It’s not news that you can get a plastic gun to play a video game where you get to shoot other human beings. It is news that you can get gun controllers that exist with the blessing of the U.S. Army.
Today, we learned that accessories maker CTA Digital will rolling out officially licensed U.S. Army video game products, including backpacks, headsets and rifle controllers. The Army-branded merchandise can be seen on this product page. Digital camouflage patterns like ones seen on modern-day troops decorate CTA’s Elite Force Assault Rifle, perhaps to make it a bit easier to imagine that you’re taking out terrorist cells in geopolitical hot spots.
This intersection of real-life military and video games won’t please people who already think that video games exist to make war look cool. A certain brand of conspiracy theorist spends lots of time convincing themselves that first-person shooters are a sign of the apocalypse.
But, for a while there, that argument was mostly true, highlighted in the form of the America’s Army games that were designed to aid in Army marketing and recruitment. And it’s been well-documented how the military in Britain and the United States use game-like simulators to help train troops with simulators like Virtual BattleSpace 2.
Still, even when games developed by the Army were out in the wild, any fantasy that you might be a private engaging in training or conflicts was confined to the screen. There’s a bit of cognitive dissonance surrounding gaming peripherals designed to look like real guns, too. They’re made for use with Teen- and Mature-rated, hardcore gamer titles like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, but what they most resemble are toys. More importantly, gun controllers don’t necessarily make you any better at, say, SOCOM 4.
Games that use Sony’s Move controller for shooter gameplay — Killzone 3, for example — do so as an afterthought. Games that are being built natively for the Move, like fantasy adventure Sorcery, reside on the other end of the spectrum from military action games.
Now, products like these get marketed with a rider that says that licensing fees go towards U.S. Army Morale, Welfare, and Recreation programs. And, by themselves, CTA’s U.S. Army offerings aren’t blatant propaganda like last year’s Blackwater game. Nevertheless, it’s hard to avoid the thought that, at best, accessories like these are innocuous curiosities. At worst, they’re fetish objects for people who want these games to do more than entertain. And anyone buying a CTA U.S. Army controller may be in for the harshest disappointment of all: if they’re anything like previous attempts, they won’t be very good.