Uncle Sam wants you -- to play video games.
That's right, as the Army gets more technologically advanced, the Pentagon hopes to get the attenn-shun! of potential recruits with the game "America's Army."
As the latest weapon in the Army's battle to increase its ranks, the video game will be given away free at recruitment centers, in gaming magazines and online at www.americasarmy.com this summer.
Army economist Lt. Col. Casey Wardynsky came up with the game as a way to reach young people because, despite a slight increase since the war on terrorism began, recruitment numbers have steadily declined in recent years.
"You can go on the Internet and find a lot of information about the Army," Wardynsky says. "But the problem is that then you have to read it."
The video game cuts to the chase, showing the more exciting aspects of what the Army can be like. Its scenarios include soldiers storming terrorist camps, fighting enemy soldiers near the Alaskan pipeline or repelling troops from a military base in Germany.
Gaming magazines and Websites are abuzz with comments from those who have previewed the game.
"Where a lot of marketing-oriented games suck, this one's being developed as thoroughly and professionally as any other top-shelf shooter," opines the popular gaming Website IGN.com.
Others attack it as too real. "I support our military 100 percent," says former arcade owner and Geek.com reporter Brian D. Crecente. "Heck, I even spent most of my childhood living on bases in Thailand and Korea. But this game seems to trivialize what warfare is all about, and, worse still, it blurs the line between entertainment and true life-and-death struggles."
Rated "T" for teens, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board equivalent of a PG-13 movie rating, the game is more accessible to younger fans than, say, the movie "Black Hawk Down," which was rated "R."
Army officials are hoping the video game will do what movies sometimes do -- bring in recruits. That's why the Army cooperates with filmmakers for movies such as "Black Hawk Down" and "Behind Enemy Lines." The action scenes and technology demonstrations give civilians a chance to see multimillion-dollar airplanes and submarines in action. Many new recruits cite specific movies as their reason for joining.
In an attempt to maintain realism within video-game strictures, the Army had developers from Epic Games Inc. jump out of planes, ride in Blackhawk helicopters and shoot a number of guns and rifles. Each weapon was photographed and videotaped so that the game would reflect the exact recoil.
"Soldiers find it extremely realistic," says Paul Boyce, the Army's chief of public affairs. "It is very detailed, but not detailed enough to be of aid to the enemy."
The cost of production and distribution so far is $6.3 million. That's a small price considering the Army estimates that it spends up to $10,000 to sign up a single soldier. Last year the Army met its recruiting goal of 80,000.
Later this summer, young gamers will be able to pick up a copy of the game at any Army recruiting office.
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