At PAX South this week, I noticed the US Army had set up a recruitment station. The Air Force had done the same thing the last year or two with their high-speed carnival ride. I’ve laughed a bit at them because they’re showing up the one part of the Air Force incredibly few if any of those recruits will ever do. Army does it better. They had a few cool Army toys like the FGM-148 Javelin, which unlike our sister service, is a tool any recruit could easily find themselves using if they had any desire to volunteer for that sort of duty.
Like many veteran gamers, I swung by to pay my respects to my Active Duty brethren and chat a bit about the state of the current geopolitics. I also run a non-profit to help vets transition out of the service, so I wanted to make sure to let them know about those resources in case anyone needed them. Also, sometimes it’s just nice to relax around those who understand you in a way few others ever really could.
It turns out, Army wasn’t just recruiting. They were also showing off some of their own software development activity and I was in for a real treat. To begin with, the Army has started developing a number of educational tools to help teachers in the STEM field. One being shown at PAX South was their Elements, which is a suite of games for kids to play that teaches the periodic table and about molecular compounds. You can learn more about that software at the official site.
It turns out that the contracting officer and program manager were both at the event, so I also learned about some of the work that’s coming down the pipe. Another offering from the US Army STARS catalogue that’s making its way out will be a game focusing on biology and human physiology. The Army hopes this will encourage more kids to become interested in the medical sciences, which we need more of in the US in general, but which will also generate increased interest in medical MOSs (Military Occupational Specialties) in the Army as a by-product.
SAIC wasn’t just hired to work on these smaller STEM projects, though. I also found out that there’s an America’s Army sequel in development, though with no targeted release date yet. For mil-sim fans, this is big news because while AA was never quite as polished as it’s contemporaries, it was a game that focused heavily on accurately representing the feel and functionality of weapons as best they were able. Because many of these weapons could actually be touched and studied personally by the developers, we got a very accurate sense of how they would be used in real life.
Of course, there was also the inclusion of real Army ranks and commendations, which I liked because it introduced more people to a part of Army culture to which they wouldn’t normally be exposed. I think it’s a good thing when a civilian can spot a Soldier and greet him by rank or see a ribbon rack and have a better understanding of what those various awards indicate.
America’s Army is also clearly a good recruiting tool, though those I spoke with were very quick to point out that they go out of their way to minimize that aspect of it. Nothing in the game directs you to a recruiter or even encourages you to talk to one. The idea is that if you’re interested in some form of military service, AA just gives you a familiarity with the Army that might help you to choose that branch of service.
As a veteran, I’m much less worried about the game coming off as a recruitment tool. My time in the Army included some of the best parts of my life. I have a multitude of friends and colleagues I once served with and am still close with years after completing my enlistment. I also have been able to take advantage of a number of the fantastic benefits my State and our country affords veterans.
There are less obvious benefits, too. One of the most important is that I separated with skills and a resume into an industry that needed me badly. I’ve made a fantastic living thanks to the opportunities I was presented with through my time in the Army. I’m fine with trying to encourage more people to take advantage of those opportunities like I did, and while those supporting and building America’s Army are cautious about connecting those dots, I’m most definitely not.
I’m going to see what I can do about making contact with the Program Office responsible for the project and ensuring I have the chance to get the occasional update about the effort. I played America’s Army quite a bit when I was a young Soldier, and I’d be really interested to see what they can do with the new tools available in newer engines. In the wake of fairly limp offerings from games in the Battlefield and Call of Duty franchises, a really good non-arcade-like military game could do pretty well.
Just cross your fingers that it moves at a better pace than most government projects!