ROOKE GLADSTONE: Last week, according to Wired magazine, a group of Army special forces troops staged a simulated assault in front of the L.A. Convention Center. It wasn't a preparedness drill for a potential terrorist attack. No, the troops were dispatched to promote the latest version of America's Army -- a video game designed as a recruitment tool available for free download at Go Army dot com. When the first version of the game came out a year and a half ago, we asked a member of the Army's target audience to give it a try. Marc Delgado of Harlem, New York -- one of WNYC's Radio Rookies, came back with this report.
MARC DELGADO: I graduated high school four months ago, so right now I'm approaching a crossroads, and things could be a little foggy. I'll bet the Army'd love to clear things up for me. I'm, I'm just not feeling the Army like that, but I'm willing to check out the game, to see if it changes my mind.
MAN: Now-- let's see what this is about, let's see, let's see.
MARC DELGADO: But the Army wasn't making it easy for me. [SPEAKING TO HIMSELF] It's loading up a little slow, brother. It's loading up a little slow. Don't worry about it. Don't worry about it.
MARC DELGADO: I tried for a few hours to load the game on my computer and couldn't, so I called WNYC computer expert Greg Madias -- and he couldn't get it to load either. I was getting tight! [TO HIMSELF] I want to play the game, man! How you gonna game-play man? I don't like this.
MARC DELGADO: Finally, after hours and hours of trying, we got the game to work!
GAME ANNOUNCER: Good morning, soldier, and welcome to the M16 Qualification Range. Today's task is to qualify with the M16 A2 rifle. [BIRDS SINGING UNDER] The conditions: You will be given 40 targets. [RIFLE FIRE] The standards: Out of 40 targets, you must hit and engage 23 targets in order to qualify as a marksman.
MARC DELGADO: In order to advance in America's Army, you have missions to complete as a soldier in training and tests to pass which include your accuracy with a gun-- [SHOUTED COMMANDS UNDER] speed through and obstacle course, and the dreaded Airborne test--
GROUP OF MEN: [SHOUTING] Airborne!
MARC DELGADO: -- where you have to parachute from thousands of feet in the air into a target circle.
MAN: [SHOUTING] Go!
MARC DELGADO: Each qualification board was 5 minutes. I played that game for 3 hours trying to qualify. So you know what that means. I had to try over and over and over again.
GAME ANNOUNCER: Welcome back to another day of qualification.
MARC DELGADO: So after many, many, many rounds-- [RAPID GUN FIRE] I got the hang of it and qualified.
GAME ANNOUNCER: Congratulations, soldier. You qualified as a marksman in the United States Army.
GAME ANNOUNCER: Make like a duck and waddle through that tunnel--
MARC DELGADO: There was the obstacle course--
GAME ANNOUNCER: -- you just gave hoohah a new meaning!
MARC DELGADO: [TO HIMSELF/MIMICKING] Ooohah ooh eeeing!
MARC DELGADO: --infantry training and getting to know the burners. In my 'hood that's what we call guns.
GAME ANNOUNCER:Today you will get to fire the M249 squad automatic weapon; the M203 40 mm grenade launcher, and you will get to throw the M67 frag grenade and the M83 smoke grenade.
MARC DELGADO: Sounds pretty hot, right? This is the hottest burner of them all.
GAME ANNOUNCER: This is the M249 saw, a 5.56 mm fully-automatic weapon; can be magazine or belt-fed; has a maximum effective range for a point target of 800 meters and a maximum effective range for an area target of 1000 meters.
MARC DELGADO: I got used to the guns after repeatedly using them. [GUN FIRE UP AND UNDER] Since this is an internet-based game, I played with people from other states as part of my unit, and I shot at people from places like California -- kind of like a East Coast, West Coast rivalry. [LOUD AND HEAVY GUN FIRE] I was having mad fun! [IMITATION BIRD WHOOPING SOUNDS] [GUN FIRE]
MARC DELGADO: [TO HIMSELF] Ohhhhh! But he shot me again?! [GUN FIRE] [LAUGHS] Yaaaaaa ha ha ha -- this game is hot! Whoooooooo. [LAUGHS]
MARC DELGADO: But it's just a game. I'm not all of a sudden motivated to join the Army. That's just me. So I asked my boy Dave if he thinks the video game is a smart move for recruiting.
DAVE: Me personally I would buy the game and disregard anything about recruiting, you feel me? Because the Army, that's not really, you know what I'm saying where I'm at. That's not where my head is at. I mean video games --you know what I'm saying -- it gets a little gimmicky and this -- I mean the Army - making a video game to recruit people, you know what I'm saying, that-- nah. Be I just ain't feeling that.
MARC DELGADO: Dave and I agree. Playing video games is playing video games. You leave it in the computer when you're tired of playing. But my other friend, Mike, feels the Army has the right idea.
MIKE: Just like - when you got a football game - you play the football game - then it gets you hyped -you want to go outside and play football - so I guess that would work the same way. They're playing on like a Navy Seal Game or a Military Game and then they'll get them hyped and they, and they might like it like that - and then they might want to join.
MARC DELGADO: Sergeant First Class Eric Vidal, a recruiting officer in Harlem, says the game is instilling the values of America's soldiers.
SERGEANT FIRST CLASS ERIC VIDAL: It's not just about killing, because in --during this game, if-- You have rules of engagements and rules of war. So if you go into a mission, your job is to complete the mission with the least amount of force possible. Now you could wind up in jail! So-- you know, you have those that go in there, and once they start firing up, they're going to find theirselves penalized and then they're going to have to start following the rules of engagement, the integrity, the values that we have, in order to prosper during the game.
MARC DELGADO: I, I don't know! If you give a teenager a video game with guns, he's going to shoot everything in sight! It's about busting shots!-- to see if the guy looks real when he's dying! If you don't bust first, [GUN FIRE UNDER] they're gonna bust you and you're gonna die! [HEAVIER GUNFIRE]
MARC DELGADO: While I was talking to Sgt. Vidal, I had to ask about the part of the game that bugged me the most.
MARC DELGADO: [WITH SGT VIDAL] The only part that I couldn't complete was the Airborne--
SERGEANT FIRST CLASS ERIC VIDAL: Airborne. [LAUGHS]
MARC DELGADO: -- the live jump. I, I didn't get it. I didn't know how to direct them to the circle. I just kept dropping.
SERGEANT FIRST CLASS ERIC VIDAL: The, the Airborne -- that's probably the best feature that we have right now -- it's because it's so hard to dominate like the real life experience is. Like when you're coming off the tower in, in the Airborne training, that is really the tower, and if you're ever in that situation, and you do go to Airborne training, you will see the trees just the way they are, you will see the tower just the way it is -- I mean they went to Fort Benning, Georgia; they shot the footage from all angles, and they tried to keep it true to life.
MARC DELGADO: That's what I'm scared of! It's so true to life. I died 15 times in the game, just trying to qualify! How could that encourage anyone? It's a really good game, and I play a lot of them. I will play the game again, without a doubt, but I was definitely not convinced to join the Army. And I have to say--: if enlisting in the U.S. Army is as hard as downloading and installing the game America's Army, then the military's got some serious problems. For On the Media, I'm Marc Delgado III. [THEME MUSIC]
BOB GARFIELD:That's it for this week's show. On the Media was directed by Katya Rogers and produced by Janeen Price, Megan Ryan and Tony Field, and edited-- by Brooke. Dylan Keefe is our technical director, and Rob Christiansen our engineer; we had help from Derek John, to whom we bid a fond farewell. Our webmaster is Amy Pearl.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Arun Rath is our senior producer and Dean Cappello our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. This is On the Media, from NPR. I'm Brooke Gladstone.