America's Army

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America's Army
File:AA4logobrand vert.png
Developer(s) United States Army
Publisher(s) United States Army
Engine Unreal Engine 3 (v4.0)
Platforms Windows
Linux/Mac OS X (dropped)[1]
Release date(s) Windows: July 4, 2002 (v1.0) June 17, 2009 (v3.0)(Open beta) August 29, 2013 (v4.0)
Genre(s) Tactical first-person shooter
Mode(s) Training and online multiplayer

America's Army is the name given to a game technology platform used to develop first person shooter (FPS) games published in 2002 by the U.S. Army. The game is branded as a strategic communication device, designed to allow young Americans to virtually explore the Army at their own pace and according to their interests to determine if soldiering matches their needs, interests and abilities. America's Army represents the first large-scale use of game technology by the U.S. government as a platform for strategic communication and the first use of game technology in support of U.S. Army recruiting.

The America's Army concept was conceived in 1999 by Colonel Casey Wardynski; the Army's Chief Economist and Professor at the United States Military Academy.[2] Wardynski envisioned "using computer game technology to provide the public a virtual Soldier experience that was engaging, informative and entertaining."[3] America's Army was managed by two other U.S. Army officers serving with Wardynski at the Office of Economic and Manpower Analysis (OEMA): Major Chris Chambers and Major Bret Wilson.

The Windows version 1.0, subtitled Recon, was first released on July 4, 2002. As of January 2014, there have been over 41 versions and updates released, including updates to America's Army: Proving Grounds which was released in August 2013. All versions have been developed on the Unreal Engine. The game is financed by the U.S. government and distributed by free download.

According to game historian Carrie McLeroy America's Army has "grown in ways its originators couldn't have imagined".[3] Dozens of government training and simulation applications using the America's Army platform have been developed to train and educate U.S. Army soldiers.[4] America's Army has also been used to deliver virtual soldiering experiences to participants at events, such as air shows, amusement parks, and sporting events around the country. The America's Army series has also been expanded to include versions for Xbox and Xbox 360, arcade, and mobile applications published through licensing arrangements.[5][6]


America's Army is multiplayer, a round based team tactical shooter game with the player acting as a soldier in the U.S. Army, with combat at squad-level with three fireteams. GameSpot admires the game's authenticity: It's pretty realistic— you take one or two shots and you go limp, you take one more and you're done.[2] Another game review describes America's Army as "the most realistic portrayal of weapons and combat of any game".[7]

America's Army

America's Army always promoted adherence to the U.S. Army's seven core values.[8] To this extent, the game's main ranking system, "Honor", is named after one.

America's Army also includes optional medical training designed to provide real-world information. In order to assume the role of combat life-saver in the game, players must pass a virtual medical training course based on actual training that soldiers receive with regard to evaluating and prioritizing casualties, controlling bleeding, recognizing and treating shock, and administering aid when victims are not breathing. Two America's Army players have reported using the training they received in-game to save lives in emergency situations;[9] one such account, by Paxton Galvanek, received national media attention.[10]

The game also allows players to train to drive the HMMWV and qualify to use the CROWS system allowing in game use of the Mk 19 grenade launcher and Browning M2. Training is also available for the Javelin missile as well as specialist training such as parachute training, which allows access to the Airborne missions, and Special Forces training which allows access to the Special Forces missions.

The round ends when one team completes the objective or eliminates the entire opposing team. In certain circumstances such as when both teams are eliminated or both sides have not completed their objectives when time runs out there will be a tie.

America's Army achieves a high realism level in terms of visual and acoustic representation of combat and firearm usage and mechanics[citation needed] but its critics have alleged that it fails to convey wartime conditions as accurately as it claims.[11] "If you are going to join the Army, you know the risk." says player Bart Koscinski. "In this game you might die eight times in 15 minutes. In real life people know what they are getting themselves into."[12]

America's Army 3

America's Army 3 (AA3) is a first-person shooter computer/video game and a sequel to the critically acclaimed game America’s Army. In comparison to its previous versions, AA3 was completely remade using Unreal Engine 3 and introduced a number of changes. Medical training was now compulsory, allowing all players to give basic IFAK treatment. While the original America's Army required the completion of training to play online, AA3 allowed you to jump into a game with limited capability, and training was required to unlock desired equipment and skills. Another new feature was melee combat in battle using the rifle butt, allowing for more stealthy close combat situations. America's Army 3 also removed jump, to eliminate the practice of unrealistic bunny hopping-type evasive manoeuvres.[citation needed] However players can still climb onto or hurdle over low obstacles. AA3 reorganized the fireteams that players were grouped into; the Designated Marksman was made a member of one of the fireteams instead of being a separate two-man shooter/spotter element as would be more fitting of a sniper team.

In June 2011, the U.S. Army released an update (AA 3.1) to the America’s Army 3 game that included two new multiplayer maps, Shantytown and Stronghold, and a number of new features including new gameplay for “Every Soldier a Sensor." The ES2 gameplay in AA3 brought awareness of the importance of every Soldier being observant on every mission. During AA3 gameplay, players were rewarded for observing and reporting back things that they came across during the mission that were suspicious or out-of-place. In December 2011, AA3.2 introduced a new inventory item, the M106 Fast Obscurant Grenade (FOG) into game-play. The release also provided a new game loader front end to easily create player accounts; view news, manuals, Personnel Jacket and player stats; launch a game server and link to the America’s Army website.

America's Army: Proving Grounds

America’s Army: Proving Grounds (AA:PG) is a first-person shooter computer/video game created using Unreal Engine 3, and is the most current game of the America’s Army FPS series. AA:PG was released in open beta on August 29, 2013. The game brings back many features from previous AA games and stresses small unit tactical maneuvers and training to reflect the current day U.S. Army. As with previous versions, AA:PG was designed with certain principles and ideals in mind including Army Values, Soldier’s Creed, teamwork, training and completing the objective. Gameplay scenarios included Battle Drill Exercises and Forward Line Operations. Battle Drill Exercises (BDX) are fast-paced and meant for small engagements of 6 vs. 6 players. BDX maps focus on the basic movements and maneuvers, allowing players to quickly learn how opposing forces play and adjust their strategy for future engagements. Forward Line Operations (FLO) are larger 12 vs. 12 mission-based exercises allowing players to use the skills learned in their Battle Drills to achieve success.

In AA:PG, players can use weapons new to the series such as the Remington 870 MCS shotgun and M14 EBR-RI Designated Marksman Rifle, in addition to weapons like the M9 pistol, M4/M4A1 and the M249 light machine gun which had been in previous AA games. Gameplay features include situational awareness for spotting the enemies, effects of weapon suppression, a supported fire system for steadying or resting weapons to help with aim, self aid where players can stabilize themselves, revival of incapacitated teammates, securing the enemy and a more advanced hardcore mode. The game also features updated versions of Hospital and Bridge, two maps that have been popular with AA fans.

Set in a fictional story line in the Republic of the Ostregals, players assume the role of an 11B Infantryman practicing combat maneuvers at Joint Training Center Griffin (aka The Proving Grounds), a MOUT (Military Operations on Urban Terrain) training environment quickly assembled using existing building infrastructure, Conex shipping containers and local materials. This training is crucial to the player’s success as part of the Long Range Combined Arms – Recon (LRCA-R) team, a full spectrum capable unit for doing special operations missions deep behind enemy lines.

America’s Army: Proving Grounds also debuts a new story line in a full digital comic series through IDW Publishing. The America’s Army Comics series,[13] available on the web and for mobile devices, unveils the story line that influences the plot for the game’s missions and maps and gives the player a better understanding of their assignment and the challenges they will face. In AA Comics, players learn the saga of American forces deployed to the Ostregal Islands, a tiny foreign nation in the middle of a chaotic conflict.

Development and release

America's Army

Box art for the original game

The game was developed by Colonel Wardynski who recognized that a video game might be helpful to the U.S. Army in the strategic communication efforts by providing more information to prospective soldiers and to help reduce the number of recruits who wash out during the nine weeks of basic training.[2] The effort proved successful as more than 13 million players have registered America’s Army accounts over the years, with more than 260 million hours played on the various titles.[14] One teenager was quoted saying the game "provides great information. This would probably spark an interest. I don't know how I would have found out so much some other way."[15]

With several thousand players online at any one time between 2001 and 2007, it ranked in the top 10 FPS (First Person Shooter) games played online during the period, as tracked by GameSpy.[16][not in citation given]

The America's Army developers licensed commercial game engine technology, specifically the Unreal game engine as the foundation for its game. It was the first game to feature Unreal Engine 2. America's Army is intended to give a positive impression of the U.S. Army. In the official Frequently Asked Questions page the developers confirmed in a statement that one of the reasons people outside the United States can play the game is "We want the whole world to know how great the U.S. Army is."

America's Army is the first well-known overt use of computer gaming for political aims. Chris Chambers, the former deputy director of development for America's Army, admits it is a recruitment tool,[17] and Chris Morris of CNN/Money states that "the Army readily admits [America's Army] is a propaganda device."[18] The game, considered by the U.S. Army to be a "cost-effective recruitment tool," aims to become part of youth culture's "consideration set" as confirmed by Army Deputy Chief of Personnel Timothy Maude in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.[19]

America's Army and its official webpage contain links to the "Go Army" recruitment website, another recruiting tool that, according to the Army Subcommittee Testimony from February 2000, has a higher chance of recruiting than "any other method of contact."[19] Guiding American players to the website is a major goal of the game and it was confirmed that twenty-eight percent of all visitors of America's Army's webpage click through to this recruitment site.[citation needed]

According to Colonel Wardynski, the game generated interest from other U.S. government agencies including the Secret Service resulting in the development of a training version for internal government use only.[20]

America's Army 2

On November 6, 2003, version 2.0 of America's Army was released, with the full title of America's Army: Special Forces. In a booklet produced by the MOVES Institute an article by Wagner James Au explains that "the Department of Defense want to double the number of Special Forces soldiers, so essential in Afghanistan and northern Iraq; consequently, orders trickled down the chain of command and found application in the current release of America's Army."[21]

As the game became more widely distributed, it generated additional media interest. In December 2003, The Boston Globe columnist said "... America's Army isn't just a time-wasting shoot-'em-up. It's full of accurate information about military training and tactics, intended to prepare a new generation of potential recruits. Amidst all the shouting drill sergeants and whistling bullets, some real education is going on. America's Army is a 'serious game,' part of a new wave of computer simulations that provide entertaining lessons about real world activities."[22]

After the game proved successful, the lack of the army's acknowledgment for the contribution by the U.S. Navy led to tension and political fights over the project.[23] Eventually, the project was withdrawn from the Naval Postgraduate School due to allegations of mismanagement in March 2004 and the development team was moved to two new locations.[11][24]

One month after taking over production, the army signed an exclusive long-term contract with Ubisoft to reach a wider and younger audience. America's Army: Rise of a Soldier, a different version of the game for Xbox was produced by Ubisoft in collaboration with the U.S. Army.[11] Despite a 10-year publishing deal, the control over all communication and advertising remains with the army.[25] The Xbox version was released in November, 2005. It was also due to be released on the PlayStation 2 but was later canceled.[26] A version of the game was also made for the mobile phone by Gameloft.

America's Army 3

File:America's Army 3 Trailer.ogv
America's Army 3 Trailer

It was announced in early 2008 that America's Army 3, would be released in "fall 2008". Due to technical issues and problems with software licenses the game release was delayed and rescheduled for "some time in 2009". America's Army 3 entered beta testing in late 2008[27] and was released on June 17, 2009. Despite America's Army 3 being an entirely new game created using the Unreal Engine 3, there were still a number of similarities between previous versions of America's Army including similar training exercises. AA3 put emphasis on graphical performance and on flexibility to cover a broader range of PCs, as well as decreased size for the full version of the software.[28][29] The game also featured fictional weapons for the enemy as opposed to the Soviet and Warsaw Pact based weapons used in the previous versions. Although the game had initial problems with online play it worked well offline. A hotfix was launched shortly after the game's release which addressed several problems with the authorization servers not being able to register that players had completed training. Five days after release, players were once again able to play online.

One day after the launch the civilian developers team contracted until game release were dismissed.[30][31] Responsibility for development of the game was passed on to the Army Game Studio, part of the AMRDEC Software Engineering Directorate at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. The Army Game Studio houses the development and management staff for the America's Army outreach products as well as numerous Military and Government applications.

America's Army: Proving Grounds

On August 28, 2012, the developers were taking suggestions for a new America's Army game, the fourth in the America's Army series. The game, which is called America’s Army: Proving Grounds,[32] was released in an Open Beta on Steam on August 29, 2013. During the Open Beta, the developers had been updating the game with new maps and features as the game evolved. The beta ended on October 1, 2015 with the full release of the game, introducing new features and a new look and feel.[33] America’s Army: Proving Grounds brings back many features from previous games, and stresses small unit tactical maneuvers and training that reflects the current day Army. The game includes a mission editor, a feature brought back from America's Army 2.

America's Army: Rise of a Soldier

America's Army: Rise of a Soldier was released for Xbox on November 2005. According to the press release, the game features "all the action-packed realism that players have come to expect from the America's Army game brand" and "offers the most true-to-life Army experience, allowing players to create a soldier and lead him through the excitement of an Army career".[34]

America's Army: Special Operations

In February 2007, Gameloft and the U.S. Army released America's Army: Special Operations for mobile phones. The game features two types of gameplay. Players can man an armored vehicle or serve as an infantryman. According to, "Gameloft does a great job with this game and the only fault one could find is that the game is too short. It isn't, really: you just won't realize how fast the hours of play have passed, as this game really gives the term 'action packed' a new meaning."[35][36]

Arcade game

The arcade version of America's Army was developed by Global VR and released on July 2007.[37] It is billed as a "realistic and engaging game centered on exciting training exercises and includes a significant amount of authentic Army videos".

America's Army: True Soldiers

America's Army: True Soldiers was released for the Xbox 360 on November 2007. It had both a single-player campaign and multiplayer features on Xbox Live. True Soldiers focused on the army's "core values" by incorporating gameplay based on mission accomplishment, teamwork, leadership, and rules of engagement.[38][39]

Real Heroes

The America's Army Real Heroes program, launched in September 2006, focused on specific soldiers who had been recognized for various acts. Described in an article from U.S. News & World Report, the idea of the Real Heroes program "is to tout ordinary people who, when thrust into danger, showed extraordinary courage"[40]

The Real Heroes program used videos, photo albums and blogs on the Real Heroes website to depict the lives of nine U.S. Army, Reserve and National Guard Soldiers featured in the program. Soldiers' likenesses and biographies were incorporated into the America's Army game and used to create action figures sold at retail stores and distributed at Army events.[citation needed] Additionally, those featured in the Real Heroes program made media appearances at America's Army events across the country such as the Virtual Army Experience, gaming competitions and Technology Education programs. On January 23, 2007, Real Hero Sergeant Tommy Rieman was recognized by President George W. Bush during his State of the Union address. President Bush affirmed "... and like so many other Americans who have volunteered to defend us, he has earned the respect and the gratitude of our country."[41]

America's Army Real Heroes
Name Award Tour Selection Date
LTC Jason Amerine Bronze Star w V Device OEF-A 2006
SGT Tommy Rieman Silver Star OIF 2006
SFC Gerald Wolford Silver Star OIF 2006
SGT Matthew Zedwick Silver Star OIF 2006
SPC Jason Mike Silver Star OIF 2007
SSG Timothy Nein Distinguished Service Cross OIF 2007
SFC Robert David Groff Bronze Star w V Device OIF 2008
SSG John Adams Bronze Star w V Device OIF 2008
SGT Monica Lin Brown Silver Star OEF 2009
  • Ranks are accurate as of the time of award.

Government applications

In 2005, the America's Army developers partnered with the Software Engineering Directorate and the Army's Aviation and Missile Research Development Engineering Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to manage the commercial game development process and use the America's Army platform to create government training and simulations. "America's Army has pushed to reuse the same elements for many purposes," said Colonel Wardynski, originator of the game, "We can build one soldier avatar and use it again and again. When we build something in America's Army, the U.S. government owns it completely ... and [it] can therefore be used for any application or use of the game. So costs keep going down. " After AA went live, requests started coming in to use the game for purposes other than recruiting, such as training.[42]

The partnership with SED, an army software lifecycle management center, allowed the development team to repurpose the commercial software to meet the needs of soldiers preparing for deployment. SED engineers developed customized applications used by many different Army and government organizations including the JFK Special Forces School and the army's Chemical School. They are used to provide training in use of rare equipment such as PackBot robots, CROWS, and Nuclear Biological Chemical Reconnaissance Vehicles.[citation needed]

Virtual Army Experience

The Virtual Army Experience (VAE) was a mobile U.S. Army simulator that launched in February 2007. The VAE, enclosed in a 10,000 sq ft inflatable dome, was displayed at public events across the U.S. such as NASCAR races and air shows and allowed participants to virtually experience aspects of soldiering. The core of VAE was the America's Army game reworked to provide a variety of scenarios. The VAE could be deployed in a single full scale rendition or split into two smaller versions enabling it to appear at separate events. During its lifetime, the VAE hosted over 130,000 participants at more than 100 events.[43]

Army Experience Center

From August 29, 2008 to July 31, 2010, the U.S. Army operated the Army Experience Center, a facility where visitors could virtually experience many aspects of army life. Located inside the Franklin Mills Mall in Philadelphia, the 14,500-square-foot (1,350 m2) facility featured a number of interactive simulations and online learning programs to inform visitors about army careers, training and educational opportunities.[44]

Pete Geren, Secretary of the Army, said "Potential recruits are afforded a unique opportunity through the Army Experience Center to learn what it means to be the best-led, best-trained and best-equipped Army in the world by allowing them to virtually experience multiple aspects of the Army."[45] The head of Army Recruiting Command, Major General Thomas Bostick, called the AEC "a learning laboratory" — but not just for those who are thinking of joining. "It's incumbent upon the American public to know about their Army," Bostick said.[46] In July 2010 the Army closed the center at the end of its two-year pilot program.[47]

Technology Education Program

Launched in 2007, the Technology Education Program provided real world applications of classroom learning that augmented the curriculum in academic areas including math, physical science, physics, chemistry, technology, computer science, art, animation, graphic design, social studies, anatomy, physiology and psychology. Army experts and Soldiers worked with students to teach them about robotics; optics; missiles; video games; and intellectual, emotional and physical development.[48][49]

In April 2008, Discovery Education featured America's Army in a live webinar in which over 1000 students and educators participated with AA game developers and software engineers.

America's Army comics

The America’s Army comics series allows readers to further explore the America’s Army universe and delve deep into the lives of Soldiers who are deployed or at home station. Readers learn about Soldiers and the missions they do, their values, jobs or Military Occupational Specialties (MOS), the high-tech equipment they use, and about the vast team of support on which they rely. The comics are free and available to read on browser or mobile device (iOS or Android) through the America’s Army website or through IDW publishing using comiXology, Apple iBooks, on the Nook, Kindle and others.

The AA comics tell the story of U.S. Soldiers deployed to a tiny foreign nation in the middle of a chaotic conflict. The description for the series reads “From the seemingly insignificant country of Czervenia, President-General Adzic and his army set upon a campaign of annihilation against the neighboring Republic of the Ostregals, setting in motion a mysterious plan that could change the course of world power forever. America's Army must create new experimental combat teams, forged together in secret Proving Grounds, and uncover the General's insidious plot before time runs out.”[50]


America's Army has been positively received, up until 2.8. GameSpot states "nothing beats going in and seeing what the Army really does...without actually having to do it"[2] It has a rating of 82 on Metacritic[51] In addition, it has been covered in thousands of media outlet stories around the world and has received many awards.

Presenting body Award Year
Computer Gaming World Magazine Editor's Choice award (4.5 out of 5 stars) 2002
Computer Games Magazine Best Use of Tax Dollars 2002
PC Gamer Magazine Best Value 2002
PC Gamer Magazine The Best Gaming moments of 2002 2002
IGN ActionVault Debut Game of the Year 2002
IGN ActionVault Biggest Surprise of the Year 2002
IGN ActionVault Multiplayer Game of the Year (Honorable Mention) 2002 Biggest Surprise on a PC 2002 Best Multiplayer Game (Runner Up) 2002 Nominated for Best Sound in a Game 2002 Best Action Game of E3 (Runner Up) 2002 Best First Person / Tactical Shooter 2002
Computer Gaming World Multiplayer Game of the Year (Nominated) 2002
Clan World Network Most Realistic Game of the Year 2002
Well-Rounded Best Game of E3 2003 2003
DoubleClick's Insight Awards Honorable Mention for Best Multi-Channel Marketing 2003
Academy for Interactive Arts & Sciences Finalist for 2003's First Person Action Game 2003
GameSpot Runner up for Best Multiplayer Game of the Year 2003 2003
CBS Online One of the Best Games of 2003 2003
GameSpy Best of 2003 – Best Value 2003
PC Gamer Runner Up for Best Value 2003
Computer Games Magazine Best Free Game 2004
Tom's Hardware The Best of E3America's Army: Special Forces - Most Dedicated Developers 2004
Digital Entertainment & Media Excellence Award (DEMX) Best Advergame of 2005 2005
Innovations in American Government Award Finalist 2006
M16 Copywriting and Text Gold Prize for demonstrating compelling and creative copy 2006
Event Design Magazine Awards Bronze Medal for Best Outdoor Consumer Environment (VAE) 2007
Guinness World Records Largest Traveling Game Simulator (VAE) 2009
Guinness World Records Largest Virtual Army 2009
Guinness World Records Most Downloaded War Game 2009
Guinness World Records Most Hours Spent Playing a Free Online Shooter 2009
Guinness World Records Earliest Military Website to Support a Video Game 2009
Strategic Horizons ThinkAbout Experience Stager of the Year - EXPY for America's Army and VAE 2009
North American Effie Awards Effie in Government/Institutional/ Recruitment & Brand Experience (VAE) 2009
Corporate Events Magazine Judges Choice Award for Best Road Show/Multi Venue Event (VAE) 2009
Jay Chiat Award for Strategic Excellence Bronze Award for Brand Experience & Innovative Design 2009

Academic references

America's Army has gained the interest of numerous professionals in the fields of business, economics, and social science. A partial list of published analyses includes:

Anthropologist Robertson Allen spent 2 years (2007–09) embedded with the America's Army game development team and researching the network of defense, government, and contracting institutions that make up the Army Game Project:


America's Army has been described as an extension of the military entertainment complex or so-called "militainment"[17] with criticism that it contributes to a militarization of society.[52] Because America's Army focuses on the technological aspect of war rather than the moral, it has been referred to as How We Fight, alluding to the U.S. government's series of films named Why We Fight, which supported the war effort for World War II.[53]

Media theorist David B. Nieborg criticized the game and noted that its mechanics are a careful blend of propaganda, advertising and education.[54] Use of the game by recruitment and training centers has been criticized and protested against, amongst others by the Veterans for Peace group.[55] Its use in schools as a recruiting tool aimed at children has also been criticized.[56][57]

See also


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