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To Gain New Recruits, U.S. Military Focuses on Video Gaming Teens

The US Army Esports team playing Call of Duty at an event in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in January 2020. US Army Esports/Facebook
The US Army Esports team playing Call of Duty at an event in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in January 2020. US Army Esports/Facebook

In a new report, the United States Military is increasing its efforts to meet young people who spend their time online and on their electronic devices. The latest effort comes as recent reports reveal that every branch of the American military is struggling to meet its yearly recruiting goals.

As part of its efforts to gain recruits, military recruiters have been active at gatherings and events like the San Antonio car show and comic convention in Texas, where branches like the Air Force hope to find the next generation of real-life warriors. At these events, the Air Force has set up attractions like a 70-foot trailer filled with touch-screen games and F-35 fighter jet simulators, hoping to generate a large amount of foot traffic. Regarding the price of admission for these online simulations, recruiters have asked individuals to provide their contact and demographic information.

According to reports from military officials, the games try to reflect real-life skills like diffusing an explosive device. Top military recruiting officials state the Pentagon’s push to reach younger Americans is nothing new, with market expansion creating new recruitment opportunities. Branches like the Air Force have spent most of their recruitment projects, releasing several free games on the app stores and their official website like “Command the Stack” aimed at 13-year-olds, augmenting a reality mission simulator that uses actual satellite scans. Many of these games are prompted primarily through targeted online advertising through spaces like Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, and other sites.

For several months now, Air Force and Army recruiters have had difficulty recruiting young Americans into the army because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the issue of young Americans not meeting the military’s qualifications. Many young Americans are overweight, contain a criminal record, lack high school education, or do not meet any other type of requirements. In the late 1990s, around 40 percent of Americans had a parent who had served in the armed forces, something entirely opposite today.

Another major contributing factor to the lack of military recruitment is the current attitude among politicians and many young Americans towards the military and U.S. foreign policy. In April, a viral Tik-Tok video showed Ball State University students mocking a mass email from Army recruiters. Some of the Pentagon’s gaming initiatives in recruiting have drawn high-profile critics from gamers and politicians. In Congress, progressive democratic representatives like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, herself a gamer, proposed an amendment to block recruitment practices, trying to kill the Army and Navy’s e-sports live streaming and online Twitch competitions.

Currently, young Americans on Twitch and other online gaming platforms face banner ads linking to military recruitment sign-up forms for children as young as 12 years old. Some service branches, like the U.S. Marine Corps, think online video game recruitment is an innovative idea, with current and former officers arguing that video games trivialize war and death. These officials note that online games do not fully represent the devastating effects of war that will be devastating for many young people choosing to go into the army.

While others argue that video games are too realistic and desensitize young people to violence, military recruiters point out that there is a bevy of requirements for actual enlistments and that playing a video game is different from actively recruiting. The recruitment officers have made it clear that the Armed Forces will not take in anyone under the age of 17 and want to inspire Americans through diverse ways that they can serve their country. Reports on the ground at these conventions have struck a chord among many college and high school students who consider the Air Force or military their first or second career plan.

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