War Games at Work: Networks of Power and Production in the U.S. Army Video Game Project

Allen, Robertson Lee. War Games at Work Networks of Power in the U.S. Army Video Game Project. Diss. U of Washington, 2012.

This ethnography documents and explores the interconnections between the U.S. military, videogames, and cognitive labor by focusing on the production, marketing, and deployment of the official U.SArmy videogame, America's Army. The video game, now in its third iteration, has been available as downloadable freeware since 2002, and has contributed to a variety of other applied military technologies used by enlisted U.S. soldiers. Its chief objective, however, has continually been directed towards increasing the quantity and quality of Army recruits while retaining enlistees. My starting point is in the acknowledgment that the militarized relationships exemplified by America's Army call into question tacit ontological divisions between the virtual and the actual, work and play, education and entertainment, and war and game -- divisions that up to this point have helped humans make sense of the world and their place in it. I argue that the blurring of these divisions is yet another part of the evolution of biopolitical power. I follow three thematic threads in this development in biopower vis-a-vis military games, investigating how militarized connections to digital games alter how wars are fought, how enemies are imagined and created, and how both labor and entertainment are mobilized for the purposes of war. The trajectory of this ethnography moves from more historical and institutional foci towards the increasingly specific and personal. Chapter 1 introduces the Army Game Project, research methodology, and theoretical concepts. Chapter 2 contextualizes the Project by providing an oral and institutional history. Chapter 3 explains the rationale and logic of the Project, drawing primarily upon interview material with Colonel Casey Wardynski. Chapter 4 examines the fictional enemies of the game, contrasting them with "Real Heroes," actual soldiers held up as model citizens by the game. Chapter 5 visits the Virtual Army Experience and the Army Experience Center, two recruiting efforts implemented by the marketing agency Ignited. Chapter 6 explores the idea of "cognitive labor" in the military entertainment industry, in particular the situation of the America's Army video game designers. Chapter 7 reconnects each of these threads with the topics introduced in the opening chapter.

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