America's Army: Fun & Games
Until recently, the serious games market was an abstract proposition. An obscure corner of the industry that seldom achieved more than preaching to the converted. However, while the average gamer has taken time catching up, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – an organisation in the United States Department of Defence and a think-tank of global importance – was discussing the medium’s potential back in the Eighties. Despite such long-standing government interest, it wasn’t until 1996 that General Charles C Krulak, Commandant of the US Marine Corps, issued a directive to “Improve military thinking and decision-making exercises” through the use of tactical simulators – war games to you.
Experiments ensued using id Software’s seminal shooter Doom as a focus. This led to Marine Doom, a fairly standard mod in which a fire team – consisting of a group leader, two riflemen, and one machine-gunner – are given the mission to destroy an enemy bunker. It was little more than an inquisitive experiment but displayed the obvious potential of games for military training. In early-2000, Lieutenant Colonel E Casey Wardynski took the idea of an online US Army game to the deputy chief of staff for personnel and the deputy assistant secretary for military manpower. The importance of this move cannot be overstated. Not only did it begin the creation of America’s Army, but also it single-handedly gave gaming a foothold, raising its profile in wider society. It took the old cliché that ‘games are not art, never will be, and are only for kids’, and cracked it open to reveal rivers of potential. Then came an unprecedented acknowledgement: the US Government started knocking on the doors of game developers to ask for help.
“The army came to ask us if we knew any teams that could make a videogame for a recruiting project,” says Epic Games’s Mike Capps, the lead designer, lead programmer and producer on the original America’s Army. Naturally, such an opportunity met with boundless enthusiasm. “We basically said ‘Ooh! Ooh! Us!’ and imaginations flew off the chart. We started with ridiculous ideas of grandeur. Thankfully, both sides understood what was needed for an army tool to become a successful game.”
“The army understood that to succeed the game had to be fun,” explains David Kozlowski, lead designer and producer on America’s Army: Special Forces. “The goal was not recruiting, but messaging. The army felt that the common perception about the army was about shooting and killing, but wanted to get across that there were over 200 job fields. They understood it had to be about shooting guns for people to play, but they wanted to emphasise the seven army values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honour, integrity and personal courage.”