The Army Experience Center

The Vision Machine is excited to feature a microdocumentary by one of our own curators, Peter Mantello.  You may remember that Peter previously posted a fascinating video on the company, Strategic Operations, which uses Hollywood special effects to train soldiers.  The Army Experience Center is another installation in this series that looks at the military-entertainment complex.  The following is Mantello’s narrative of his eperience of the Army Experience Center and its life cycle.

The Army Experience Center
by Peter Mantello

This micro doc explores the porous boundaries between 21st century military recruitment and first-person shooter game culture. In 2008, the US Army decided to experiment with finding new solutions to old approaches to regenerating its ranks by substituting dreary recruitment offices located in urban ghettos for exciting yet militarized video arcades in popular suburban shopping malls.  The result was known as the Army Experience Center (AEC). Situated in the Franklin Mills mall just outside Philadelphia, the AEC merged the imaginary and actual worlds of military life, tapping into the popularity of first person shooter games and the wonders of smart phone technology.

Free to the public, the AEC offered young adults a chance to immerse themselves in the hi-tech world of 21st century war craft while discovering well-paid, military career possibilities through touch screen technology. Row upon row of computer terminals allowed participants to play an array of first-person shooter videogames (including America’s Army) while two large simulation halls offered volunteers a chance to experience ‘humanitarian’ combat missions by riding Humvee vehicles and Apache helicopters (while of course shooting their way through never ending waves of faceless, brown-skinned adversaries). Moreover, participants could visit the war room of the digital age where distant war is fed to analysts on 50 inch screens through satellite imagery.

Meanwhile, Army recruiters (often fresh from Iraq/Afghanistan) traded in their military fatigues for polo shirts and jeans and casually circulated through the complex, offering advice, answering questions and ultimately assisting the interested in signing up for stint in the real US military. But by 2010, local public opposition to the AEC garnered negative national attention. Angry parents accused the AEC of attempting to seduce their children with overly sanitized impressions of war. The AEC was officially closed in 2012 becoming a small but important footnote in the increasing synergy between the US military and the entertainment industries.

5 thoughts on “The Army Experience Center

  1. Very good piece of journalism. This topic deserves greater scrutiny and it’s encouraging to see people working on it.

    Just a quick comment based on my own research: Counter-recruiters and other anti-militarism activists take credit for “shutting down” the AEC. However, the army considered this a pilot project and thus it was bound to be short-lived.

    That said, the fact that the army hasn’t yet followed through on its original plan of planting AEC-like facilities in other locales suggests that sustained protest (counter-recruiters holding pickets in the mall parking lot on a regular basis) sent a message that this kind of brazen military marketing to youth would not be tolerated.

    By the way, an anthropologist (Beatrice Jauregui) did some fieldwork at the AEC and presented her findings at the 2009 meeting of the AAA. It’s largely uncritical of the army viewpoint, but offers an excellent description what Mantello calls “the increasing synergy between the US military and the entertainment industries.”

  2. The University of Queensland POLS3512 (Dr. Sebastian Kaempf) Critical Blog Assessment – Semester 2, 2015.
    Callum O’Connor-Cox s4292322

    For many, the symbiotic relationship between the government and media industry has evolved immensely since the propaganda systems seen in the First World War (Andersen 2014 :1). As the influence and accessibility of media outlets have changed so have governments involvement and influence in these channels. From influence in television, radio, film and print media in the early 20th Century, the 21st has seen expansion into more avenues of influence. The booming culture of video games has now been subject to manipulation from government bodies, for recruitment and influence. This inclusive facet of media has subsequently infiltrated the interaction between governments and video game culture.

    Peter Mantello’s article, “The Arm Experience Center” provides a brief insight into the military recruitment phenomenon used by the United States Army. Mantello’s article explores this unique facet of military recruitment as it displays a definite shift from the boring conscription offices throughout America, to a more interactive and enticing form of involvement. This piece will be analyzed and subsequently compared against current literature regarding the government’s use of such facilities but also the video game industry as a whole.

    Mantello’s piece opts for a very clean one sided view of this “Army Experience Center” at Franklin Mills Mall. The short three-minute clip portrays this center as an inherent good necessary in your local shopping mall. One child being interviewed frames this army facility as “helping keep kids off the street”. The article opens on teenagers in a jeep, wielding weapons and shooting at large screens projecting an extremely well made virtual reality game. The immersive facet of this center shows how exciting army life can be, by experiencing the sounds, thrills and camaraderie present in a real life military operation.

    Comparing it to an Apple Store, a soldier, out of uniform in casual clothing takes the viewer through a series of features of the center. This interactive experience where children can access the Internet, engage with other like-minded kids, play video games and ask questions to staff about the army. Throughout this the soldier explicitly assures the viewer that there is no obligation to join the army and that personnel will only engage if they wish to know more things about the army. For instance an interactive touch screen terminal displays weaponry used in the games they are playing and their real life counterparts. Reports from personnel on army engagement, footage from army training, education options within the army, profiles on jobs and army personnel and the salary offered by joining the army. As such this interactive experience frames itself as inherent good but also a necessity for recruitment in this technological age.

    Unfortunately, Mantello’s limited portrayal of this Army Experience center is not very engaging. Throughout his piece no opposition or negative aspects of the centre are portrayed. In fact this piece seems to be a recruitment in believing the reasonability of the use of these centers. Upon further reading, this portrayal was overall not very engaging in the topic, choosing to take a positive stance on the center and its representation of war.

    For many scholars this manipulation of video-game culture is a symbiotic relationship (Der Derian 2001 : 167; Stahl 2010: 94). For Andersen and Mirrless the United States Department of Defense and video game companies seek to turn video game players into virtual soldiers (Andersen 2014 :4). In 2002 the release of America’s Army sought to bring immersive and engaging battle spaces and storylines, coupled with the heroics of modern day warfare into the homes of millions of video game players (Andersen 2014 :4). Unfortunately, Andersen and Mirrless describe this as “influential content in order to shape perceptions, influence opinions and control behavior” (Andersen 2014 : 4).

    This widespread video game sought to alter peoples understanding of the war efforts overseas. By actively engaging with scenarios taken straight from real life with realistically represented weapons, terrain and locations, this was the first time a video game had been used as a manipulative propaganda machine (Andersen 2014 :4). In Mantello’s article it does not say whether the game played within the Army Experience center was America’s Army, upon further investigation, the majority of these recruitment facilities featured the game, along with an array of similar games.

    Stahl notes that America’s Army was not only being used by recruitment centers but by army personnel for simulations and leadership training (Stahl 2010 : 93-94). The repetitive decision making that featured in video games, was a necessity in military education and a key indicator for high positions (Stahl 2006: 117). This integration of hyper realistic video games not only for recruitment but also education was deemed a positive in the portrayal of the center (Der Derian 2001 :164; Stahl 2006:123). Subsequently, in 2005 forty percent of enlisters stated they had played America’s Army at some point (Der Derian 2001 :164; Stahl 2006:123). However, Stahl notes that there was a disconnect between what the game was portraying and the realities that were being promoted in the broader media coverage (Stahl 2006: 124).

    Although Mantello’s article focuses on the Army Experience Center alone, Mantello omits an important discussion on the manipulation of video game culture as a whole. Viewing the Army Experience Center as separate from the video games seen in mainstream culture, this assumption that he portrays is fundamentally flawed. Andersen and Mirrless discuss the fact that since the late 1970’s video game interaction has been influenced by forms of government and its depiction of war (Andersen 2014:11). As such this immersive first and third person battle spaces that video games provide, glorify the brutal spectacle of war as a recruitment and training machine (Andersen 2014:12).

    Andersen builds on this that Medal of Honour explicitly supports notions of a greater influence of militainment and Department of Defenses influence on the medium (Andersen 2014:11). Its promotional goals through digital capitalism profit through a symbiotic relationship between the Department of Defense and video game company, Electronic Arts (Andersen 2014: 11-12 ; Der Derian 2001:167). Electronic Arts portray current events and places to ultimately persuade and alter the perceptions of current operations that the DOD is acting in. They also allow EA realistic and current portrayals that increase interest and sales.

    Ben Clarke discusses video game usage on a wider scale. Clarkes argument revolves around whether or not video games are a positive influence on society and the military personnel who interact with them (Clarke 2012 : 713 -717). Supporting Andersen and Der Derian, Clarke agrees that this interactive form of media is helping military recruitment and training, by transforming the technologies and representations of war (Clarke 2012: 713). However, the argument centers around the humanitarian laws that are missing in video games (Clarke 2012: 725). This refers to indiscriminate shooting of civilians, senseless violence and catastrophic destruction of cities all in the name of entertainment. These breaches within video games are not met with the same punishment that would face a true combatant (Clarke 2012 : 722-725). The desensitization that occurs in video games and sense of a lawless war is far from a true representation (Clarke 2012 :729). The video games used in Mantello’s army experience center feature this kind of indiscriminate, lawless combat situations. This view of justifying the results not the methods is another omission in Mantello’s discussion on this topic (Clarke 2012: 721).

    While Mantello offers a very positive insight into the synergic relationship between the army experience center, video games and the military in his piece, unfortunately this one sided voice is very bland. The discussions provided by other authors offer viewpoints that are ignored from Mantello’s piece. If these viewpoints, that paint a differing opinion on the relationship between the military and the video game industry were included, the piece would have conveyed a more in depth opinion. As such the result is a piece lacking in complexity that the topic ultimately needs and upon investigation the argument was not as convincing as once perceived to be.

    Reference List

    Andersen, Robin and Tanner Mirrlees 2014: ‘Introduction: Media, Technology, and the Culture of Militarism: Watching, Playing and Resisting the War Society’ Democratic Comminique 26 No.2

    Mantello, Peter; 2015. The Army Experience Center. The Vision Machine http://thevisionmachine.com/2015/04/the-army-experience-center/

    Derian, James Der. 2001: Virtuous War: Mapping the Military-industrial-media-entertainment Network. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2001. Print.

    Clarke, Ben, Christian Rouffaer and Francois Senechaud; 2012 ‘Beyond the Call of Duty: why shouldn’t video game players face the same dilemmas as real soldiers?’ 


    Stahl, Roger: 2010. Militainment, Inc.: War, Media, and Popular Culture. New York: Routledge,

    Stahl,
Roger; (2006) Have You Played the War on Terror?, Critical Studies in Media Communication, 23:2, 112-130, DOI: 10.1080/07393180600714489

  3. POLS3512. The University of Queensland. Critical Blog Assessment – Semester 2, 2015.
    Rachel Stewart

    “Will computer games win the war on terror?” (Michael Medved 2001 cited in Stahl, 2009). Well it certainly seems as though the United States Military believes it will. The merging of the media and entertainment industry with the military as resulted in a culture shift changing the way the citizenry view, understand and interact with the war machine. With the integration of the home front and the battlefield, especially since 9/11, the media has become a pivotal weapon in the post-industrial arsenal especially with fighting the war on the home front. Furthermore video games are becoming the number one weapon revolutionizing the battlefield. Therefore we see a transition in to the virtual. The virtual world of where Der Derian (2001: 131) terms the virtual citizen soldier is activated is the result of the military-entertainment complex that is embedded in American culture.

    The Vision machine spotlight created in 2015 featuring a short documentary by Peter Mantello and a small written commentary discusses the Army Experience Center (AEC). This short documentary highlights a new trend in military recruitment and technology. Based in Franklins Mills mall outside Philadelphia the AEC opened in 2008 as an experiment to find new ways to reinvigorate old recruitment techniques by creating “exciting militarized video arcades” that merged the virtual and real world of military life by using popular first person shooter games. Mantello’s documentary almost advertises the AEC by highlighting its ‘soft selling’ strategy and recruitment mentality which overall aims to create a positive image if the military by both showing and participating in Army themed simulators and technology. Additionally the one sided representation of a clean view of war presents the army facilty as not only virtuous but doing a public duty in helping kids get of the streets and doing something for their country. Furthermore it demonstrates the US military’s desire to stay relevant to the next tech-savvy generation and reshape civilians understanding of war, by creating an exciting environment that interacts with every sense in the body.

    The ACE, as presented by Mantello, was the result of a series of initiatives put in place by the government to help the image of the military and recruitment (Stahl, 2006: 107). The use of video games a part of a larger strategy that moved away from traditional recruitment approaches including recruitment offices located in urban ghettos and costly TV ads to more cost-effective methods that utilized trending technology was the basis of the documentary. With the use of video games the military has effectively taped in to the 21st century consumer culture that dictates many aspects of American society (Bacevich, 2010). It is not surprising that first person shooter (FPS) games, especially ones that are military themed, were there most popular with four of the top six video games released last year coming from that category. Not only that, out of estimated 25 million teenagers in America (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012), 97% have played video games at least once (Lenhart, 2009: 2). While the military has recognised video games as an effective recruitment tool, there is however no statistics on how many recruits have played FPS games before enlisting and whether it does in fact lead to enlisting (Derby, 2014:20). Hi-tech military equipment links the video games industry and military (Clarke, Rouffaer & Senechaud, 2012: 711). In general, Mantello (2012) and Stahl (2006) agree that the relationship between the military planner and the gaming industry not only helps to reshape the understanding of war but also provides access to and justification for the increasingly clandestine nature of warfare. Video games in this context become a means of truth telling. Although the partnership between the military establishment and the gaming industry makes it difficult to see where the virtual battlefield ends and the physical begins, therefore creating a clear gap between what the ACE is presenting and the actual reality. First person shooter games reflect how political doctrines are constructed in order to validate covert military force as legitimate (Andersen & Mirrlees, 2014). In other words, FPS games reinforce the military behaviour and in Beasly’s (2015) study it was found that those who played FPS games identified them as being both a better sources of new and informative about the military machine. Consequently, it is obviously why the military has used tools like the ACE for recruitment purposes.

    The ‘soft selling’ strategy the AEC maintains, which is drawn from the Apple store concept, where customers can try before they buy is by no means an ineffective selling strategy. However the AEC by extension is selling war by reducing conflict and the military into a product for consumption (White, 2005). As the AEC maintains that it is an “attraction tool. There is no recruiting mission here” and its “more about changing perceptions” it is believe that the best way to become acquainted with the military was through interaction (Hansen, 220202). The AEC was an extension of other proved outreach tool such as the mobile “Virtual Army Experience” and “America’s Army” which both tap into the virtual world. However with the overall aim to create a well informed citizenry, the over stimulus of militarised information through war themed book, film, TV news and games, can in fact as Andersen and Mirrlees (2014; 6), suggests create a state of disinformation as the blurring of the real and virtual which become undistinguishable. “War seems to be the most talked about of activities, and yet the least known” (Derby, 2014:22). In terms of recruitment and a positive military image, in the world of smart phone technology, hyperrealism and interactive games, are now trending, the military aims to stay relevant by using these developments in technology (Bacevich, 2010).

    The AEC creates a space of connection between the public and the military. It is there for citizens become acquainted and interact with the war machine in a “non-threatening environment” (Hansen, 20). However by stepping into the world of consumerism the Military and the AEC has lost the fundamental reality of war. As highlighted in the documentary, the use of video games is important as it give the possible recruits a sense what is would really be like to join the Military. However as discover by Stahl (2006; 2009), Mantello (2012; 2013) Andersen and Mirrlees (2014), and Clarke B, Rouffaer C and Senechaud (2012) video games and similar media platforms used by the military tend to avoid narratives that can possibly interfere with the ability to freely consume creating alternate and distorted realities. These interferences include legal, moral and ideological consideration, gruesome violence and consequences. Furthermore the realism that video games generates is that linked to war being clean without consequences but as one Special Forces Veteran highlighted the clear disconnect between military-style games and real conflict: “You lose an avatar; just reboot the game. In real life, you lose your guy; you’ve lost your guy. And then you’ve got to bury him, and then you’ve got to call his wife” (Barby, 2014: 23). Therefore, a key flaw in the AEC’s argument is that video games and real combats are not at all similar, in fact FPS games such as America’s Army do not aim to misrepresent war but rather are used as tool to see the military image and lifestyle but in doing so distort the realities of combat (Stahl, 2006:125).

    Mantello’s short documentary while brief did outline the basis of the Army Experience Center and what it does. However it did fail to acknowledge the wide and varying protests towards the AEC and the use of FPS games and digital technology for recruitment. Both citizen groups and war veteran the like complained that the experience was misleading and trivialized conflict. Even though, the text that accompanied the documentary momentarily highlights the local public opposition it would be beneficial to both extend and evaluate the merit of the opposition. Additionally, the spotlight would have been enriched further with more academic critics and arguments surrounding this topic. Giving weight to both sides of the story. Finally, as the AEC was brought to a close in 2010, only being a two year project, discussion of the military’s next and current recruiting tools and lessons learned from this experiment would have also provided a fuller discussion.

    In conclusion, Mantello’s spotlight on the AEC, while largely uncritical succinctly present a working element the Military-Entertainment Complex. This documentary highlights the recent trend in military recruitment and advertisement. The AEC offers and interactive non-threating environment to explore different aspects of the military, including combat, jobs and lifestyle. With the merging of the battlefield and the home front, FPS games have become the link. As citizens and war step into the virtual, military recruitment strategy has revolutionized. The use of video games by the military to recruit and create a positive image is both effective and alarming. As a large percentage of Americans play FPS games, which it has been found have the ability to reshape and distort the realities of war while also generating a sense of understanding of the military establishment. The selling of war in an environment based around consumerism, the truth has become the victim as the AEC is making war easy to consume rather then real. However the use of FPS games and interactive technologies in regards to recruitment has been very effective in the eyes of the military. Overall the Vision Machine Spotlight by Peter Mantello offers well-executed documentary that had great insights into the connection between the military, media and entertainment technology.

    Reference List
    Andersen and Mirrlees (2014) ‘Introduction: Media, Technology, and the Culture of Militarism: Watching, Playing and Resisting the War Society’ Democratic Communiqué. Vol. 26 no.2 pp. 1-21
    Bacevich, Andrew. (2010) The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War. New York: Oxford University Press. Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War. New York: Metropolitan Books.
    Beasley ZM (2015). Millennials, the military, and first-person shooter video games. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing; 2015.
    Clarke B, Rouffaer C and Senechaud F (2012) ‘Beyond the Call of Duty: why shouldn’t video game players face the same dilemmas as real soldiers?’. International Review of the Red Cross vol.94 no.886 pp.711
    Derby, J. 2014, “Violent Video Games and the Military: Recruitment, Training, and Treating Mental Disability”, Art Education, vol. 67, no. 3, pp. 19-25.
    Der Derian, J. (2001) Virtuous War: Mapping the Military Industrial-Media-Entertainment Net-work. Boulder: Westview Press.
    Der Derian, J. (2000) “Virtuous war/ virtual theory”. International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 76, No. 4, pp. 771-788.
    Department of Defense. (2012). 2012 demographics: Profile of the military community. Retrieved from http://www.militaryonesource.mil/12038/MOS/Reports/ 2012_Demographics_Report.pdf
    Lenhart, A. (2009). Cheats for marketers: Fresh demographics on teen and adult game play & how games can teach kids to be good citizens. Pew Institute. Retrieved from: http://www.pewinternet.org/2009/03/27/cheats-for-marketers-fresh-demographics-on- teen-and-adult-game-play-how-games-can-teach-kids-to-be-good-citizens/
    Mantello, Peter (2013). “Legitimacy and the virtual battlefield: putting the first person shooter 
on the witness stand.” Australian Journal of International Affairs, 07, Aug.2013.
    Mantello, Peter. (2012). “Playing discreet war in the US: Negotiating subject hood and 
sovereignty through Special Forces video games.” Media, War & Conflict 5.3: 
269-283
    Stahl, (2006), ‘Have you played the “War on Terror”?’ Critical Studies in Media 
Communication, , Vol. 23, no. 2.
    Stahl (2009) ‘Militainment, Inc. War, Media and popular Culture’. New york: Routledge
    White, J. (2005) It’s a Video Game, and an Army recruiter. The Washington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp- dyn/content/article/2005/05/26/AR2005052601505.html

  4. POLS3512. The University of Queensland. Critical Blog Assessment – Semester 2 2015
    Alexandra Newton S4301255

    In the United States (US), the growing synergy between the military, the government and commercial industries was first outlined during President Dwight Eisenhower’s famous farewell remarks to the American people in 1961 (Rose 2012: 366). The 20th century saw a growth of the US as a superpower tied to war, facilitated by congressional investment in military agencies and private industries that were directly involved in the preparation and waging of wars (Anderson & Mirrlees 2014: 3; Rose 2012: 367). During this speech, he outlined the problematic ritualization of violence that he referred to as the military-industrial communications complex (MICC) (Anderson & Mirrlees 2014: 3). According to Eisenhower, this symbiosis held grave implications for the development of peaceful motives that would be overshadowed by the ‘unwarranted influence’ of the MICC (Mirrlees 2009: 165). Today, this symbiotic relationship has developed the exact unwarranted influence that Eisenhower forewarned in his speech. The rise of the MICC, driven by profit and the complex interrelationship between the military and the entertainment industries, has resulted in an infiltration of pro-military sentiment in everyday life that is exemplified in this spotlight.

    Peter Mantello’s micro-documentary focuses on the latest installment of the MICC, the Army Experience Centre (AEC), which specifically targets American adolescent teenagers who don’t have a broader understanding of the complexity of military operations. The AEC was opened in 2008 in Philadelphia’s Franklin Mills Mall and was a strategic marketing strategy of the US military in order to combat declining army recruitment levels. The AEC substituted urban recruitment offices for a single recruitment centre that combined popular first-person shooter games (FPS), military technology and appealing smart-phone technology. While the AEC denied the recruitment motives of this centre, it presented a highly sanitized and glamorous image of war in a location that could specifically target young teenagers (Zmuda, 2008). The AEC was shut down in 2012 following complaints from parents that it presented an unrealistic and idealised representation of war. However, the techniques employed in the AEC highlight a wider problem in the increased relationship between the US military and the entertainment industries: the weakening of the moral and psychological impediments to enacting collective violence (Rose 2012: 366).

    The development of the AEC should be placed in the context of how the Pentagon came to rely extensively on FPS games as a tool for recruitment. Roger Stahl (2006; 2010) states that the developments in media and information technology have resulted in the transformation of citizens who were purely receptive to media to the creation of interactive subjects. While television coverage of Desert Storm in 1991 was primarily a spectacle for viewers at home, Operation Iraqi Freedom employed embedded journalism that effectively placed viewers within the fighting ranks themselves and created a sense of subjectivity among citizens (Stahl 2006:125). The growth of video-game technology provided the Pentagon with an alternative outlet that could further extend the notion of viewer subjectivity in war by allowing citizens to directly ‘play’ the war on terror (Power 2007: 275). America’s Army (the FPS game used in the AEC) was developed as a military strategy in 2002 as a more cost-effective method of recruitment (Power 2007: 275; Singer 2010: 92). According to Stahl (2006: 123), as the military spends around an average of $15,000 on ‘wooing’ each recruit, the development of America’s Army was a financially effective way of boosting falling recruitment numbers. Its effectiveness as a recruitment tool has been undeniable, with nearly 73,000 new soldiers out of the 8 million registered members by 2006 (Susca 2012: 40).

    Mantello’s argument regarding recruitment strategies of the US military targeted at adolescents through FPS games and advanced technology is discussed in the works of Margot Susca (2012), James Der Derian (2009) and Stahl (2006; 2010). America’s Army and the AEC 13+ age restriction is representative of the Pentagon’s strategy to take advantage of the adolescent market (Zmuda, 2008). Susca (2012; 19) argues that the Pentagon targets teenagers as it is a period of development that is easily influenced and characterized by the desire for independence and thrill seeking behavior. America’s Army and the AEC fulfill adolescent thrill-seeking desires by engaging in simulated virtual combat that simultaneously allows them to exercise varying levels of independence and choice making (Susca 2012: 19). This is inherently problematic as during the ages of 13-16, adolescents begin to develop morals that will influence their actions throughout adulthood (Susca 2012: 20). According to Ben Clarke, Christian Rouffaer and Francois Senechaud (2012), video game scripts and scenarios dictate to players when violence is acceptable and unacceptable through point accumulation and reward systems. Therefore, by being able to ‘play’ the war at a young age, it can significantly shape an adolescents understanding of what constitutes morally acceptable violence during war (Clarke, Rouffaer & Senechaud 2012: 717). Der Derian (2009) builds on this analysis by explaining that the video-game war is a virtuous war, one that is clean and good through the virtue of being bloodless. By transporting adolescents into a conflict zone without revealing any of the destructive realities of war, America’s Army presents a positive image of war that legitimizes American foreign policy and desensitizes the player to the psychological affects committing violence (Der Derian 2009: 155). Mantello’s spotlight builds on this literature by examining the AEC and how it has implemented the concept of a clean and interactive war. The thrill of holding fake machine guns and playing ‘real time’ overshadows the emotional truth and negative consequences of war (Susca 2012: 18). The inclusion of army profiles in the AEC is a further attempt at glamorizing war for adolescent males by idealising career roles in the army. For example, one video testimony is an army cadet that controls the gunner of a tank. The individual boasts he can ‘hit things from over 200 miles away’ while he ‘engages targets’. The use of abstract words, such as ‘engage targets’ and the focus on the high-tech side of technology, is what Stahl (2010) refers to as technofetishism, which essentially renders the destructive side of war invisible, contributing to a sanitized and bloodless portrayal of war. Furthermore, targeting this glamorized image of the army at adolescents, according to Susca (2012), appeals to adolescent thrill-seeking behavior and their search for power and independence.

    Implicit in Mantello’s spotlight, and the literature surrounding the discussion of the growth of FPS games, is the transformation of media that focuses on ‘why we fight’ to ‘how we fight’. However, this discussion is too simplistic and overlooks a secondary reason for why video games are the preferred recruitment choice for the US military. As war is the ultimate example of rationalised state violence, maintaining public consent is essential for its continuation (Power 2007: 275). Mantello examines this link in another article, where he examines how the use of FPS conflates the authenticity of gameplay and the legitimacy of political reality in order to implicate the gamer as a witness to the reality of war (Mantello 2013: 18). Therefore, FPS bridges war’s legitimacy in a way television has never, by inviting the gamer into the conflict in order to re-witness the truth and participate in the ‘good war’ on terrorism (Mantello 2013: 18). This is a valid point and its inclusion would have provided a deeper analysis in Mantello’s spotlight. The language of gameplay conflates sociocultural identifies, for example, Terrorist/Muslim/Arab/bad guy, that simplifies political conflicts as good versus evil, in which America occupies the position of good (Mantello 2013: 16). Therefore, not only is the use of America’s Army and places like the AEC useful for communicating information to potential recruits, but also a tool for inculcating military values and generating popular support (Clarke, Rouffaer & Senechaud 2012: 717). By presenting the narrative of good against evil, video games provide an explanation for ‘why we fight’ (Clarke, Rouffaer & Senechaud 2012: 721). The framing of video games presents to American society a positive moral perspective of military intervention and legitimizes American foreign policy during war.

    The creation of the AEC marks a significant moment in the ever- evolving relationship between the military and the entertainment industries. While the US military has denied that the AEC was designed as a recruitment tool, it is evident that its direct marketing at adolescents through the use of popular first-person shooter games was a strategy designed to spark interest in the army amongst young people. Furthermore, by presenting an experience of war that focused on high power military technology and idealised military careers, the AEC presented an overly sanitized view of war that overlooked the negative reality of war. Although the AEC closed in 2012, it remains a monumental chapter in the narrative of the military-industrial-communications complex which seeks to weaken moral and psychological attitudes towards war in American consumer society.

    Reference List
    Anderson, Robin & Tanner Mirrlees. 2014. Media, Technology, and the Culture of Militarism: Watching, Playing and Resisting the War Society. Democratic Communiqué 26(2): 1-21
    Clarke, Ben, Christian Rouffaer and François Sénéchaud. 2012. ‘Beyond the Call of Duty: why shouldn’t video game players face the same dilemmas as real soldiers?’. International Review of the Red Cross 94(886): 711.
    Der Derian, James. 2009. Virtuous war: mapping the military-industrial-media-entertainment network, 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.
    Mantello, Peter. 2013. ‘Legitimacy and the virtual battlefield: putting the first-person shooter on the witness stand’. Australian Journal of International Affairs 67(5): 638-658.
    Mirrlees, Tanner. 2009. ‘Digital militainment by design: producing and playing SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs: 1’. International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics 5(3): 161.
    Power, Marcus. 2007. ‘Digitized Virtuosity: Video War Games and Post-9/11 Cyber-Deterrence’. Security Dialogue 38(2): 271-288.
    Rose, Phil. 2012. ‘Divinising Technology and Violence: Technopoly, the Warfare State, and the Revolution in Military Affairs’.Journal of Contemporary Religion 27(3): 365.
    Singer, Peter. 2010. ‘MEET THE SIMS … and Shoot Them’. Foreign Policy (178): 91-95.
    Stahl, Roger. 2006. ‘Have you played the war on terror?’. Critical Studies in Media Communication 23(2): 112-130.
    Stahl, Roger. 2010. Militainment, Inc: war, media, and popular culture. New York: Routledge.
    Susca, Margot. 2012. ‘Why we still fight: Adolescents, virtual war, and the government-gaming nexus’. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.
    Zmuda, Natalie. 2008. ‘Are the Army’s new marketing tactics a little too kid-friendly?’. Advertising Age 79(33): 1.

  5. The University of Queensland POLS 3512
    Critical Blog Assessment (Semester 2, 2015)
    Tessa Hourigan S4350344

    Mantello’s spotlight, ‘The Army Experience Center’ documents the installation of a new type of army recruitment center in an American shopping mall in 2008. More of a video arcade than traditional recruitment office, the Army Experience Center worked to merge the imagined and real worlds of the military experience into one in order to boost recruitment numbers. Just one example of the symbiotic relationship between the American army and the media and entertainment industries, the Army Experience Center exemplified the new ways that entertainment, information and propaganda are produced by the military for public consumption.

    The spotlight provides a largely positive, face-value assessment of the Army Experience Center. The images shown throughout the spotlight are highly sanitized, and provoke an understanding of the war experience through a virtual reality, distancing the viewer from the lived reality of warfare. Modeled on the design of the Apple store, the Army Experience Center is stated to attempt to project a soft sell environment where potential members are able to come in and ‘test out the product’ in order to determine whether they are interested or not. It features interactive video game play and the career profiles of past and current servicemen. Much of the game play is with ‘America’s Army’, a video game designed by the American Army for promotional purposes. The game is highly popular within the gaming community, and works to promote what is termed by Stahl as ‘lifestyle marketing’ (2006, p.124-125). The recruiters in the store are largely Army members recently returned from combat, and are presented as wholesome soldiers who are all highly enthusiastic about the army experience. They aim to fulfill a mentor role and are there to answer questions about conscription and the army experience if necessary. The spotlight aims to place emphasis on the ‘if necessary’, stating that visitors to the center can purely choose to engage in the game play instead if they wish. Visitors to the Army Experience Centre are also presented as largely enthusiastic about their in store experiences, with one boy featured expressing his happiness at the center helping to ‘keep the kids off the street’. The language utilized by the employees of the Army Experience Center throughout the spotlight is also entirely positive. They interestingly frame the Army Experience Centre as just that: an experience. This framing fails to consider the more serious aspects of the reality of army conscription, such as moving away from family and friends and risks of injury and death. The recruiters themselves also do not appear to have any visible injuries or mental health issues gained from their conflict experience. This serves to further the sanitized, positive images of war presented in the spotlight, and frames life in the army as a fun and engaging yet lucrative career.

    The spotlight’s message is largely convincing in promoting the Army Experience Center as a highly positive, informative, fun recruitment center. However, in conjunction with existing literature surrounding the Army Experience Center and the military entertainment industrial complex, this message is increasingly less convincing. While the framing of the Army Experience Center as a sanitized form of recruitment remains highly convincing, there is a significant disjuncture between the portrayed intentions of the American military in the clip, and discussion of their intentions within the literature. While the recruitment officers within the spotlight work hard to acknowledge the freedom of visitors to the centre, it is clear that the American Army highly values the use of video games as a recruitment tool. Spending $75 million on America’s Army in 2004 alone, the game comprises a significant portion of the military’s advertising and promotional strategies (Stahl, 2006, p.123)

    Mantello’s spotlight fails to provide a well-rounded analysis of the Army Experience Center. By including only positive representations and feedback throughout the spotlight, it is clear that Mantello’s representation is somewhat lacking. Upon further examination it is clear that the Army Experience Centre and the media entertainment complex that the Centre embodied a number of highly controversial debates surrounding the place of modern conscription and propaganda techniques, and the intersection between the two. The fact that Mantello does not mention this, albeit briefly in his written work underneath the video, signifies a serious gap in the message of the spotlight. It is also important to note that the military does not purely consider video games, as they are represented within the spotlight, a tool for garnering the interest of young men and women into coming into recruitment centers. Instead, as explored by Stahl in ‘Militainment’, first person shooter games form the basis of many new training programs in the military, air force and the navy (2010, p.93). These games are carefully crafted by military professionals in order to reach as many target audiences as possible, to reflect contemporary events in a realistic sense, to promote military ideals and yet also to provide highly sanitized, unrealistic images that prevent the loss of potential conscripts (Stahl, 2006, p.123-124).

    Mantello’s spotlight provides a number of significant insights into the military entertainment industrial complex, and the relationship that this complex shares with recruitment. It provides a clear example of how the introduction of new technologies and cultural norms has shaped the processes of recruitment in a contemporary setting, and how they are shaped to fit the interests of a specific target group. However, while Mantello’s spotlight is highly successful in the provision of these insights, it does fail to mention any of the counter-narratives that are used to criticize the intended use and design of the Army Experience Center. Thus, it can be argued that as it remains at its current face-value level of analysis, it is not altogether convincing.

    • Mantello, Peter; 2015. The Army Experience Center. The Vision Machine http://thevisionmachine.com/2015/04/the-army-experience-center/
    • Stahl, Roger: 2010. Militainment, Inc.: War, Media, and Popular Culture. New York: Routledge,
    • Stahl,
Roger; (2006) Have You Played the War on Terror?, Critical Studies in Media Communication, 23:2, 112-130, DOI: 10.1080/07393180600714489

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