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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 May 2006, 07:57 GMT 08:57 UK
War vets feature in US army game
By Alfred Hermida
Technology editor, BBC News website

Sergeant Zedwick and Major Amerine
Sergeant Zedwick and Major Amerine feature in the game
The US military is putting soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan into its video game in an attempt to put a human face on its operations overseas.

The soldiers' stories are part of a new version of America's Army, a game which is part of its recruitment strategy.

The US military denies that the project is a way of selling an unpopular war to the American public.

Instead the free game is designed to inspire young people by relating the real-life experiences of the troops.

"The majority of the public is not touched by the war," said Major Jason Amerine, who served in Afghanistan and is one of the nine soldiers appearing in the game.

"It is dangerous to have an army overseas fighting and for a public to become so disconnected that they don't realise that we are not automatons over there. We're real people," he told the BBC News website.

'Real heroes'

America's Army was first released in July 2002 and has gone on to become one of the top online games, with seven million registered players.

It taps into the popularity of military and war simulation titles among predominantly young men.

It shows we are not robots, that we're not trained killing machines. We're just people
Matt Zedwick, National Guardsman
It was developed by the Army to simulate combat and life in the military and reach young people for whom video games are a part of everyday life.

In the latest version of the game, called America's Army: Special Forces (Overmatch), the military is adding the experiences of nine soldiers who served in Afghanistan or Iraq.

The title has a so-called real heroes section when players can learn about the real-life troops.

In a virtual recruiting room, gamers can click on a soldier to hear them tell their story. They can also compare their achievements in the game to those of the GIs.

"It gets our stories out there about what the army is doing," said Sergeant Matt Zedwick, who served and was wounded during a tour of duty in Iraq in 2004.

"It is a good communications device to introduce people to what is really going on, rather than what you see on the news."

"It shows we are not robots, that we're not trained killing machines. We're just people," said the 25-year-old who is now studying graphic design at a college in Oregon.

Reaching the public

The US military sees America's Army as an information, rather than as a recruitment, tool.

America's Army screenshot
The game is designed to be as realistic as possible
The latest version was showcased at last week's E3 games expo in Los Angeles and is due to be released in the summer.

It comes at a time of growing unease in the US about the war in Iraq.

And last year, an official US government study warned that the military was falling behind in its effort to recruit troops for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the people involved in the title say there is no connection between the new game and America's troubles over its combat operations.

"We're not talking about the war, we're talking about people in the war," insisted Major Amerine, who served in Afghanistan in 2001 during the initial invasion.

"We are not attempting in any way to sell a war to the people, that has nothing to do with our agenda.

"We're trying to create awareness about the people doing the fighting, and that is a very apolitical agenda," said the major who now teaches at West Point.

Toy soldiers

America's Army figures
The figures are intended to be collector's items
As part of "real heroes" campaign, figures of the soldiers featured in the game are to go on sale.

The Army says these are not designed to be toys for children but items for collectors who wish to express their support for the troops.

Seeing themselves as little plastic soldiers is a strange experience for the troops involved.

"It is kinda funny and a little creepy. Unbelievable in a way," said Sergeant Zedwick.

"It is kind of funny to think there are going to be millions of people buying little dolls of you in the stores."


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