The narrative largely follows Dr. Michael Macedonia, a Gulf War veteran turned military simulator (after failing to secure funding for a MMO startup). In essence it shows us the way in which MMO kinds of technology are being used by the US Military to train soldiers. Rather than using 3-D modeling to create fantasy worlds, they are using the modeling to create digitized versions of real places with which to train. Before operations, pilots will know what to look for, and will know what is out of place.
One moment very early on in the article that I found incredibly disturbing was the take that Macedonia seemed to have on Ender's Game. This is a truly fantastic book, and the author manages to give it an excellent one paragraph synopsis. I always viewed it as having a cautionary element, with a military willing to use children playing games for their own ends. To quote the author, in speaking on this topic to Macedonia: "He explains that it was a source of inspiration for lots of people in the militaary when it came out in the eighties. 'I've always been fascinated by what you could do with a six-year old,' Macedonia muses." I find this take-away from Ender's Game seriously disturbing, and I know from that moment on, personally, I looked at Macedonia with a huge element of revulsion.
"If you can play Nintendo, you can operate this." This seems to be the thing that the US Military is taking advantage of: a culture that is preprogrammed to be savvy with certain kinds of complicated controls and means of thought. While I don't personally think that it is likely that violent media CAUSE violent behavior, I do have a feeling that it lowers the threshold required to bridge into violent behavior. Again, another illuminating quote, talking about ROTCs lining up to play the game: "They're a little glassy-eyed and utterly delighted, just like you can imagine the children who followed the Pied Piper into the ocean might have been." It is also worth noting that the military itself has concluded that there is no direct correlation between videogames and an urge to kill, but they use these games as a means to teach HOW to do certain things properly. Knowledge can be disseminated. Quoting Col. Wardynski, from the article: "What a video game does, at heart, is teach you now, in the midst of utter chaos, to know what is important and what is not, and to act on that."
After the end of the cold war, the US Military, left as the sole military force of a superpower had to evolve into a force that could handle the new challenges of no singular enemy, but rather small, disparate groups who viewed the US as an enemy. This new military challenge couldn't be handled the same way that old forces were handled, on major battlefields. In this space, a new kind of military was needed, and a new soldier.
The new soldier of the future will be wired - with multiple network access, graphic overlays, lightweight computer which provides further assistance. In essence, it makes the soldier almost like a cross between two figures from movies: Predator and The Terminator. This isn't just providing info directly to the soldier, but back to command, for their knowledge as well.
THe military's use of games began with 1980's Battlezone (a 1st-person tank game), then Flight Simulator, and then Doom, to the Sims, and beyond. Doom was a flashpoint, where it seemed as though moving into games seriously began to be thought about by the military. America's Army follows in the vein of what these others were, but is geared to prepare people so that entering the US Army would be an experience that they might already be prepared for, from day one. (I somewhat wonder what it might mean for the US's ENEMIES to get and use this to prepare for the US Army as well, but from a 'know thy enemy' perspective...)
What really stands out to me is how the 'protaganists' of this story, as it were, evoke to me the kind of images of formerly nerdy children who never managed to find emotional maturity and became bitter man-childs. They seem angry at the world, smug and wallowing in privileges now, king of their new castles (Macedonia p204, Zyda p205). Games permeate their existence, but in a way that seems to suggest to me that they view the world as a game, rather than the world as a real play THAT CAN BE INFORMED by games. The distinction, to me, seems to be an important one.