Iraq Veteran Joins Protest Against Army Video Game, Publisher Offers Defense
by Patrick Klepek
[UPDATED: We now have Ubisoft's official statement:"Ubisoft is a
leading publisher that strives to create the best entertainment
experiences possible. Ubisoft worked with the U.S. Army to create
America's Army games for the Xbox and Xbox 360 in order to deliver a
compelling experience for our customers. As we discussed with the
Direct Action to Stop the War (DASW) organization, our games are
created to meet a diverse range of interests and not to express or
endorse any political view. We respect DASW's First Amendment rights,
and would hope they also respect and recognize ours."]
Ryan Lockwood, a 24-year-old ex-U.S. Army soldier and member of Iraq
Veterans Against the War, joined dozens of protesters outside game
publisher Ubisoft's San Francisco office today to protest the
publisher's involvement in the "America's Army" series.
The protest would be answered by the head of Ubisoft itself who met
with some protesters in the company's offices to offer a defense of
their involvement with the controversial series.
Outside, Lockwood summarized his complaints with the game:
"It's definitely a recruitment tool and the fact that it's put out by
the federal government and being funded from our tax dollars, that
sounds illegal to me," said Lockwood. " I'm not exactly sure what the
laws are, but if it is being funded by our tax dollars, we have the
right to say 'hey, stop taking our money and using it for stupid sh**.'"
The protest is part of a long-running controversy about a popular
series that the Army describes as "the most authentic military
experience available, from exploring the development of Soldiers in
individual and collective training to their deployment in simulated
missions in the War on Terror."
"America's Army" is a government-funded military shooter series
produced by the U.S. Army. Ubisoft only publishes the console
versions. It's seen by some as a recruiting tool for the U.S. Army
versions of the free online version of the game, for example, have
been able to visit a virtual recruiting office. The recruitment
aspect has been criticized for, as gamers who are under the age of
enlistment have the ability to play the T-rated game.
The protest began at noon at a park around the corner from Ubi
headquarters in downtown San Francisco. It later moved to outside the
office itself. Dozens of people gathered outside Ubisoft to join in
the protest. The protest was hatched by a non-violent organization
"Direct Action to Stop the War," and brought together writers,
speakers, educators, veterans and others to speak about "America's
Army" and other issues related to the war.
"[Ubisoft] is creating video games that promote [that]
inappropriately glorify war, something there is little, if anything,
to glorify," said San Francisco board of supervisors member Chris
Daly. "That is not a San Francisco value. That is not okay."
While the rally kicked off at a park around the corner from Ubisoft,
two organizers went and met with the company. After talking to
several public relations representatives, the two protesters told the
gathered audience, they were allowed 30 minutes with Ubisoft North
America president Laurent Detoc.
The rally members said Detoc defended Ubisoft's decision to publish
the console version of "America's Army," but said the games generated
only a small part of their revenue. They said Detoc told them there
were no plans to produce more "America's Army" games, but would not
"promise" that would not happen.
The protesters were provided some insight into how Ubisoft has
approached the touchy issue, however. In response to internal
conflict over the decision to produce the "America's Army" games, an
ethics committee was formed within the publisher.
Most people attending the protest were of the older set. While young
faces spotted the crowd, most were either video game journalists or
bloggers running around with cameras. We did, however, spot one Iraq
veteran who chose to came out.
Lockwood, the Iraq war veteran, said he sees a difference between an
"America's Army" and a war game like "Call of Duty." Even though
"Call of Duty 4 isn't branded with the U.S. Army logo, it's meant as
a quasi-realistic portrayal of engaging in war, but that's fine with
Lockwood. The sticking point is that "America's Army" has been
created using American tax dollars.
"You could consider it ["Call of Duty"] art, expression," he said.
"You can call a video game whatever you want. That's part of freedom.
It might not be the responsible thing to do, but still, what're you
going to do? Start banning books next?"
The rally eventually moved directly outside of Ubisoft's offices. No
employees came out to talk to the crowd, but several were seen
looking at the commotion. One employee tried to walk through the
front door and was tailed by several organizers as he went for
A little over an hour and a half after the rally began and many "war
is not a game" chants later, one of the organizers declared their
point made, thanked Ubisoft for cooperating with the rally and the
crowd began to disperse.
Editorial: America's Army Isn't Brainwashing You
By Pete Haas: 2008-08-09
Remember that game America's Army from a few years back, the free
first-person shooter developed by the Army to be used as a
recruitment tool? An activist group in San Francisco apparently just
found out about it and they're none too pleased. The result is one of
the most absurd anti-video game protests ever.
On Wednesday, Direct Action to Stop the War held a protest march
outside the San Fran offices of Ubisoft Entertainment, one of the
companies which collaborated on the Xbox and Xbox 360 ports of the
2002 game. DASW, in its press release, states that America's Army
targets children under the age of 17, making it "a clear violation of
international law (the U.N. Optional Protocol on the Involvement of
Children in Armed Conflict). No attempt to recruit children 13-16 is
allowed in the United States, pursuant to treaty."
The group demands that Ubisoft (along with other companies
collaborating on America's Army projects) end their contracts with
the Army or place a warning label on the games that states, "This
game is designed to recruit children in violation of international
law. Military service can be hazardous to your health." As you can
tell, the warning label idea is intended as more of a "fuck you" than
a legitimate idea. Hazardous to your health, heh heh. It's funny
because people actually do die in the military!
A warning label that said something to the effect of, "This game was
developed by the United States Army for recruitment purposes" might
make sense but for all I know, the game's box already states that.
Either way, it's painfully obvious that the U.S. Army was behind the
game. Their logo is all over the damn thing. Furthermore, if I'm not
mistaken, to get your hands on America's Army you either have to
download it from the U.S. Army's website or pick up a disc from an
Army recruitment center. There's no secret as to the intent of the game.
Nerd that I am, I looked up the U.N. Optional Protocol on the
Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict touted in DASW's press
release. As you might expect, it's more geared toward preventing kids
in Sierra Leone from being forced to join militias and less geared
toward preventing kids in Wisconsin from playing a video game that
may or may not lead to them joining the military upon reaching the
appropriate age. Compulsory recruitment for armed forces is
prohibited in the United States for anyone under the age of 18, and
voluntary recruitment is prohibited below the age of 17 - both of
these rules are compliant with the U.N. protocol and they're not
being subverted by America's Army. The game markets the armed forces
to teenagers, sure, but it's not signing them up for duty. It's no
less legal than a U.S. Army television commercial.
So why protest the game? It's because apparently lot of people think
video games are some form of cyber-hypnotism and if a gamer commits a
violent act in a video game, they're going to mindlessly imitate it
in the real world. This is a little more peculiar than the usual
"Grand Theft Auto story forces teenager to throw little sister down
flight of stairs" story because America's Army isn't being accused of
compelling kids to become criminals; it's being accused of compelling
kids to become soldiers. Regardless of your views on the conflicts
overseas, there's nothing inherently wrong with being a soldier.
[ ] forcing them to become soldiers!" No, it isn't. People join the
military for a variety of important reasons, none of which have
anything to do with the caliber of graphics in the recruitment video
game. I've played America's Army and it is certainly not so
colossally, mind-fuckingly good that it would cause the player to
instantly join the Army. Neither is Call of Duty 4, and that game is
pure sex. It's the height of cynicism to assume people are stupid
enough to base a decision as large as military enlistment on a video
Some concede that the game isn't actually hypnotic but that it
seduces young people by glorifying military work. I'm sure it's a lot
more fun than actual military work but in every multiplayer FPS I've
ever played, I die a horrible death at least once a minute. I'm also
constantly outwitted and outperformed by loud-mouthed fourteen year
olds. I imagine violent video games, as with any violent media, could
desensitize someone but making someone less averse to violence
doesn't mean they're about to jump on the next C-130 to Iraq. Would
any young person think a video game clearly made by the Army for the
purpose of recruitment would actually be a realistic depiction of
what military life is like?
Direct Action to Stop War is, as their name implies, trying to stop
the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their reasoning (I assume) is that
if they stop outlets for recruitment like this game, eventually the
supply of young soldiers would dry up and our government would be
forced to make peace. Or they'd just invoke stop-loss policies to
maintain troop levels. Or start the draft up again. But hey, good
thing we got that video game off the streets! There's nothing illegal
about the Army (along with Ubisoft and other companies) making video
games to promote the military, there's nothing insidious within the
game itself, and there's nothing wrong about someone joining the
military. I have no problem with a group with anti-war goals but
they're attacking the issue from the completely wrong direction.