by Angela Lovell

Mar 11, 2010

War is not a video game.

My son recently returned home from school with a recruitment pamphlet for the Canadian Army, full of praise for the presentation they put on that day. Obviously the recruiters had done a really good job of getting the kids pretty excited, and my son rattled on ceaselessly about all the guns and equipment and how cool it all was. He even went so far as to suggest he might like to join the army himself, which at the time I didn’t take too seriously, knowing his extreme aversion to authority of any kind.
But wow, they really had done a good job. Maybe too good.
Something began to nag at me as my son turned on his X-Box and started blasting away at the virtual representations of soldiers and tanks with more than usual gusto. I picked up the pamphlet he had left on the table and that’s when it struck me. It looked exactly like one of the inserts that come with a video game case. It was even roughly the same size. That wouldn’t be a deliberate attempt to attract the attention of highly impressionable, 14 year olds, raised in the electronic age of video games and internet, would it? 
   Mobility.      Firepower.     Protection.                       

Those were the exciting, bold words on the cover. Inside the glossy, concertina-like pull out there were images of macho soldiers in their night vision goggles and Kevlar helmets, carrying their C7 A2 assault rifles, complete with laser aiming devices and optical sights. Armoured vehicles and tanks shared the pages with howitzers, described in every detail down to the rate of fire and size of projectile. Throughout there is a sense of high-tech adventure.
I am not going to get into any arguments about war or the validity or need for the military actions around the world that our country finds itself involved in. That’s a topic for another day.
But what I do have an issue with, as a parent, is the use of psychological tools to associate a deadly serious reality with a medium that kids are familiar with as a recreation, a game, as fun. Shooting at pixels on a screen is pretty harmless; the goal being to earn points in a game, but shooting at real people with real bullets could just as easily earn a ride home in a body bag. This material to me is expressly designed to blur that distinction in the minds of kids. That’s a pretty soft target (excuse the pun).
And if the Canadian Armed Forces website, a virtual world of flashy, rollover graphics, interactive modules, fast-paced action videos and synthesized electronic sounds wasn’t developed by a video game designer I’ll eat my hat. (Good job it’s wool not Kevlar).
Even in the small, rural community where I live the harsh reality of armed engagement has been felt first hand. I find it offensive that these small communities should be invaded by those intent on poaching yet more of our young people to potentially squander on foreign soil. I object to the fact that army recruiters are permitted to come into our schools and fill the fertile minds of our kids with images that lend a false glamour to what is a most unglamorous act.
Copyright2010, Angela Lovell.


  1. Despite that Noam Chomsky's "Manufacturing Consent" is directed at mass media, I don't see why it would not be equally applicable to the "draft propaganda".

    YouTube provides a nine part series where Prof. Chomsky is interviewed:

    You can find the movie or book at your library, buy the DVD at one of multiple retail outlets or you see it at

    Further to your comments about a video game, new recruits are already being trained to wage war from a protected area in front of computers (less body bags) to manage unmanned military vehicles by air, land and sea. See the Israeli efforts in existance and underway:

    "Wii All You Can Be? Why the Military Needs the Gaming Industry
    Hacking video-game controllers for America's robotic infantry? That's old news, says PM's senior tech editor in his biweekly trends column. Experts see the future of gaming hardware in Xbox controllers for flying UAVs, next-gen interfaces for unknown battlefields and, believe it or not, Wiimotes for basic training."

    or just Google (or use whatever search engine you feel most comfortable with) the terms "unmanned military vehicles training recruits".

  2. The american military invested a massive amount of money into developing its own video game for recruitment purposes and continues to invest in it. It is called America's Army and it is completely free, but the graphics and scale of the game are almost on par with a brand new retail war game. Regular army members are also encouraged to play the game so that they can chat with non-army members in-game online and to bond with them and tell them about how much they love the military.

    There is even a graphic novel based on it.

  3. Thanks again LaoziSailor
    You always find me such good information - I was aware of the US training with video games - see my comment also below.

    Hi NeonJelloEvangelist
    Again thanks for the comment.
    Using videos to train soldiers that have signed up is one thing, but in my opinion using games as a lure for kids is quite another.


  4. Angela,

    It occurs to me that you fear this method of propaganda by the government. Why?

    Do you fear the lure of the governments campaign will outweigh your efforts in parenting?

    Do you fear your child(ren) are incapable of making proper decisions?

    Do you fear your child(ren) will do something you don't approve of?

    Luck and blessings to you and yours.

  5. I will try my best to hold my, at times, fierce tongue, and give you a civil response. If the picture you posted was the pamphlet in question, then you yourself know nothing of the military (not a bad thing, just fact). The military (whether Canadian, American, Etc.) has been targeting younger souls for many years. Video games, in recent years, have been increasing in graphical realism, as well as their overall realism. As a direct result, they have copied military pamphlets, more than likely American military ones, as most shooters are American made (most, not all). So therefore, the military is NOT using your kids pass-time to pull him in, your kids pass-time is using realistic likenesses to draw him in their direction. Besides, if you do not want your child to join the military, just teach him the reasons you see as arguments against such a decision. Though you do need to realize that in the end, once he's 18 (or whatever age you can join the Canadian military) it's ultimately his choice as a person. But you are correct, War is not a game, and should be used when all other options have been exhausted. I hate that Americas heritage is one war after the other, like the roman fucking empire. It's kind of embarrassing to be an American.

  6. To both of the anonymous comments
    Firstly thank you both for commenting - it is important I think to provoke discussion about things.

    Anonymous One:
    I dislike all propaganda because there sem to be far too many people who do not recognise it as such. But no I do not fear any of the things you list in your comment.

    Anonymous Two:
    Thank you for your civility. You raise of course very valid points and no, I do not know a great deal about the military as you point out.
    I realise the symbiotic relationship between video game developers and the military (and many other things that marketers want to sell to young people).

    Youth have always and always will be a target for marketers and they will shamelessly both manipulate them into a craze or fad then use the same to keep them hooked or sell something else.

    At the moment it is video games that have the mainstream market and so that is what they use. I also detest the graphical representation of war in video games every bit as much as I do the real thing.

    And I agree that parenting is up to me and I do indeed give my children my own reasoned arguments against anything I do not believe in. I do believe children should be raised to think critically about he world around them so that they will be equipped to make their own decisions when they are old enough, and yes, quite possibly those decisions might go against my principles or beliefs. But I am also not trying to brainwash my kids into my own personal philosophies or I would be no better than the corporate or military marketers that are trying to do the same thing.

    Again I welcome comments and thank you.


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