Academic Papers


A Critical Analysis of Social and Emerging Media in the

United States Military Recruitment Process

Sarah Hardey

December 6th, 2011

Social media and other emerging media tools are being used to improve today’s military. The United States military uses various media methods to recruit and train new enlistees in the armed forces. These new methods are proving to be very successful and beneficial to the military.  Recruitment is not the only place that the military uses emerging media. Once new recruits enter the military, alternative media is used to train and equip Airmen, Marines, sailors, and soldiers. While there is a lot of criticism on this issue, emerging medias have a positive effect on the United States armed forces.In the past military recruiting consisted of offering recruiting incentives or men being drafted into the military to fight a war. When African-Americans were slaves in our country they were told they could gain their freedom if they served during a period of war. Other minorities, like Irish immigrants, were told they could become legal citizens if they served during war times. Recruiters have always and will always use popular trends to convince recruits they can become real men and make the ultimate sacrifice for their country, protect the nation and U.S. freedom, and so on. During times when the U.S. is not at war, many recruits were sons or daughters of military veterans. The want to join and serve in the military had been passed down to generation-to-generation of relatives that had served. A recruiter’s goal and job is to get recruits to join before they leave his/her office. They speak of dream jobs in the military, money for school after service, the proud feeling of achievement by serving your country, being a hero, etc.Within the last 200 years, the military has changed from a conscription recruiting (drafting) to voluntary recruiting due to protests agents the draft and President Nixon’s promise, during this presidential campaign 1968, to end the draft (Evens). An “Anti-Vietnam War Protest…[instrumentally wanted to end] the draft,” so on June 30, 1973 “the last American draftee entered the Army,” (Ensign, 5).  This new change in recruiting has made it very difficult for recruiters to recruit the desired goal of 225,000 volunteers per year. Because of voluntary recruiting the military had to find new ways to reach the public; before the Internet and other emerging medias evolved the military made advertisements. Ads could be found in magazines, heard on the radio, and seen on TV. Spike Lee, filmmaker, made TV ads for the Navy, which “depicted handsome young sailors working on or around ships…[jobs] that seemed both challenging and important,” which was wanting young men to join the Navy, (Ensign, 7).  More recently military groups have always established themselves a unique branch, but when the Army started their “Army Of One campaign, …[they stressed] it’s ‘warrior values’,” (Ensign, 11). Soon after came slogans like “soldiers put the mission first. Refuse to accept defeat. Never quite. Never leave behind a fellow American,” caught on and drew more attention to the military, (Ensign, 11). In 2003 advertisements, found in magazines like Time, People, and Sports Illustrated, explained the value of military service, the positive qualities, and valuable opportunities through the stories of a professional quarterback, a country singer, a dentist, and many more people who had served, (Ensign, 16).

Social media in today’s world can be found everywhere. Schools and businesses are two places where media has made a huge impact on what students are taught and how businesses are run. Schools use smart boards that look like white marker boards, which are hooked up to a computer to show students anything that can be viewed on the web. In some schools, students are given laptops that are connected to the schools private server to share homework, digital reading assignments, and to communicate with teachers outside of class. Learning to read is now a fun game for younger students who use tablets and computers that teach them how to sound out letters and words, how to spell and gain the confidence they need to read aloud; all of which is taught on a computer that shapes the learning process into a game to keep the kids focused and interested.

Twitter is becoming more and more useful in the classroom; it’s used as a tool to keep students connected to class discussions out side of class. In Iowa, English Teacher, Erin Olson, “[enhances] classroom discussion,” by tweeting with her students. Her “11th graders read aloud from a poem…” while doing so other students are “running commentary on their laptops,” (Gabriel). “Twitter and other microblogging platforms…[give] real-time digital streams [which] allow students to comment, pose questions (answered either by one another or the teacher), and shed inhibitions about voicing opinions,” (Gabriel).

Businesses have been using technology, including social media, to keep their company running smoothly, to advertise, communicate, and in some cases to hold meetings, (Dretzin and Rushkoff). Big and small companies use social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and many more to spread the word about their products, sales and clearances that are going on in store or online. Emerging media has made it possible for businesses around the world to sell their product online, send emails to prescribers, and promote their sites.

When talking about social media most think of Facebook and Twitter and other social sites. Other forms of social and emerging media are video games and TV shows. Looking back on the history of video games, the military has been involved from the beginning: “video games can be linked to the founding of computer science as a discipline in 1950s and 1960s at MIT – secured by the investment of US military funding,” (Hjorth, 19).  War “games [are] depictions of war [that] are not confined to the two-dimensional spaces for film and television. Video games create virtual world of action and combat that engage players as participants,” (Andersen and Kurti, 50). Games like America’s Army (2002) is a perfect of example of how the military is using new media to show a potential life as a soldier. “The primary…goals of the [game was] to support Army recruiting efforts, particularly of teenagers with high-tech aptitude and skills; raise the positive profile of the Army as an interest, high-skilled organization; and to promote the revival of military-civilian…contacts,” (Li, 8), the game was “also indented to counter criticisms…” about the Army, (Li, 50). “As the [gaming] generation expands and grow older, the likely effect of…recruiting and strategic communications projects as America’s Army (AA)…will rapidly grow,” which will lead to an “[increasing influence by] shaping the civilian-military public interest discourse potential in the gamespace,” (Li, 83). “Once in the game world the player becomes more skilled as he/she masters increasing levels of difficulty while overcoming threats and challenges…mastering the games space, the goal is to respond faster and more accurately in a changing set of complex stimuli,” (Andersen and Kurti, 50).

 “Clean War” is a new term that is defined as “a manner of presenting war that maximizes viewer alienation from the face of death in order to maximize the war’s capacity to be consumed,” (Stahl, 25), in other words fewer US soldiers get injured or killed while fighting a war; the same result of destroying the opposing side is still gained in this new type of fighting. After 9/11 some video games “[allowed] players …to do battle with familiar adversaries but also to become soldiers from the safety of their own homes, providing exposure along the way to the technological marvels of the U.S. military, (Schubart, Virchow, White-Stanley, and Thomas, 199). This gives many young Americans the opportunity to ‘test drive’ an idea, which seems to be a common trend for Americans today. They may not know what to do with their lives so they take a few personality tests, or take a few classes in college, or in this case play a video games to experience life as a soldier.

“Journalists showed a tendency to reduce war to a spectator sport…war took on the catharsis, glory, and identification common to the dramatics of sports,” (Stahl, 34). US military is doing their best to stay up-to-date with new trends and with what the public wants to see. “As…new high-tech military [becomes] more media savvy recruiters [soon] understood the compelling features of games such as…the heightened sense of realism, total immersion, and intense focus on destroying targets,” (Andersen and Kurti, 5). If they see military life as a positive atmosphere that broadcasts “coverage resembled [as a] play-by-play [announcement],”(Stahl, 34); how could someone not want to watch and see what happens next?  The US Army has the greatest budget for recruiting out of all the military branches and they spent about $12 million on AA, (Andersen and Kurti, 5). In 2002, 79% of American children played a computer and/or video games 8 hours per week, according to the National Institute of Media and the Family; these gamers were between the ages of 7-17, (Andersen and Kurti, 5). AA, released by the US Army, was a recruiting tool; AA is one of the “most authentic rendering of combat because real soldiers [helped to] create the synthespians…[it] is so realistic that the computer screen moves in time to the digital soldier’s breathing under fire,” (Andersen and Kurti, 51). It is also the most successful recruiting campaign since Uncle Sam’s ‘I Want You (1917) ads during World War I. By December 2006, nearly 8 million people had registered to play AA; it was created from a movie, The Last Starfighter (1984), directed by Nick Castle. The movie captured the story of a “teenager recruited by aliens to fight in an intergalactic war after getting a perfect score on his local arcade machine,” (Schubart, Virchow, White-Stanley, and Thomas, 203). Obviously the US Army is not recruiting gamers by the scores they have on AA, but it something to consider; those with good gaming skills and understanding of a virtual world are wanted in today’s military forces. SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALS, a game for Playstation, has helped promote and therefore recruit people, mainly gamers, for the Navy. The game has prominently displayed links to the Navy SEALS official site, where gamers can explore the idea of becoming a SEAL, what Navy SEALS are and what they do, and opportunities and careers, (Schubart, Virchow, White-Stanley, and Thomas, 213).

The Army has been trying new techniques using media to grab young people’s attention; one new way they are doing so it through Internet chat rooms. “The chat rooms are open each evening from 4-9pm EST. “[Where] Internet visitors are invited to express opinions as well as ask questions about Army service,” the site ( can receive 25,000 “hits” on a busy day, (Ensign, 12).  The Army has a Facebook page (The U.S. Army) and a Twitter account (@USArmy) to keep connected to followers, share information, posts a positive image of the Army, share heroic stories of soldiers, and much more. On the US Army Facebook page they post heroic images of soldiers in combat situations and fighting uniforms. On their wall they post links to their official sites and stories of soldiers over seas, veterans, Army families, and fundraisers that help support Army related causes. On Twitter, @USArmy posts similar links and stories that can be found on their Facebook wall as well as Army related events. With the growing want for everyone to be connected, all of US military branches have a Twitter account and a Facebook page. Like other corporations information is shared through posts, tweets, emails, and messages that is then passed one to the next person who then passes it on the next; if the information is interesting it can spread like wildfire.

“Video games are corrupting the youth!” One of the most commonly heard quotes from parents and the news that are agents War-like video games. Video games show violence and death, which is portrayed as a game, and young people don’t realize that real war is not a game! Death is a real thing. “Adolescence is a periods during which the self-image of a young person is very important…the individual is constantly focusing on the reaction of ‘significant other [(friends and family)],’ and [they] will try to adopt behavior…that [conforms] to the ideal style of the moment,” because video games can be an influence, (Brett and Specht, 29). This influence can then lead to our youth joining wars without really seeing the truth nor have a clear understanding of what war is really about, (Brett and Specht, 29). Because video games have becomes so life-like, teens and young adults that play them get lost in the game and soon they can no longer distinguish the differences between a virtual war and a realistic war. Video games have the ability to desensitize a person thinking about harming or killing another person, because in a game there is no remorse; it hasn’t put the player in any real danger and they shoot, kill, and then move on the next level, (Andersen and Kurti, 57). This experience is now common since the US military is fighting war; we are “killing at a distance with high tech weapons.” This kind of fighting is exactly what a war game is like, except soldiers are killing real targets and instead of getting extra points for killing the bad guys they are getting “confirmed kill” on their record; this can then lead to promotion in the military, (Andersen and Kurti, 57).

Are there long-term effects of those that play violence video games? Yes, studies have found “violent video game exposure may affect long-term attitudes toward violence,” and are “related to desensitization toward violence,” (Linton). Younger children who play violent video games tend to become more violent, but what about older teens and young adults? Aren’t they mature enough to know the difference between game and reality, good from bad?

Like most medias today, what is seen and heard isn’t always the truth. The US military shows the public what they want to see.  This doesn’t mean that every single person that enlists gets to become a sniper or general, or any other appealing job seen in a military advertisement. American youth seems to misunderstand and is so naïve about what military life is really about. Young people join because they are good at a war game, and then soon have the shock of their lives when they realize there is a feeling you get after you kill another human being, unlike a game simulation. Death is a real thing in the military, it’s something recruits must be comfortable with; it’s part of the lifestyle and nothing can really prepare enlistees for that. In Philadelphia, some recruiting stations have been transformed into free video gaming spots, where teens 13-years-old and up can play for free. There are still military recruiters around who are encouraged to talk to the young players and answer any questions they may have about the war (real or fantasy). Of course they cannot official recruit anyone under the age of 17, but parents don’t feel comfortable with their children playing war games with military recruiters around – which can easily influence a child to enlist.  There are also life-size game simulators, where players can sit in a grounded helicopter or humvee and destroy targets; the experience can seem very life like. “Shame! Shame! Shame! War is not a game,” protesters chanting this phrase; “protesters are accusing the army for blurring the lines between gaming and reality, virtual war and real war,” (Dretzin and Rushkoff). One protester, who is also a parent says, “there is no reset button,” once you play you start getting effected, the more you play the more likely you’ll want to enlist, if you enlist there is no turning back or shutting off the game because the war you are in is not a game it’s the real thing, (Dretzin and Rushkoff).

Life-Size Fight Simulator

Even with the difficulties the military has had with social media, they can become even more successful in the future. There are plenty of ways the military can turn the negatives of social media into positives. The military should have /stronger disclosers for every game they produce. When starting up a video game or completing the game they always have the title, other credits and some type of disclosure. Most games and movies let you fast forward or skip over all that so you start playing the game faster. What the military, and other producers of war games, should have is a bold discloser that cannot be skipped that has to be posted on the screen for gamers to read. But gamers may not read it and use this time for a bathroom or snack break and never really read it. To ensure this information is given to players, there should be audio of someone reading the discloser to help inform players that what they are playing is a game and not reality. Another solution, directed for the protesting parents that think video games caused their child to enlist, is to have recruiters clearly explain to those wanting to enlist that what they are playing in a war based game is not the same as what real war is like. In the PBS Frontline documentary young gamers were asked if they can distinguish the difference between the virtual world and the real world; all replied that they know that the video game is a game and in the real world, as a civilian, killing and other violent acts are not a norm, (Dretzin and Rushkoff).

The military is already starting to advance with social media at its side, to help recruit and train its members.  PBS Frontline’s documentary, Digital Nation, shows short clips of different medias and technology used to help train soldiers. In real-life settings soldiers have paintball gun and have to invade a space where innocent civilians and their target coexist. The soldiers have to shoot the simulated target without harming the innocent, (Dretzin and Rushkoff). This, along with Air Force un-manned flying drones, help soldiers and airmen prepare for war in a controlled and safe setting. PlayStation 3’s (PS3) were issued to the US Air Force. These video game consoles will help “build a supercomputer that will run Linux. It will be used for research, including the development of high-definition imaging systems for radar, and will [cut] cost,” (War Games). The US military is also using virtual worlds to help treat veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). There is one of the 40 treatment areas using this new type of therapy is at a VA hospital in Manhattan (Dretzin and Rushkoff). Dr. Michael Kramer, a clinical psychologist, says during the simulation a veteran’s posture will change and the doctors can see that the soldiers are being affected by what they are seeing in this virtual war. “…Over time their brain is telling them…this is uncomfortable, this is unpleasant, but it’s not a life-threatening situation…[the brain says] I can tone down the level of anxiety and stress…” because what they are seeing and hearing is not real and can not do any physical harm to them, (Dretzin and Rushkoff).

Knowledge of recruiting options will grow in the world because media is emerging into every field it can. More and more people are attached to their phones, computes, game consoles, tables, etc., getting sucked farther and father into the virtual world of social media and virtual worlds. The more people are playing war-like video games the more likely young players will be influenced to ask questions about the military and want to join the military. Predictions made by many game developers, military recruiters, and scientists say that gaming is not a bad thing, it is just new. Many people don’t like change and when they see something unfamiliar they lash out against it and make assumptions that it’s a bad thing. In reality, video games and war-like simulations are helping our military grow into a new generation of soldiers. Soldiers are no longer in harm’s way and are still getting the job done by protecting our nation and destroying the threats. Wars are being fought, that are based overseas, but soldiers don’t have to leave US soil; it’s still war but US soldiers are not dieing. More game rooms like The Army Experience Center in Philadelphia should be open to the public, but a few changes need to be made. Keeping it free will help bring in a young crowd but have teens 16 years old and younger have a parent/guardian sign them in before they can play. This will let parents have more control with exposing their children to war games in a recruiting area, instead of their child sneaking off to play without a parent’s consent. This will help protesting parents feel less threatened by the Army’s recruiting methods in video game room. Other military branches should follow Army’s lead as it reaches out to civilians in live chats online. This chat room is free and anonymous which allows civilians to ask honest questions about army life. Studies have shown that this kind of online chat brings in 11% of Army recruits, (Ensign, 9). The US Naval Special Warfare Command created it’s video game, SOCOM for Playstation, that has integrated links to Navy’s website and it also has a links that direct gamers to the Navy SEAL enlisting page, (Schubart, Virchow, White-Stanley, and Thomas, 213). If more branches of the military were to produce games they should try to do what the Navy did and have links throughout the game that players must go to get codes to level-up in the game as well as take gamers to the official site of a particular branch which will better inform players that could the lead to enlisting. The games could also integrate, in the game’s story line that the video game is a game, a game that may feel and sound real but does not give you real-life emotions or experiences as in a real war setting. This may help young teens and their parents better understand what joining the military is really about.

From the draft to volunteer recruits the military has adapted to what the society, as a whole, wants. The military, like many other fields, have integrated new medias to become stronger and be more valuable in the consumer’s eyes. All media has its pros and cons; in some cases, the cons win and in other the pros. Social media and gaming really are good advancements for the military. New medias have opened doors for people to learn more about the US military branches as well as open doors for the branches to reach out to the public. Video Games, Facebook, Twitter, and other medias are just a few new advances that help the public understand what the military has to offer and the positives of military opportunities and life. Protesters will still disagree with military video games but hopefully over time they will see the positives. Positives like the honor it is to serve and protect one’s country and family, the opportunities in life and careers that the military offers, growth in a person’s character to become more prepared, more focused, more driven to succeeded, and overall the satisfaction of joining a brotherhood that will never die.

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