A surprisingly profound little book about the rise of the “military-entertainment complex” in the wake of America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Always on the lookout for capable recruits from diverse backgrounds, the military has long exerted a strong influence on the way the United States educates its young people and even on the way it measures that education: Standardized tests like the SAT and GED are just two major examples of metrics the military developed first to assess the capabilities of, respectively, officer material and recruits lacking a high school diploma. But with the rise of the all-volunteer Army since Vietnam, the military suddenly found itself on the outside of many school districts, looking in. In the late 1990s, the Army hit upon the idea of using relatively inexpensive-to-produce video games, resulting in the hugely popular multiplayer online simulation "America’s Army," to reach talented high schoolers where they lived (literally as well as virtually). The benefit of this approach was that it could both attract good candidates for the Army’s high-tech style of combat using realistic and exciting graphics and simultaneously train these young recruits in core Army values. Paradoxically, perhaps, the military now also uses video games to deal with the myriad mental and social problems—PTSD, suicidal tendencies, marital and family difficulties, etc.—that combat-tested veterans face when they return from war. In fact, Mead (English/Baruch College, CUNY) argues, “[t]he most important video game–related legacy of these wars may have nothing to do with preparing for war at all but be concerned with treating its aftermath.” An English professor may seem an odd fit for this material, but in other hands, the subject might have been treated more dryly. Mead’s approach, while remaining interesting throughout, is straightforward and no-nonsense.
Readers will learn something they didn’t realize it was important to know.