Sunday, May 03, 2009
America's Army's Giant Waste of Money
The recent cuts to various military programs got me playing Monday morning quarterback. After all, what fun is living in a democracy if you don't explain how you would do everything better? So with the loss of the F-22 for the time being and other cutbacks, I started to think about other ways that the military could trim some fat. And then I remembered one of the more interesting uses of American taxpayer's money: America's Army.
Originally just a computer game, America's Army was created as a "global initiative to help with recruitment". It has always been a free download for any aspiring virtual soldier but has expanded in recent years to become available on other video game platforms.
The problem is two-fold: First, it cannot be an effective recruitment tool. Just as 99.99999999999% of the target audience is able to distinguish reality from games enough to know that shooting someone in real life is a bad idea, that same percentage of people are aware that a game about the army is different than actually joining up (for one thing, the respawn time in real life is much longer). In addition, the public perception of such a program is problematic. Not only is there the argument that taxpayer dollars should not be spent on game development, but there is also a backlash against the blurring of the line between violence in entertainment and actual violence.
The development of virtual training tools is a great idea, it is cost effective and inherently less risky than live training. So on that particular front, I cannot help but endorse spending money. In terms of using similar programs as recruitment tools, I think money could be put to better use in other areas though and the costs of maintaining the program has hurt the military's PR more than it has helped.