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Oct. 23 2009 - 10:20 am | 360 views | 2 recommendations | 14 comments

Military propaganda video game Halo 3 dominates market

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Gamers playing Halo 3 (Microsoft XBox Canada/Marketwire/Canadian Press)

Update: This article originally stated that Halo 3 has now sold more copies than the “Harry Potter series.” This refers to the Harry Potter video game series, and not the films.

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The September 2009 NPD video game sales report has just been released, and Halo 3: ODST was the big winner, pulling in over 1.5 million units sold and tripling its nearest competitor. Halo 3 is a dream recruiting tool for the military, a perfect amalgam of propaganda and entertainment that highlights all of the unrealistic, hyper-machismo badassery of Hollywood-style war, while completely whitewashing the moral relativism of real-world conflicts.

The Halo trilogy’s protagonist is the Master Chief, a cybernetically-enhanced human super-soldier (though in ODST, the game focuses on the soldiers known as Orbital Drop Shock Troopers or ODSTs). The Master Chief aids future humanity in battling the Covenant, a theocratic alliance of alien races. Like in most video games, the alien races are designed as the anti-human, horrible, amoral, disgusting beasts created for one purpose: to be destroyed. That’s just smart business. After all, a complex video game illustrating the complicated gray areas of morality that exist in war wouldn’t be as enjoyable to impressionable 12-year-old boys (the industry estimates claim that at least 20 percent of the players are between 12 and 16.)

In addition to presenting “the enemy” as an alien that needs to be crushed, the thoroughly creepy Halo 3: ODST trailer depicts war as a perpetual, cradle-to-grave event:

It’s no wonder Air Force and Army recruiters have attempted to capitalize on the games by cosponsoring Halo tournaments. In 2008, the US Army sponsored a series of “Basic Combat Training” mini-contests through Xbox Live. The first contest was entitled “Sniper School.”

Entertainment products like Halo 3 are ideal tools for the military because video games bypass those pesky legal barriers that make it illegal for the military to recruit minors. They’re a sort of pleasant version of the Ludovico technique in A Clockwork Orange, but instead of having their eyelids forced apart by metal prongs, the military’s audience is captivated by impressive graphics and the constant onslaught of violent imagery.

It’s a less overt, less controversial way to gain access to children than, say, slipping a provision into the No Child Left Behind Act that requires high schools to give recruiters the names and contact details of all juniors and seniors, which also happened in 2002 thanks to Republicans, and specifically, prostitute-enthusiast David Vitter.

Microsoft made $170 million on the first day of Halo 3’s release. It estimated 1 million players were online within 20 hours of the release, and Halo 3 has now sold more copies than the Harry Potter video game series. The Army has spent over a million dollars to sponsor the game precisely because they want access to that huge pool of bodies just waiting to be tossed into conflict zones.

It’s strange that Republicans are constantly paranoid that “The Gays” and “The Liberals” will recruit their children, and yet they don’t seem concerned that the military — an actual organization that actually wants to send their children into harm’s way — is actively infiltrating the entertainment market to brainwash and recruit susceptible youth.


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  1. collapse expand

    Your argument is quite similar to the one censors of old used against media that offended them. To write about a video game intelligently it is necessary to have actually played it, preferably all the way through. Obviously, you don’t play shooters and don’t care about them except insofar as they relate to your political ideas. You should not moralize about things you are ignorant of.

    • collapse expand

      I already fielded a similar response, but I think it’s important to stress that I’m not arguing video games cause people to become violent. In fact, I don’t believe that’s true (at all). I also fail to see why I need to play video games in order to understand that the military exploited the release of Halo 3 to recruit young Americans. That’s the reason the Army has spent over a million dollars to sponsor the game precisely, and why they frequently set up recruiting tables at the Halo events.

      I feel you may be responding angrily because you enjoy playing Halo, which is fine. In fact, I understand why you enjoy playing it. The graphics are awesome, the storyline compelling. Many smart computer programmers toiled for thousands of hours in order to make an interesting, fun game, so it’s understandable why you love to play it. However, that doesn’t somehow whitewash the fact that the Army obviously sees a marketing link between the Halo product and their military goals, which is why they’ve co-sponsored Halo events, and they have chosen to exploit that link.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Violence against video aliens is horrible.
        Violence against real women is just business as usual in Hollywood and hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil liberal J-school grads
        (Ex a&b:Letterman and Polanski)

        In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        A little bit of playtime might have helped purge some of the errors from the article you’ve authored. It certainly would have helped you uncover some of Goodman’s false claims. Not only were Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST’s development NOT sponsored or funded by the U.S. Army, there is also no mechanism in game to whisk players away to goarmy.com or any other website (not even our own).

        Goodman’s claims are false. Sad to see them regurgitated once again in support of what should be a slam dunk op-ed.

        Bungie and Microsoft Game Studios are not in the business of creating a “dream recruiting tool” or crafting a “constant onslaught of violent imagery.” That kind of hyperbole is as absurd as the claim that we’re producing propaganda aimed at recruiting minors into military service. Had you played the game, you’d know that our games not only explore the “complicated gray areas” you assume they do not, but you’d also recognize that they also place the player in control of the same “horrible, amoral, disgusting beasts” you fight against so they see the fictional conflict from both perspectives.

        But yeah, there’s a whole mess of badass explosions too.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    Allison,
    You wrote, “Halo 3 has now sold more copies than the Harry Potter series.” Did you mean the books or the video game? The books have sold over 400 million copies. According to strategyinformer.com, the Halo series has sold 27 million copies. The Harry Potter games weren’t that good. That is why they didn’t sell as well, for one thing.
    I think that kids who sit around all night playing Halo online aren’t generally the type who will join the armed forces. Especially when that means having to wake up before they usually go to bed.

  3. collapse expand

    Thanks for writing this Allison. Although I do agree that games such as Halo 3 are as you put it, “whitewashing the moral relativism of real-world conflicts”, I think your larger point is the one too focus on.

    Games similar to Halo 3 alone will not turn button happy geeks into tomorrows war-torn soldier, but this is a war of numbers. Sponsor enough events and get enough advertisements in the face of today’s youth and you will be able to draw out the vulnerable ones to your cause.

    Weems makes the point that most kids who play games are more like the kids in the picture used in the article. Agreed, but in a war of attrition, with a unlimited supply of funding, you will win. So by conceding that most kids won’t fall for the military’s hook, you must accept some will. That is what I would call being a good democrat. Emphasize the good, ignore the bad, and surrender in advance.

    All in all, this is a big problem for the day after tomorrow. Obviously, this is a attempt at early recruitment or influence of teens and is a perfect example of how hawkish and predatory the military recruitment industry has become.

    Games are games, but war is not a game. Using military funding to sponsor war games is beyond the phrase, morally unsound.

    • collapse expand

      Sponsor enough events and get enough advertisements in the face of today’s youth and you will be able to draw out the vulnerable ones to your cause.

      That’s exactly right. It’s not that video games make kids violent. They don’t. However, by depicting war as an awesome, badass event, a suspectible kid is more likely to walk over to a military recruiting table set up at a Halo event. That kid isn’t more violent than his non-video game playing peers, but he is more likely to talk to a military recruiter if only because that recruiter is strategically set up at a Halo event.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  4. collapse expand

    It is doubtful that the writer has played video games or knows many people who are active gamers based on your comments. Just because someone plays these games does not mean they are interested in joining the military, or for that matter, I would doubt most of them would even try and consider the implications or morality of war from Halo because they realize they are just playing a game. While many might find it fun to “blow some shit up” there is no evidence that video games make well adjusted people homicidal or desensitize them, that is for those that are already unstable.

    Using your statistics shows that 80% of players are of age and made the decision themselves to play the game. If someone younger is playing, that is usually the fault of a parent who can’t say no or be bothered to raise the kid. There are ratings systems for these games, you know, and tournaments do not allow children to play.

    This does show how out of touch the military is with youth as their endorsement is doubtful to influence the people at the tournaments or who play. Stating that the game is a great tool for recruiting is simply a scare tactic that Rush would be proud to spew on his show, if it were to make liberals look bad. Making paranoid statements is rather silly and over overdone in this case. Too many “intellectuals” think the poor stupid people of this world are oblivious to what is going on and need to be protected, lets face it…this is just a game that many people enjoy playing and there is no sinister plot unless made up by people who want to stir things up for political purpose.

    • collapse expand

      You’re correct that I don’t play video games, but I don’t think I need to in order to understand that the military exploited the release of Halo 3 to recruit young Americans. That’s the reason the Army has spent over a million dollars to sponsor the game, and why they frequently set up recruiting tables at the Halo events.

      I absolutely agree with you that just because someone plays a video game doesn’t mean that person is any more likely to be violent than a person who does not play video games. It’s actually very difficult to train a human being to kill another human being, which is why it takes so much hours of brainwashing even after an individual volunteers to serve in the military.

      However, that is not the argument I’m making in the article. This isn’t a “video games cause violence” piece. This is a “The Army is using Halo events to recruit” piece, a claim that not even the Army disputes. The Army obviously sees a marketing link between the Halo product and their military goals, which is why they’ve co-sponsored Halo events, and they have chosen to exploit that link.

      I think you may have misunderstood the point of the article because of the area where I discuss the dehumanizing of the enemy and the glorifying of violence, two elements of most war video games. However, the worst result of those elements, I believe, is that a player enjoys the “badassery” of a war game enough to consider hearing out a recruiting officer when he asks if the player would like to join the military. The player isn’t suddenly more capable of violence, or horrific behavior, but his defenses may be lowered enough to walk the 50 yards to an Army recruiting table set up at a Halo event.

      I believe Microsoft and the military are active partners simply because it’s smart business. When the military spends over a million dollars helping to promote your product, Microsoft stands to gain a lot from portraying military service, in general, in a very positive light.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  5. collapse expand

    I have been playing games since I first got a pong game in 77 and turned out ok (I guess) so I get a bit defensive when I perceive someone bashing gamers, so I apologize if I sounded too defensive…

    While I can understand your point, I think it is important to understand the people you are dealing with in a situation like this because you are giving more of an opinion than facts, other than that the military sponsors some Halo events. So while you do not need to play games, I would think you should at least show up at an event and talk to some players before claiming that they are looking to brainwash recruits. Don’t they have to get people from somewhere and shouldn’t we be glad they do?

    It seems a bit Orwellian to think that there is a big conspiracy to get some people converted at these events because they are more prone to becoming a killer, again, this game is designed and rated for those over 18 and not minors (though if 18 year olds are as dumb today as I was….). If you meet and talk to people who play, you might understand that Halo players would have the same percentage of people who will sign up for the military as the people at a PTA bake sale…unless you have some evidence otherwise…

    I think it is just the opposite of your assertion and the military is itching to advertise and spend the money from their budget but can’t find enough places willing to let them do it. Wouldn’t you find people at a HS football game just as jacked up and ready to join? Of course there would be uproar if they did…unless it was in the inner city but that is another topic. This just seems to be a way advertise in a place where it will not be too controversial but then turns out it is…. of course I could be wrong. Cheers.

  6. collapse expand

    This article is completely misinformed. I am upvoting it only so other people can see this too:

    The Halo Universe is perhaps one of the deepest analysis of moral relativism of any video game ever made. Indeed, that is why I love the story so much.

    The entire premise of the Halo story is moral relativism.

    Allison should seriously consider deleting this article to save face.

    When playing Halo, you are supposed be always be left asking “who are the good guys?”

    Lets examine this by exploring the 4 main groups in the Halo universe:

    * The Flood: A parasitic lifeform that wants to infect all sentient species, turning them into what are essentially zombies. When enough biomass has been accumulated by The Flood, it forms a compound-brain called the Gravemind – a collective consciousness of all those that are infected. Gravemind argues that The Flood it is the next step in evolution, and that being infected is the only way to live forever.

    –Ask yourself, are the Flood necessarily wrong for feeling they have evolutionary priority over all sentient species? If you say yes, then is that not in contradiction with the idea that humans deserve privilege over lesser evolved species such as animals and bacteria? What are we but bacteria to advanced bioforms like the flood? If you agree with arguments such as “oh, but bacteria aren’t conscious”, then how does that hold up to The Flood’s argument “oh, but humans don’t have a compound-mind”?–

    * The Forerunners: A space-faring civilization that became extinct 100,000 years ago when they sacrificed their entire species in order to eliminate The Flood from infecting all sentient life in the universe. They did this by activating “Halo”, a weapon capable of destroying all sentient life in a large proximity (most of the milky way galaxy).

    –Does this make them good because of their sacrifice? Or bad?–

    * The Covenant: An alliance of several alien species that share a religion based on artifacts left behind by The Forerunners, whom they hold in high regard for their great sacrifice. And now, since The Flood is once again spreading across the galaxy, the Covenant hierarchs wish to follow in The Forerunner’s steps and sacrifice themselves by once again activating Halo in order to save the universe from infection.

    –If you believed the Forerunners were good guys, then doesn’t that make the Covenant good as well? It’s kind of hard to tell who’s the good guy now, isn’t it?–

    * The Humans: Humanity is trying to stop the Covenant from activating Halo, even though this will risk allowing the infection to spread across the entire universe.

    –Does this make them good or bad? Is there really a way to tell? By nature, people have a strong desire to side with the humans, but when the story is explored a bit more, one might realize that their philosophies and allegiances are in contradiction with each other. –

    This doesn’t even get into the philosophical differences that cause factions within the covenant, humans, and forerunners themselves.

    It is never really clear who the good guys are. At times, Humans ally with Covenant; other times, Humans even ally with the Flood. Everything is rife with uncertainty.

    However, one thing is certain: Allison only has a very superficial understanding of the Halo universe, and it’s very misguided.

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