Shaun Henry, right, plays America’s Army during a tournament last month. Henry, 18, already interested in joining the military, said the game party hosted by an Army recruiter made a positive impression.

This is pathetic. I really don’t think hard-core gamers are going to be the best soldiers — even if they can hit a virtual target. But desperate times call for desperate measures. (Seattle Times):

…America’s Army [is] a computer “first-person shooter” game, in which players advance through the stages of soldierhood — drilling in basic training, taking target practice with an M-16, studying basic emergency medicine and, finally, going into combat.

It’s been such a hit that the Army has recently gone one step further with the game, organizing video-game parties around the country like this one in Woodinville, offering free game play, free “chow” and plenty of exposure to the Army’s recruitment tactics. Woodinville and Bellevue recruiters plan to repeat the events every three months.

…The Army makes no bones about the fact that it designed the game to attract a new generation of potential soldiers reared on ever-more-realistic video games. Information on joining the Army is a mouse-click away through an Internet link.

Since the Army released the game in July 2002, it has proved to be a low-cost advertising jackpot. The game has been downloaded more than 16 million times, and the Army estimates that nearly a third of all young people of prime recruitment age have been exposed to it.

Last month, Sgt. 1st Class Alvin Martin, one of two recruiters at the Army’s Woodinville office, rented a computer-gaming business called LanWerX for the tournament. The same day, recruiters hosted a parallel event at another LanWerX branch 12 miles away in Bellevue.

Martin put up fliers and made phone calls to offer free food and a day of free America’s Army gaming to any interested boy, girl, man or woman over age 13 — no commitments required. A khaki Humvee was parked outside.

Thirty-five players showed up in Woodinville to compete. The six winners then took on the winning team from the Bellevue tournament, via a high-speed Internet connection.

The video game America’s Army, seen onscreen at a recent Eastside tournament, is reaching a high percentage of young people, although it drew only mixed reviews from some local gamers.

Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding