Hell No Way, We Won’t Play!

By John Walker on August 7th, 2008 at 1:19 pm.

Unless you're playing a war game, I guess. Because then it is.

America’s Army has always courted controversy, but protesters in San Francisco yesterday declared that it was in violation of international law. Gathering outside UbiSoft’s SF headquarters, a not really very impressive throng of about twenty turned up to wave banners and sing impromtu protest songs (although none so clever as mine above) against the Teen rating of America’s Army in the US. Game Videos were there, their video of the event below.

The key issue is that America’s Army, designed as a recruitment tool for the US Army and funded by the Department of Defence, is allowed to be sold to 13 year olds and above, which the protesters, and ACLU, say is a deliberate attempt to recruit underage Americans into the armed forces.

If you watch past the slightly frightening angry ladies, there’s an interview with someone who explains why the game violates UN law, and explains the motivations behind the protests.

The protesters made it clear they are not against violent video games, but purely the recruiting nature of America’s Army. According to Xtaster, the campaigners wish for a sticker to be on all boxes, reading:

Warning: The video game America’s Army has been developed by the United States Army to recruit children under the age of 17 in violation of the U.N. Optional Protocol and international law. Combat service has been known to cause death, irreparable injuries, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and lifelong feelings of overwhelming guilt.

Xtaster go on to say, stating that it might be pure fiction, that two protesters managed to speak to Ubisoft bossman, Laurent Detoc, and report the following:

They say [he] told them that Ubisoft’s publishing of the America’s Army game actually did lead to an “internal conflict” within the company, and that an ethics committee was established to deal with these issues.

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91 Comments »

  1. G says:

    “Combat service has been known to cause death” Really???

  2. Willem says:

    If they played the game, they’d know it probably does more to scare teens away from joining the army, really.

    That is one sad protest, though. And shouldn’t they be protesting near somewhere army-related, as opposed to the Ubisoft building?

    Also, those women are pretty scary.

  3. Cooper says:

    America’s Army has been coming for a long time. The US military have in various forms been happy to get into relations with game makers looking for the ‘authentic’ edge for years – ‘militainment’ is nothing new at all – this has just made explicit what was already implicit.

    But, hey, for an administration whos right-wing conservative contingent stands side-by-side with Somalia in not signing the UN Convention on the Rights of Children – what can you expect?

  4. Little Bobby Bobbertson says:

    Forcing them to put on a sticker “Playing this game will make you gay” would be 100x more effective.

  5. wb says:

    Because, of course, under international law there’s no difference between the forcible abduction and impressment of children into militias under conditions of lawless violence and war, and a video game played by upper-middle-class teenagers. Let’s ask the kids in Uganda, why don’t we?

    Like Code Pink, these folks excel at simply pissing off people who otherwise agree with them. I think the majority-white and generally well-off kids who can afford a computer and DSL line for AA are safe from the grasping hands of military recruiters, since they’re — well, white and well-off.

  6. Steelfist says:

    It was obviously rated as a video game, not a recruitment tool. I don’t think that they are so stupid as to not know that, they probably just want an excuse to protest about the ‘illegal war’.

  7. Binho says:

    I think it’s really silly. I played America’s Army when I was a teen, and I didn’t want to join the Army. I found it to actually be quite a good online shooter.

    That it’s against international law is also a stupid argument. I’ve seen ads for the army in places where teenagers can see all over the world (Here in Italy there are Army ads in gaming magazines. In England there are regimental recruitment booths on shopping streets).

    I think those people need to chill the hell out. You can even see by their posters that what they actually care about is the war on Iraq, and not the well being of 17 year olds.

    I say they go push their agenda somewhere else.

  8. John Walker says:

    I wonder how they feel about the Army Cadets.

  9. ascagnel says:

    I thought this game came out quite a while ago, almost a year at this point. Also, that game was quite shit. The console version (the only one to get a rating, the PC version didn’t since its online-only) should have gotten a T (same amount of blood and guts as Star Wars).

    Then again, putting a sticker that says “This game has been known to cause death, irreparable injuries, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and lifelong feelings of overwhelming guilt.” would be far more effective.

  10. wb says:

    @Cooper — I think “Kuma\War” is a greater offender. There’s something really distasteful about having a violent conflict occur on day N and then a video game arrive on N+1 trying to put an educational gloss on exploitation. (Though you can’t accuse them of gross political bias — in one mission you can play as heroic Silver Star awardee LT (j.g.) John Kerry!)

  11. Noc says:

    Warning: The video game America’s Army has been developed by the United States Army to recruit children under the age of 17 in violation of the U.N. Optional Protocol and international law. Combat service has been known to cause death, irreparable injuries, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and lifelong feelings of overwhelming guilt.

    Best warning label ever.

  12. Cooper says:

    Because, of course, under international law there’s no difference between the forcible abduction and impressment of children into militias under conditions of lawless violence and war, and a video game played by upper-middle-class teenagers. Let’s ask the kids in Uganda, why don’t we?

    Sure, and most certainly. But pointing at others and saying ‘it’s not that bad’ doesn’t help. Neither does the assumption that being white and middle class is a sfaety barrier. It downplays just how powerful this media rhetoric can be.

    WWII has undergone constant re-writing in US media for decades. The current state of military games set after WWII basically owes itself to the works of the US army.

    It might seem a bit feeble to protest what is ‘only harmless fun’ and no real threat to kids – but it’s just part of a much, much larger media jigsaw which has for many years been working to make the US army and wars they engage in seem nothing other than righteous and a whole load of fun. It’s that same jigsaw which played a part in an almost complete lack of public critical engagement with the war in the US.

    Edit: @wb, yes, that’s kinda the point I was making about ‘millitainment’. This has been around for such a long time, KW as an obvious example – AA just makes the recruitment side explicit – it’s not as if the glorification of the army and war is this all new thing. Shame only a bunch of old hippies can actually get wound up enough by it to say something.

  13. MetalCircus says:

    “Illegal war”? Why the sarcasm?

    AA is a recruitment tool, weather people are prepared to admit it or not. Admitadly, it’s a pretty shitty recruitment tool, but that’s it’s purpose anyway. Plus it’s a pretty shit game too. *shrugs*

  14. Donald Duck says:

    I agree with them. “Americas Army” is fucking disgusting in every way possible and yes it should be banned. They use it to advertise war and recruit kids whether they admit that or not, but that’s the purpose. As for UBI, they sold themselves to the devil.

  15. Diablo says:

    If the protesters see allowing persons under the age of 17 access to this game as “illegal recruiting” in violation of international law, where do they stand on JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps)?

    For those of you not familiar with it, the JROTC is a Federal program sponsored by the United States Armed Forces in high schools across the United States. [wikipedia.org] How is a video game a recruiting tool and the JROTC not?

    I’m guessing this route seemed more likely to garner press attention because of the video game angle, so they went with it instead of raising what might be a more valid point against a more formidable foe.

    Misdirected anger, misspent energy.

  16. Maximum Fish says:

    Wait a minute, the mininmum enlistment age, with parental consent, is 17. So who freaking cares if your crappy online shooter has somehow convinced a bunch of 13-year-olds to go sign the dotted line, they can’t do it anyway. You can’t “recruit children under the age of 17″ when they don’t, by law, accept recruits under the age of 17.

    Also, when anyone cites the UN, you know full well and immediately that they are full of shit.

    “..much, much larger media jigsaw which has for many years been working to make the US army and wars they engage in seem nothing other than righteous and a whole load of fun. It’s that same jigsaw which played a part in an almost complete lack of public critical engagement with the war in the US.

    The ‘Military Industrial Complex’ is it? The same bastards responsible for water flourination and cattle mutilations. Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you…

  17. Willem says:

    @ascagnel:

    It’s been out for several years, now. And yes, it is shit.

  18. wb says:

    [I]t’s just part of a much, much larger media jigsaw which has for many years been working to make the US army and wars they engage in seem nothing other than righteous and a whole load of fun.

    Agreed, though I’d argue that you’re describing the sort of national mythologizing that goes on everywhere and in every time. It took a Thucydides to skewer the imperial pretensions of a post-Periclean Athens, but even that great historian fell under the spell of the demagogue. In France, the myth of a heroic national resistance didn’t start to crumble until works like The Sorrow and the Pity ruthlessly stripped away the lies and illusions people had fashioned for themselves. France has yet to admit its military role in enabling the Rwandan genocide. Israel is still in the process of re-examining the “founding myths” that fill their schools and wash away and and all stains on that nation; its Arab neighbors haven’t done even that. And so on. So it’s no surprise that the US does the same thing, just more efficiently and with Hollywood’s help.

    But — having said that — I think that the myth of the invincible US military is something that could only grow up in a period without real military conflict. Vietnam showed that we could lose a war to ragtag militants backed by a poorly-equipped Soviet Bloc army; Korea demonstrated that even a brushfire war could explode in the faces of military and political assurances to the contrary; the Iranian revolution and South American death squads showed the limits and results of the covert actions that marked Eisenhower’s foreign policy.

    World War 2 veterans in America (and their age cohort) consistently opposed US military involvement abroad. As late as the end stages of Vietnam, public opinion polling showed that support for Vietnam was inversely correlated with age — that is, the younger you were, the more likely you were to support the war.

    We went into Afghanistan and Iraq with a recent history of only a few minor actions (Grenada, Panama, Somalia, former Yugoslavia) and one serious war (Gulf I) that turned out, unexpectedly, to be a pushover. With every one of those largely successful except Somalia (which has its own convenient Dolchstoßlegende to explain it away), we had a belief that the US military was itself a game-changer, that we were, in short, immune to the bloody historical rules of combat.

    We weren’t. We aren’t. Like many, I’ve known many people personally affected by the war — sons killed on the highways of Iraq, Marines who still agonize over the bullets they fired, husbands returning with PTSD in their dreams and violence in their hands — and there’s nothing grand and glorious about their sacrifices, nothing great arising from the wasted nobility of their service. This is a reassessment that will continue for many years, and one that will affect the way media, including entertainment, sees the military and its role in our government.

    What I’m saying, I suppose, is both that the factors underlying AA are not new, and that they are not truly controllable. AA could only arise in a culture that — on both the right and the left — saw its soldiers as both supremely competent and supremely moral. (In a similar vein, perhaps you remember the Bruce Willis vehicle Tears of the Sun, in which the only moral option was to use the Marines to bring peace to all of war-torn Africa, huzzah!) The war in Iraq no longer supports that myth, even if the news media and the military have managed to minimize the images of violence visited upon our soldiers and their civilians by war.

    Will this sort of thing continue? Sure. But its effects will be limited. It will be a long time — another thirty years of peace, perhaps — before America is ready to commit itself to another avoidable meat grinder. And one video game or a hundred will do nothing to affect that.

  19. Willem says:

    @Maximum Fish:

    You don’t get it, Maximum Fish. They can’t recruit kids under 17, but they can convince them to join up once they are 17. Teens between 13 and 17 can easily be influenced by propaganda. That’s the point of the law. They can’t aim their ads at kids, in the same way that tobacco companies can’t, even though you can’t sell cigarettes to minors.

  20. Paul Moloney says:

    “I agree with them. “Americas Army” is fucking disgusting in every way possible and yes it should be banned.”

    With a balanced argument like that, how could you possibly fail in your efforts?

    P.

  21. Maximum Fish says:

    @Willem

    So let me get this straight, in a society in which we are bombarded every minute of every day by a hundred and a half avenues for convertional advertisement, political campaigning and propagandizing, religious indoctrination from day one on, history through the eyes of the currently trendy curriculum; in a society in which nearly every action you take every one of these days is the direct result of some elogated chain of enviornmental conditioning, somehow we are throwing a fit (or at least a couple of freaky bitches are) about a videogame aimed at convincing kids to join the military? That everyone under the age of 17 should be always 100% neutral about the prospects of enlisting?

    And so gradeschool job fairs aimed at making little Johnny into a firemen or police officer are okay, but joining the military is a no-no? Because we apparently don’t need one of those, enlightened as we all are. We should take this opportunity i think to note that the US is in the minority of countries that even has an all-volunteer military. Perhaps the UN should start bitching first at Germany and Sweden, for requiring military service of everyone…

    And besides, it’s the UN. I mean, they’re paid to be full of shit. The fucking Human Rights Council is a rogues gallery of the worlds worst rights abusers and despots, who take turns at anti-semitic and anti-western grandstanding.

  22. Ian says:

    @John Walker: That’s acceptable because it involves hats and marching.

  23. Okami says:

    Ouch… Just skimming the comments here makes my head hurt. Never discuss politics on a gaming blog. Especially if the words “US” and “army” have anything to do with it.

    No good will ever come of it.

    Edit: Ok, reading through the comments, I’ve got to say it could be much worse. It’s actually quite civilzed when compared to other discussions I’ve read about similar topics on other websites..

  24. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    I predict George Bush burnination in T minus 10 posts.

  25. Paul Moloney says:

    “And besides, it’s the UN. I mean, they’re paid to be full of shit. The fucking Human Rights Council is a rogues gallery of the worlds worst rights abusers and despots, who take turns at anti-semitic and anti-western grandstanding.”

    Um, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Yes, the Human Rights Council is currently a (sick) joke, but that doesn’t mean everything the UN does is bad. I mean, a protcol on the involvement of children in armed conflict is hardly a bad thing.

    Reading the protocol itself:

    http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu2/6/protocolchild.htm

    I think that the idea that video games breach article 4.1 is a bit of a stretch.

    P.

  26. Cooper says:

    @wb
    Of course. Nation building is nothing new, and it’s certainly moved away from being a tool of the European political elite to substatiate their power to something much more nebulous. Performative, discursive, Foucauldian – whatever you want to call it, it’s not easy to see it as under the control of anyone and anything.

    Which makes it more dangerous, as it becomes very difficult to criticise anything in particular such as AA or KW (or any number of movies, tv programs etc.) without seeming willy – these are just harmless fun, surely. Yet, at the same time, trying to focus upon the wider issue is impossible, as it’s too nebulous to grasp.

    Which is why I disagree that ‘one video game or a hundred’ won’t make a difference – and that unless hippies go out and shuffle around outside Ubisoft, these things won’t change, as it provides a chance to point the finger at wider issues (as someone mentioned, this group seem to be more obviously anti-war and anti-military than anything).

    Otherwise, yeah, it’s just that cycle you point to – a couple of decades time, the US goes to war again with a similar lack of critical public engagement as no one remembers a fuss being made last time, as, frankly, not much of one is being made.

  27. Little Bobby Bobbertson says:

    War! HRNNG! What is it good for?
    Starting arguments on messageboards.

  28. wb says:

    @cooper

    Look on the bright side — in a couple of decades, it’s very unlikely that the US will be able to power-project too far beyond its coastlines.

  29. Maximum Fish says:

    @Paul Maloney

    Agreed. However, the problem with setting any sorts of international standards, noble in intent though they may be, is the same problem with the broader concept of “international law”. Laws are only worth a damn when they are backed up up by the means and credible threat to do violence, physical or otherwise, on those who do not follow them. As the UN has no such ‘right arm’, and fails to take decisive action even when it is able, it has become the worst kind of joke to those who flaunt it’s well intentioned laws.

    So around the world there are those who round up 9 year olds to serve the military junta, and nothing is done to prevent this because the UN is hamstrung by anemia and a quasi-moral relativistic hand-wringing about being “just as bad as they are”, and nobody else even gives a damn.

    And these fat bitches are out picketing in front of Ubisoft over a low rent videogame because if they actually pulled this stunt someplace where it mattered, they’d get shot in the face for their troubles. They care deeply about child soldiery, just not deeply enough to risk any inconvenience to their own lives. Convenience activism at it’s worst.

  30. Maximum Fish says:

    @wb

    So i hope you’re not from the US then. I mean, i’m not a “my country right or wrong” sort of guy, but then again, i don’t give a shit how wrong we are; i still live here.

  31. wb says:

    @MaxFish

    The UN make a lot more sense when you think of it as a giant collection of not-very-coordinated entities, some of which do great work (UNHCR, WHO, UNICEF), some of which do very poor work (UNRWA), and some of which are designed for political grandstanding and deadlock (UNHRC). And then there’s stuff like the Security Council, ICJ, World Bank, WIPO and so on, all of which tend to get a lot done, even if you don’t always like what they do.

    Edit: In re: the power projection issue, it’s not a question of how happy I am about it, it’s a question of whether I think the US can maintain a pre-eminent position moving forward. Absent some miracle breakthrough in energy generation or petroleum production, we’re looking at a long period of increasing energy and transport costs with a breaking point sometime in the 2030s to 2040s WRT petroleum. Just as the US miracle of the 20th century was made possible in part by essentially free transportation that let us create vast cities and giant highways while fueling global military and political involvement, any significant change in transport costs will force us to redevelop our national economic and infrastructure and cut back on international involvement. The economic fill-in of the post-WW2 void by Europe, China and developing nations also means that there are fewer places for us to easily intervene; the Middle East, like Africa, is unusual in that its borders and political systems are recent, artificial, and unstable — and I don’t think we’ll be in a hurry to intervene in either of those regions again.

    Is this good? Probably not — the US has been a net stabilizer within the international system, even over the past eight years, and it’s hard to see more opportunistic powers like China or Russia having the same beneficial effect. (If you’ve traveled in Africa, then you’re probably familiar with what I call “sinocolonialism.”) But it’s not about what I like; it’s about what I believe will happen.

  32. Maximum Fish says:

    @Little Bobby Bobbertson

    That’s right c’hall.

  33. Willem says:

    @Maximum Fish: We should strive to be 100% objective, yes. It’s impossible, of course, but we should do our best to reach that goal.

  34. Maximum Fish says:

    @wb

    Again, i agree. The UN is not entirely worthless, i should flat out say. It’s not. But most of the standards, regulations and laws they maintain and “enforce” that actually mean something and are effective, are those that provide mutual benefit to all subscribing parties.

    Pro-competition laws for instance, within any given nation, may restrict the activities of businesses, but by mandating adherence to a “nash equilibrium” highest benefit code of business, they end up making everyone better off (within limits, as with everything) and aren’t to hard to digest.

    But something laws on something like child militias, or bans on weapons, or the absolute worst, “war crimes”, will only be followed so long as the political points it buys you exceeds the necessities of using these, and as soon as that’s no longer true, as soon as anyone’s back is to the wall, they’ll start rolling out the cluster bombs and landmines and segmenting hollowpoint rounds and mustard gas and whatever else.

    Essentially what these laws do is only allow western nations to preen and claim moral superiority over nations who do not possess the luxury of doing so, nations caught in bloody civil wars where following UN rules of engagement would mean instant defeat for whichever side elected to do so.

    I guess i’d only say the UN should recognize it’s limits, and focus on what it’s actually good for. But that’s of course impossible, as it is the world’s largest bureacratic entity, and with bureacracy comes ceaseless empire building.

  35. Maximum Fish says:

    @Willem

    I could be a giant cynic here, but i don’t even think it’s possible to be 1% objective. Some fights are worth fighting, some are just an unyielding waste of time and money.

  36. Little Bobby Bobbertson says:

    I’m an international politics student, and I’m trying to use RPS to avoid working on my dissertation. Can we please avoid pLOLitics and get back to computer games?
    Otherwise I’m going to have to procrastinate at ‘gamesradar’ and nobody wants that now do they?

  37. wb says:

    @MaxFish

    But something laws on something like child militias, or bans on weapons, or the absolute worst, “war crimes”, will only be followed so long as the political points it buys you exceeds the necessities of using these….

    Too true. Political realism is a cruel mistress.

  38. wb says:

    @Bobby,

    Well, today we’ve all loved a little, and laughed a little, and maybe even learned a little. I learned that we’re all pretty much the same under the skin, that even the hardest heart can be melted by the tears of a child, and that you have to eat the ice cream to enjoy it, otherwise it melts and then there’s naught but tears and a sticky pool of black sesame gelato, and nobody wants that.

    And that console gamers are pricks. That’s something we can all rally ’round!

  39. Deuteronomy says:

    There’s nothing wrong with glorifying military service to kids as long as they don’t actually sign the kids up until they come of age.

    And comrade wb, what’s your point? Do you have a point besides the self gratification of spewing left-wing misinformation on a gaming forum? Let me just say the left-academic tradition of empty cynicism and self-hate you are taking the opportunity to represent here makes me want to throw up – and I’m not even American.

    I know people who’ve been to Iraq for multiple tours, and they hardly come back as empty husks incapable of leading normal lives. In fact some of them say how much they enjoyed the experience and can’t wait to go back.

    The American military *is* actually invincible in any meaningful sense of the term, no other power could hope to last very long in a stand up fight. I suppose you mean the myth is that each individual American soldier is bulletproof. As your kind loves to use the word “myth” with so much abandon I guess the reach isn’t so surprising.

  40. Little Bobby Bobbertson says:

    @wb

    Do you mind if I quote you in my dissertation’s concluding chapter?

  41. cliffski says:

    Why not play this
    http://www.democracygame.com

    Then you can pretend you are working on your dissertation AND enjoy gaming goodness :D
    (couldn’t resist)

  42. Maximum Fish says:

    @wb
    Agreed, console gamers are pricks. This is what i want to protest. Anyone want to drive down to ghetto-ass Louisville KY and help me picket in front of the local Gamestop? WASD FTW!

  43. cliffski says:

    “I know people who’ve been to Iraq for multiple tours, and they hardly come back as empty husks incapable of leading normal lives. In fact some of them say how much they enjoyed the experience and can’t wait to go back.”

    What do the iraqi citizens say about that? It is, after all, their country, not the property of the US…
    just saying…

  44. Foozle says:

    Link to the protocol.
    One notices that recruitment (joining the armed forces and using children in combat), not advertising, is what is prohibited.

  45. Willem says:

    @Deuteronomy: Are you being serious? Really?

  46. Donald Duck says:

    @Paul Moloney
    Failed what? I can’t be arsed to explain something that should go without saying. I suppose you support the Iraq war, too. No matter, you’re a dick, mindless and irrelevant. Piss off.

  47. Okami says:

    Edit: Broke my own rule. Damn it.

  48. Flint says:

    I might have missed the bit explaining this, but I’m confused as to why they’re protesting about AA now. The game is a good few years old already…

  49. Paul Moloney says:

    “What do the iraqi citizens say about that? It is, after all, their country, not the property of the US…
    just saying…”

    Latest poll is here:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7299569.stm

    “38% want American forces to leave immediately, compared with 35% who want the troops to remain until security has been restored. ”

    It doesn’t state what happened to the other 27% – I presume they are don’t-knows.

    Donald Duck: grow up.

    P.

  50. Maximum Fish says:

    @Donald Duck

    They brought a cave troll.