Are video games turning against the U.S. Army?

Two new games challenge basic tenets of the American exceptionalism that the military is desperate to promote

Topics: Video Games, U.S. Military,

Are video games turning against the U.S. Army?Still from "Glorious Mission"

Within the Political-Military-Entertainment Complex (a.k.a. The Complex), there are all sorts of micro-disagreements over which wars to fight, which funding priorities to pursue, and which allies to make common cause with — but there is an embedded macro-assumption that is rarely ever discussed, much less questioned. It goes something like this: America will always be the Most Powerful Nation On Earth and in matters of war and peace, we are always the Good Guys and our opponents are always Bad Guys. No matter the news — no matter the evidence of other nations economically outpacing us, no matter the body bags of innocent civilians we pile up — this storyline persists as the dominant narrative in our media, our politics and our entertainment.

In the past, video game companies joined with other cultural industries to loyally promote these basic assumptions. Even those games that seemed to push the envelope by letting players be the Bad Guy still supported the basic story. As just one example, Modern Warfare 2 allows players to be on the terrorist side of an airport massacre — but only for purposes of helping the CIA infiltrate and terminate the terrorist group.

But if there was ever going to be a set of products forcing us to at least question that story, it was always going to be video games — an art form that has lately become an island of samizdat in a sea of establishment-serving propaganda. Two of the industry’s newest products exemplify the trend.

The first is called “Homefront,” which — not surprisingly — comes from John Milius, the director of the 1980s rogue classic, “Red Dawn,” and (appropriately!) the real-life inspiration for Walter Sobchack from “The Big Lebowski.” Milius’ game is not groundbreaking in its graphics or gameplay but in its portrayal of a post-imperial America bereft of power. The depiction is a direct affront the first half of The Complex’s assumption — that America is always The Most Powerful Nation On Earth. No doubt, that renders the game unpatriotic in the eyes of some or at least “disturbing,” as the New York Times claims. Why? Because, writes the Times, the game means “the inkling that America might not necessarily be the most important place in the world forever” may be “finally sinking into our national consciousness… no matter what the politicians say.”

The other new video game to challenge The Complex is called “Glorious Mission.” Developed jointly by a Chinese software company and the Chinese military, the game is “apparently modeled on the U.S. Army-made shooter ‘America’s Army,’” according to Wired magazine.

You Might Also Like

“But,” writes Wired, “there’s one key difference between the American and Chinese ‘shooters.’ Where the bad guys in ‘America’s Army’ are generic Middle Eastern or Central Asian insurgents and terrorists, the enemy in ‘Glorious Mission’ is apparently the U.S. military.”

Clearly, this is an assault on The Complex’s storyline that says the U.S. military must always be The Good Guy. To understand just how taboo that is, consider that “America’s Army” — the inspiration for “Glorious Mission” — is so intent on painting the U.S. military as The Good Guy that it makes players fighting each other “always perceive [that] they are in the U.S. Army.” In other words, in “America’s Army” no matter what team you are on, you always see yourself dressed as a U.S. soldier and shooting at evil foreign terrorists — even though opposing players controlling the “terrorists” you are shooting at see you as the terrorist and themselves as the U.S. soldiers.

That China is using the video game industry to turn that formula around on us should be no surprise. Quite frankly, we should stop mustering faux outrage/shock at this sort of thing, and start getting used to it, because it’s here to stay.

As a budget-strapped America tumbles down the same path of decay and diminished global status that other crumbling empires followed, the first part of The Complex’s storyline about U.S. supremacy will lose cultural traction because its narrative will cease to reflect the the real world. And as that decline accelerates, more and more ascendant countries will start to make cultural products that portray us in the same way our own cultural products have long portrayed the rest of the world. Think of it as the cultural version of what the CIA calls “blowback.”

If there’s any silver lining in this disturbing development, it’s that we will be exposed to video games, movies, television shows and other media products that show how the world perceives us. Yes, rather than continuing to exist only in a hermetically sealed self-assuring bubble of hyper-exceptionalist agitprop, we will be increasingly confronted with an alternate non-American perspective — one that forces us to gaze into a fun-house mirror. We can be afraid of the inevitable (and inevitably caricatured) distortions we see — or we can use the experience as an opportunity to finally start changing the underlying image in the reflection.

David Sirota
David Sirota is a senior writer for the International Business Times and the best-selling author of the books "Hostile Takeover," "The Uprising" and "Back to Our Future." E-mail him at, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>