digital nation - life on the virtual frontier

Playing America's Army

The Army beat educators to using video games effectively for learning. James Paul Gee is a leading proponent of developing video games for education and a professor of literacy studies at Arizona State University. His most recent book is Good Video Games and Good Learning.

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  • The video game America's Army has 9.7 million registered users -- a number 15 times greater than the size of the regular U.S. Army.
  • It's been downloaded more than 42.6 million times, more than any other war game.
  • As of August 2008, registered users from over 60 countries have spent 230 million hours playing America's Army.
photo of America's Army video game screen

Twenty-eight-year-old Paxton Galvanek was driving down I-40 in North Carolina on November 23, 2007, when he witnessed an SUV lose control and roll over. His wife called 911, and he rushed to the scene. After pulling a passenger from the vehicle, he noticed the driver had lost two fingers in the wreck and was bleeding heavily. Galvanek helped the man apply pressure to the wound with a towel and instructed him to hold his hand above his head to staunch the flow of blood.

Galvanek had no formal medical training; instead, he relied on lessons he learned playing America's Army, a video game developed by the U.S. Army in 2002 as a PR and recruitment tool. Players receive virtual training as they progress through the game and perform missions as a U.S. soldier. The game's most popular feature is the online multi-player mode, where each team sees itself as U.S. soldiers or allies, while the other team appears as the enemy. The interface is renowned for its realistic portrayal of weapons and combat. Army recruiters distribute copies of the game for free at recruitment centers, and it's also available for download at no cost. It is one of many war games currently available, including Full Spectrum Warrior, another game funded by the Army. In all, the U.S. military has adopted 23 different video games for various purposes.

America's Army has drawn protests from some groups, including Iraq Veterans Against the War, who say it glamorizes war and aims recruiting at children as young as 13. Since March 2006, artist Joseph DeLappe has protested by logging into the game and holding his avatar still until it is killed. He then types into the game's chat feature the name, age, service branch and date of death of a service person who died in Iraq.


posted February 2, 2010

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