Pat Kane has an excellent article in the online Guardian about the links been the game industry and the US military, particularly about the Americas Army game and the database it is building up about its 6.3 million players. It doesnt know their names unless they tell it, but it does record everything they do.
This isnt the first such game – see Marine Doom for the US Marines own version. (Although this currently does not seem to be available through the MCMSO web page.)
Pat Kane focuses on the ethical questions – are children more likely to become soldiers, or to act violently, as result of ths game? Do we live in an increasingly militarised culture? My own view, looking with my own boys at the range of game titles on display in the High Street, is that this battle has long been lost. A large proportion of games are about violence and gore. (But then a large proportion of boys toys have always been guns, swords, model soldiers, etc. Whether we are more or less militarised than, say, Britain 100 years ago, is another issue entirely.)
However, the advantages of a recruitment game are enormous. Firstly, it ensures that actual recruits are pre-qualified. Depending on the realism of the game, they at least arrive in the army knowing more about what to expect. (Though I dont suppose the game involves getting cold and wet, or endless polishing…) Those who dont like what they see dont join the army, which saves the army the expensive process of weeding them out. Secondly, those who played conscientiously and well have already absorbed some of the basic training. Thirdly, if they register their names, the game will already have built up an assessment of their skills and weaknesses, which will help their instructors. So the post-game recruit starts with a big advantage over the recruit who knows little about the army, and the army gets someone who is more motivated, more realistic, and already part-trained. Pat Kane develops this argument at length in another post on his weblog: the US Army stores the game data and presumably finds some use for it. (Bear in mind that the US Army is having great difficulty recruiting.)
These advantages could be usefully applied to other professions – nursing, for instance, where there are fewer ethical concerns. The main problem is the financial investment; I cant see the British National Health Service paying out to develop a nursing game, even though it might pay off in the longer term, with a better quality of recruit. The police and fire services are other possibilities: anything where children might want to satisfy an interest in a future career. On the ther hand, whilst a work for Coca Cola game is financially more possible, I cant see anyone wanting to play it.
Links between the US military and the game industry, which Pat Kane explores at length in his article, are well known. but I hadnt realised that the US Army sponsored the Serious Games Summit.
I cant make up my mind if all of this is sinister or not. After all, where would we bloggers be without DARPA?