September 9, 2008

Censoring the Army?

by Nick Montfort · , 7:41 am

“Hey, hey, ho, ho – Video-game censorship has got to go” by Aaron Delwiche has recently been posted on FlowTV. The article, which focuses on the Xbox 360 port of America’s Army, calls for more critical thought about video games, and critical exploration of them through design, rather than censorship. This is an appealing position, but there seem to be some other important points to make:

8 Responses to “Censoring the Army?”

  1. Jimmy Maher Says:

    I agree that Mr. Delwiche is kind of missing the point. No one is really complaining about their being a videogame out there that tries to sell its players on the military life and the glories of combat. Lord knows there are plenty of other games out there — perhaps most of them, when you get down to it — with the same message. I, and I think most protesters, don’t like the fact that my government is creating this game and selling it to (mostly underage) consumers, and at least partially funding it with my tax dollars. How would the proverbial mainstream media react if the U.S. Army funded a big-budget movie that was distributed to all the megaplexes, that had television advertising running during shows adolescent boys are known to watch? I think they’d be outraged. Why then is it acceptable in a videogame?

  2. Aaron Delwiche Says:

    These are interesting points! However, citizens deciding what type of speech is appropriate for branches of our government is censorship. Consider, for example, the Wikipedia definition of censorship as “the suppression of speech or deletion of communicative material which may be considered objectionable, harmful or sensitive, as determined by a censor.” One might argue that censoring the Army game is justified because governments are supposed to express the will of the people, but this would still be a rationalization for censorship.

    It wasn’t so long ago that outraged citizens were urging branches of government to drape partially nude statues. “Our tax dollars shouldn’t be used for obscene public artwork,” they argued. That was also an example of censorship.

    It’s also important to note that many of the activists at the demonstration were in fact “complaining about there being a video-game out there that tries to sell its players on the military life and the glories of combat,” and they were demonstrating in front of Ubisoft’s offices not in front of a US Army recruiting center.

    The demonstrators were understandably upset about the use of their tax dollars to fund the development of this game, and I share their concern. However, from a tactical standpoint, we should be focusing on ways of blocking the effectiveness of games like America’s Army. We can do this by teaching young people to think more critically about the characteristics of video-games that make them so powerful as persuasive tools. The beauty of this approach is that it also helps to minimize the effects of all the other first-person shooters that aren’t made by the US military.

    The bit about the US Army attempting to convert Battlezone as a training device for Bradley tanks is fascinating. Do you know where one might find more articles about that topic? Also, regarding previous critical work on America’s Army and game-based military recruiting, you might want to check out my piece in “From the Green Berets to America’s Army: Video-games as a vehicle for political propaganda” in The Players’ Realm: Studies on the Culture of Video Games and Gaming. London: McFarland and Company. 2007.

  3. Nick Montfort Says:

    The Bradley Trainer by Atari.

  4. Mark Nelson Says:

    Aaron: I suppose it’s mostly a semantic quibble, but I’m not sure I see covering up government statues as “censorship”, any more than I see asking ten-commandments displays to be removed from courthouse grounds as “censorship”. Both are disagreements over what sort of expressions the government ought to be performing: in one case you have mostly conservatives who think the government’s displays ought to conform to some set of cultural norms about nudity, and in the other you have mostly liberals who think the government’s displays ought to avoid overt religious references. (On this point the mostly-liberals have better legal arguments as to why their “censorship” should be enacted, but that isn’t really relevant.)

    In either case it’d be obviously censorship if it were the government trying to tell a private individual that they couldn’t have nude statues or ten-commandments dioramas, but that isn’t really what’s going on.

  5. Mary Flanagan Says:

    Though there is sentiment here that America’s Army may not be, as a digital system, “categorically wrong – if, for instance, it’s not used to recruit children,” it is clear from a decade of attending game-related conferences and hearing from numerous sides of this project from concept to completion, it was always discussed as, and intended to be, a youth recruiting tool. This likely violates international law. See link at
    That said, I had military recruiters in my high school every week, so the practice of recruiting youth is longstanding, even if illegal among peer nations…

  6. Tina Says:

    I find it some what ironic that an Organization that fights to defend all of our right to free speech would be judged or censored.

  7. Nick Montfort Says:

    That’s right – let’s never judge armies or think about whether what they’re doing is right or wrong.

  8. Water Cooler Games Says:

    US Army Invades Schools…

    The US Army has announced a “partnership” with a group called Project Lead The Way to “to enhance student curriculum by using a variety of Army technologies to promote student interest in the engineering and technical fields.”

    …Used as a com…

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