Forget about those brightly colored Uncle Sams with the catchy slogans. Nowadays, first-person shooter games like Call of Duty are the new propaganda posters--and they can reach a much larger audience. Some of these games are insidiously designed to make the US military, and war in general, seem attractive to their young target audience.
There's something immensely satisfying about video games, whether you're defeating aliens or trying to escape a zombie-ridden graveyard. The strategy and quick thinking is addictive; too alluring to resist. There's nothing wrong with enjoying this kind of experience, but that doesn't mean it can't become manipulative. While there's still much debate over whether or not violent games provoke real-life violent acts, there are some instances where it's clear that gamers are being pushed towards a glorified view of war and violent conflicts.
Historically, first-person shooters have been valuable media tools to the American military. Such games have been funded by the US Government to recruit and train potential applicants since the 1960s. But recently they've become much more than just tactical simulations. In 2002, America's Army was released, a free FPS game that made a "realistic" war experience available to any kid with a computer. The game's website has blatant Go Army links on it that lead right to official recruitment materials. There have been several sequels since the first one, and the US now boasts of other games that recruit for the Army, Marines, and National Guard, respectively.
Other countries have done this, too--China and Russia have released their own FPS games that portray "the other side" as soldiers from opposing countries, who become nothing but cannon fodder. But it's the American military that has the most powerful footing in the video game industry, and tricks kids our age into thinking war is fun, simple, and above all, necessary. It's fine to simulate war, but connecting games like Call of Duty to the real military is extremely dangerous.
This isn't to say that all military games are propaganda, or that violent conflicts can never be tackled in virtual worlds. But it's incredible how much games that are intended for entertainment can shape how we think about war, and our country's role in it. These games are never-ending battles, offering no alternatives, gray areas, or peaceful compromises. The "enemy" of America, whoever it is this time, is just a faceless mass. The difference here is that playing a game doesn't require signing a contract--or putting yourself on a real battlefield. Lucky for us, we get to stop playing. Nobody gets that chance, however, in a real war.