? Is the game "really open for everyone"?

First person shooter
To really understand the game itself you must look at its form. The form of America's Army: Operations is that of a so-called First Person Shooter (FPS). The FPS type of came is an equal in popularity and controversiality. No other gaming sub genre has had as much attention in the last decade, nor has another gaming sub genre gained as much popularity. But what is a first person shooter? To answer that question you must look at the development of this genre from its beginning.
In 1992 a new game arrived on the market, it was created and published by Id software () and it was called Wolfenstein. Wolfenstein was unique, it was the first action game in where you did not see the character you control on the screen (This is called third person perspective), but you shared the viewpoint of the character you controlled. The viewpoint itself was not as unique as the game; there were many other games that used this so-called first person point of view. The other games using this are called Simgames (sim being simulation in short), these games (in particular flight simulator games) were quite difficult to master and the characters (avatars) you controlled sat in a vehicle. So you were bound to the movement of a vehicle and thus the player were not controlling he character (avatar) but the vehicle in which it sat. The big difference between Wolfenstein and a Simgame is that in Wolfenstein you controlled the avatar directly, your avatar could run forward, backward sideways, turn in a virtual three dimensional space. Another difference was simplicity, the Simgames were, as I mentioned before, hard to master, Wolfenstein was simple, you only needed to know a few keyboard controls to play it. Another big difference was that Wolfenstein was an action game, and as such provided the player with non-stop action. That action came in the form of the emergence of enemies in the 3d virtual maze where your avatar was moving. Your goal as a player was to let your avatar survive this environment and eliminate the enemies that stood in the path of your avatar. To achieve this goal your avatar would have access to a small arsenal of weaponry to shoot the enemy. This is how the name First Person Shooter came to existence; you shared the viewpoint of your avatar (first person point of view) and you needed to eliminate the enemies of that avatar (shooting the enemy), these two factors combined and you had… a first person shooter!!! After Wolfenstein was a great success Id published another, better first person shooter, Doom. Doom really started the hype, and many other companies made clones of this game??. Doom sequel, originally named Doom II, came with a new innovation. Players of the game could connect their computers in a network (Local area Network, LAN in short) and play the game against each other. The goal now was to kill the avatar of another player, the one that killed the most avatars of other players won. This form of multiplayer gaming was soon to be called "deathmatch". Soon the competition also used this new form of playing. And as such the development really took off. The first company to see the promise of Internet on a gaming level was, not surprisingly, Id Software. They launched Quake II in 1997, with the game came full Internet support, gamers could play their "deathmatch" games at a larger and more international scale. I could go on about how the FPS evolved in what it is on the Internet today but I will just give a rough summary. In the late 1990's manufacturers of FPS games expanded their multiplayer gaming types. Instead of just the standard "deathmatch" form, players could gradually choose other forms of multiplayer activity. One of the first to emerge was the "capture the flag" gaming style, in which players were divided into two teams, each has a flag and each flag has a base, or as gamers call it a "spawning point". The goal is to capture the other teams flag and transport it to your own base. Another type that emerged at about the same time is "team elimination" in which the player is again set in a team, the goal is however much simpler, one team wins if the other is wiped out. The last form I will handle is the "infiltration" type of multiplayer game. In this form one team need to capture an object and take it back to their base, another needs to defend the object. The game ends when either the attackers obtained the object or the defenders wipe out the attackers. As each of these multiplayer game forms were developed the FPS became the leading Internet multiplayer environment. Games like Half-Life (the Counterstrike variant) and Unreal tournament are just a few popular FPS games that have thousands of players playing each day.

America's army: Exclusion Online
If you look at the game America's Army: Operations it is pretty clear it is a FPS game. I have already explained what a FPS is and how it developed, now I want to have a look why the American army chose an online FPS as a recruitment/pr tool.
If you want to play Americas Army: Operations you must at least have a computer to play it on, but it does not stop there, America's Army: Operations has minimum system requirements?. Minimum system requirements are the hardware requirements that your computer must at least have. America's Army online has the following: you need at least a Pentium III processor that has 733 megahertz, 128 megabytes of RAM memory, a videocard with 3d compatibility and 32 megabytes of RAM memory, 700 megabytes of hard disk space and last but not least an internet connection. All in all the system requirements of America's Army: Operations means that if you want to play the game you need a state of the art computer. These computers are only available if you have the money to buy one, and these types of computers are rarely cheap. Computers that can run America's Army: Operations are almost exclusively sold in westernised countries, in other countries the already steep price will undoubtedly be higher making these computers a toy for the rich only. Not only the computer you need to play the game could prohibit you from playing it, as you can read at the minimum requirements, you need an Internet connection as well. If you look at the numbers Castells had you can see that 42,6% of the American people have Internet access, the only region to top that is Eastern Europe with 47%. This shows that the American people (The main target group for America's Army: Operations) have, in a worldwide scale, a lot of people with Internet access. So it is understandable that the American army would use the Internet as their way of spreading the game. Or is it? It is the case that people that have a low income do not have Internet access, and it is also the case that much of the army (especially the low ranked infantrymen) is formed of people that have a low-income background. This and the given fact that a computer to run America's army: operations is costly does not make it plausible that everyone in the USA can play the game. In fact only a few percent of the American people is able to play the game at all. So this is not a way the American army can use to attract a lot of people to enroll, simply because the game reaches to few people within the USA.
Another point that surprised me is that you can download the game on an international scale, and thus you can play it as a non-US citizen. But you cannot be enrolled in the US army if you are not a US citizen. There are in fact players across the world playing the game that cannot enroll even if they would really like to. So again I ask: is this such a good method to get people in the US army? The answer is no, you reach a too small a mount of people to have any big effect on general enrolment in the US army.

America's censoring: Operations
This short part of my paper looks at the in-game option that the developers have included: chatting. In America's Army: Operations the players are able to chat to one another, the typed messages appear in the bottom center of the screen, so not to prohibit the line of sight of the player. One thing that was brought to my attention is that you could not in any way use profanity whilst chatting. Any words that are thought as profanity by the developers is shown on the screen as a collection of stars, for example: dickhead becomes ********. The gamers have however found a way around this censorship; they use abbreviations to show other players what they mean. An example of this is STFU, which translates to (pardon my language here) shut the fuck up! This usage of abbreviations however has his drawbacks, the regular players of FPS games know this language like their native tongue, and this makes a person that has just started to play stand out. He or she is likely to be called "Newbie", "NOOB" or n00b, which translates roughly as "newborn". Not many players take this as a compliment and it is used as a way to insult other players, no one wants to be called an inexperienced player that is no good at the game.
Another form of exclusion is also present in the game itself, the player chooses an avatar in the beginning of the game, this avatar is always a US soldier. The player will always see himself and his teammates as US soldiers, while he sees the opponent's team as Arabian terrorists. This is also the case for the opponent's team, they also see themselves and their teammates as Arabian terrorists. As one developer said in a review ( Accardo, 2002) "This way everyone plays the good guy!", this is at least the point of view of the American army and the developers. But will the Arabian player feel the same? I don't think so. This feature in the game shows again that the game is being produced for an exclusive "westernised" group of people.

America's army: Gendered operations
The form of exclusion that can be found within America's army: operations goes further than the technological/digital divide. Another issue is the form of the game. As stated before America's army: operations is a first person shooter (FPS) action game. If you look at the players of such game you soon see that the overall majority are male. To look at this phenomenon and how the type of game influences this I have found a paper written by Sherry, Holmstrom, Binns, Greenberg & Lachlan. In this paper, called: "Gender Differences in Video Game Uses and Gratifications", the researchers come to a following conclusion:
"Men tend to outperform women in tasks involve three dimensional object rotation and target-directed motor skills such as guiding or intercepting projectiles. These are the skills required to excel at and master games found in the male genre set. For example, shooter games require players to move through 3-D space in search of enemies, then shoot enemies while evading capture. Similarly, sports genre games require players to manipulate football, hockey, basketball, soccer, or baseball players in 3-D space. Winning requires targeting a projectile (e.g., puck or ball into a net) or interception projectiles (e.g., catching a pass or hitting a ball). Females are better than males at verbal memory and fluency, matching tasks, and remembering a displaced object. Again, these map onto the games that females prefer. Quiz-trivia games test verbal recall (e.g., Who Wants to be a Millionaire), card games often require matching or remembering displaced objects (e.g., Solitaire), and puzzle games often place and emphasis on remembering displaced objects (e.g., Free Cell).

This statement from the researchers matches the common knowledge that the majority of FPS players are male. A developer of America's army: Operations said this himself ( Accardo, 2002): "We wanted kids to play army again" and which kids played army? As far as I know just boys. According to the researchers of the paper "Gender Differences in Video Game Uses and Gratifications" the gaming industry does not focus on the female gender as a whole ( Shiels, 2003). The gaming industry creates games for male players, the only thing they do to show things are more "female" is to alter the gender of the character (Avatar), or as the researchers put it eloquently: "Slapping a pink bow on Pacman".
Another item that was brought to my attention was found in the game America's Army: Operations itself. In that game even the changing of sex in the character you control is not possible, you can change skin color, if your character has any facial hair, but not the characters gender. So even the "Slapping a pink bow on Pacman" feature is not present in America's army: operations. This shows that the creators of the game did not in any way put any attention to possible female players. They made the game for males and males only. If a female wants to play the game she first has to play it in a way that she does not appreciate as much as males (a first person shooter), secondly there is no way to control a female character (Avatar). To play the game a female must in essence "cross dress" virtually and immerse herself in a historically male dominated environment (the army).
That the army is historically a male dominated society is without question, only in the last 10 to 20 years has the army actively enrolled females. And even now females are not allowed to join all segments of the army, even in our modern world several positions within the army are for males only. What strikes me as odd is not that the army is male dominated but that the army in different marketing campaigns (Justin has a few examples in his paper ) stresses that the army is a suitable place for women to work in. How is it that in other media marketing campaigns the army is paying attention to women but completely ignores women in America's Army: Operations? According to me it is because, as I stated before, the majority of computer game players are "western" males, who in general, enjoy such games. Then another question arises: why has the army spent so much money on a project that only reaches a very small group of people? To be honest I don't know, the only answer I can give is that it functions firstly as marketing tool and secondly as a recruitment tool. The army wanted to create a "cool" image on the average player of computer games. They wanted to show them that the army is not a place that is for "old grunts" but that it is a very up-to-date and "cool" place. The game America's Army: Operations is not made for recruitment purposes but to polish up the public relations of the American army.

References

  1. Accardo, S., America's Army: Operations, Gamespy.com, May 27th, 2002, visited April 7th, 2003,
  2. Shiels, M., Games makers miss feminine touch, BBC News, March 12th, 2003, visited April 7th, 2003,

Other sources

  • Bemis, G., The History of the First-Person Shooter, TechTV, visited April 7th, 2003,
  • First Person Shooter, visited April 7th, 2003,
  • Challenge of Computergames, International Conference University of Lodz, October 25th, 2002, visited April 7th, 2003,


© 2003
Sean Storey, Justin Beck, Ruud Oud, Jeroen Steeman
Utrecht University