I just ran across an article in Wired the other day about the Army’s new recruiting game:

The new PC title, Future Force Company Commander, or F2C2, is a nifty God-game that puts players in the driver’s seat of 18 systems at the heart of the military’s new net-centric warfare approach. The Army added the game to its recruiting tool kit last month as a high-tech follow-up to its successful America’s Army shooter.

Wired goes on to criticize the game, claiming that

But the gameplay is designed so it’s hard to lose: The equipment holds up awfully well and the enemy doesn’t learn from experience.

“They didn’t ask for hole punchers,” says Mark Long, co-CEO of Zombie, where the game was built under contract. “High tech has all kinds of low-tech vulnerabilities and they didn’t want the vulnerabilities programmed in.”

In a way, that sort of makes sense.  If the main purpose of the game is as a recruiting tool, then it must be seen as mainly rhetorical.  I do not mean rhetorical in any pejorative sense.  Rather, the game is rhetorical in that it is “Used for persuasive effect.”  It is also used as a tool to demonstrate or convey a vision of the future and an ideal scenario, as if to say, “If we have our way, this is what the future will look like, or, at least this is what we hope that it will look like.”  This reading of what the game is meant to accomplish is supported by the Army’s own description of the game:

Welcome to the battlefield of the future! F2C2 was created by Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) to help explain the Future Combat Systems (FCS) program to soldiers in an interactive environment. The game depicts the 18 FCS systems, all connected via the FCS System of Systems Common Operating Environment, supporting the 21st century soldier.

It is important that we understand what we are dealing with before we begin to critique.  There is a lot of bad information in the media these days, much of it written by so-called defense “experts” who should know better, about the past and future of military transformation and network-centric warfare.  Most of these accounts do not demonstrate an adequate understanding of what these terms really mean.  Instead, they often set up “straw men” versions of transformation and NCW which are easier to criticize but are also inaccurate.

It seems that we have a similar phenomenon happening in the case of F2C2.  If we judge the game as a serious training tool, then it is open to devastating critique.  How can we train our soldiers with games that provide no challenge?  However, the game is not meant to be a training tool.  It is meant as a recruiting tool, as a tool to articulate an ideal vision of the future.  In this sense it is rhetorical, a tool of persuasion.  Thus, the more appropriate question: Does the game succeed at articulating the FCS vision?  Is it persuasive?  At a more abstract or theoretical level, we could ask, What does it mean for a game to be persuasive?  What distinguishes persuasive games from non-persuasive games?  How and why have games come to be seen as tools of persuasion in the first place?

More information about the game can be found on the Zombie website, the company that designed the game.

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