PLAYING DEAD: Ed Halter on how protest is entering the (video) game of war — plus, a brief history of video games and the Pentagon (Arthur, 2006)

Playing Dead

How protest is entering the (video) game of war

by Ed Halter

Illustration by Geoff McFetridge

Art direction by Yasmin Khan and Michael Worthington

Originally published in Arthur No. 23 (July 2006)

Like millions of others around the world, Joseph DeLappe spends multiple hours each week logged into online multiplayer games. His current game of choice is America’s Army, the squad-based tactical shooter produced and promoted by the real US Army as a tool for PR and recruitment efforts. America’s Army has been available for free download from since July 4, 2002, and in its three-plus years of existence has developed a devoted global following; if nothing else, it has successfully enhanced the Army’s brand by associating it with something engaging, cutting-edge and youth-friendly. Millions of users who might not otherwise have a personal connection to the American military have found one through playing the game: they’ve gone on missions based on realistic contemporary scenarios, learned to fight together using official Army protocol and rules of engagement, and even had the chance to play alongside real US soldiers, who signal their participation via exclusive insignia worn by their online characters. While deadly and chaotic wars in Iraq and Afghanistan fill the headlines and TV screens, with reports as intimately gruesome as HBO’s Baghdad ER, America’s Army has provided a counter-image of the military that is as idealized as a textbook, as thrilling as a Hollywood movie, and as addictive as any commercial video game around. It is a paradoxical media object, mirroring its eponymous nation’s own divided consciousness: a game that celebrates realism through a carefully constructed fantasy that omits more than it reveals. In America’s Army, characters don’t end up with brain damage, missing limbs or post-traumatic stress disorder, or have to deal with an administration that sent them to a war that most back home don’t support, and then slashed their veteran’s benefits to boot—because none of that would be any fun at all, compared to the high-adrenaline, deep-strategy game-time of make-believe battle.

DeLappe, however, chooses to play the game rather differently than most. His virtual warfighter—whom he has named “dead-in-iraq”—logs onto America’s Army and simply stands there and does nothing. DeLappe nevertheless takes part in the game in other ways. Drawing from publicly available rosters of US casualties in Iraq, DeLappe types out the names of killed servicemembers into the game’s text message chat window, entering one name per line. For example, during one of DeLappe’s missions of virtual conscientious objection, some fellow America’s Army players saw this appear in their text message scroll as they organized for battle:

[US Army] dead-in-iraq messaged: JONATHAN LEE GIFFOR, 20, MARINES, MAR 23, 2003

[US Army] dead-in-iraq messaged: JOSE ANGEL GARIBAY, 21, MARINES, MAR 23, 2003

[US Army] dead-in-iraq messaged: DAVID KEITH FRIBLEY, 26, MARINES, MAR 23, 2003

If his dead-in-iraq character gets killed in battle or is voted off the server by fellow gamers (a procedure typically employed with players who aren’t taking the game seriously and thereby inhibiting others), DeLappe logs back on at another time and continues where he left off. He started this text recitation in March 2006, and by the middle of May had typed out the names of over 350 war casualties. He’s inputting the names chronologically, from the first casualty onward, and intends to type out a complete naming of the military dead. DeLappe says he will continue this online memorial until there are no more names to memorialize—in other words, until the war stops producing American corpses in uniform (and at the time of writing this article, that means he has more than 2100 names to go). So DeLappe has found his own way to play America’s Army, creating an experience that owes less to Quake than it does to the Quakers.

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Get 'em while they're young



SAN JOSE, Calif – (July, 19, 2007) — GLOBAL VR today announced that it plans to unveil the latest addition to the company’s 2007 line-up of exciting titles, AMERICA’S ARMY. The AMERICA’s ARMY coin-operated game is based on the extremely popular AMERICA’S ARMY game brand which is developed by the U.S. Army and includes PC, console and cell phone games, and other branded properties. The “green label”, coin-operated AMERICA’S ARMY game is the result of a unique partnership between the U.S. Army and GLOBAL VR. The partnership which encompasses the development and manufacturing of an official U.S. Army game for the arcade market, will create a new communication channel with young Americans.

Working hand-in-hand with U.S. Army Subject Matter Experts and with the full cooperation of units of the U.S. Army, the coin-operated AMERICA’S ARMY is a realistic and engaging game centered on exciting training exercises, and includes a significant amount of authentic Army videos and other information designed to immerse the player in the Army culture.

AMERICA’S ARMY is an arcade style training game based on actual Army training exercises designed to challenge Soldiers to hone their skills. Players are rewarded for teamwork, proper use of the Rules of Engagement, accuracy, and target identification,” says Mike Kruse, GLOBAL VR Producer. “The game’s many marksmanship exercises are entirely target shooting challenges which makes this unique product appropriate for many location types that do not desire simulated combat games.” Mike went on to comment, “Being a veteran myself, I can honestly report that AMERICA’S ARMY is a highly authentic depiction of Army training exercises and the Army’s unique organizational culture…down to the drill sergeant who is constantly by your side to bring out the best performance from each player.”

AMERICA’S ARMY is designed for one or two players and consists of a series of eight training mini-games. Each game is designed with a dynamic difficulty system making the game easy for new recruits and more difficult for experienced players. Bonuses are also important as they reward players with extra experiences and point rewards for jobs well done. Leader boards for each mini-game add fuel to the competition, and give players incentives to beat the top score.

“We are so proud to be working directly with the U.S. Army on this project,” stated Jim DeRose GLOBAL VR President and CEO. “To have earned the Army’s confidence throughout the game’s development and delivered a coin-op game that fits the market needs of most video equipment operators is a huge accomplishment. We are convinced that the cabinet’s small footprint, outstanding graphics, “green label” rating, and value pricing will make the game a natural for all locations.”

For information about other GLOBAL VR products, please visit or contact your local GLOBAL VR distributor or sales representative.

About the America’s Army Brand

Launched in July 2002, the America’s Army game has become one of the most popular computer games in the world. America’s Army has penetrated popular culture and is one of the most recognizable game brands as a result of its unique inside perspective on the U.S. Army and exciting gameplay. As the game’s popularity continues to grow with each new release, the Army has expanded the brand through a variety of products to include console and wireless games, America’s Army merchandise such as t-shirts and action figures, as well as training applications for use within the military and government sectors. The America’s Army game for the PC can be found online at

About GLOBAL VR: Founded in 1998 and headquartered in San Jose, California, GLOBAL VR® is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of coin-operated video games based on home gaming technology. GLOBAL VR is able to leverage the successes of PC and console game developers and design games suitable for play in out-of-home locations. License agreements are in place with some of the world’s leading game publishers including Electronic Arts, Midway, Ubisoft, and Atari. These agreements provide GLOBAL VR rights to create coin-op versions of popular home games such as EA SPORTS™ PGA TOUR® GOLF, Underground, NASCAR, Blazing Angels, Beach Head and Operation Blockade. GLOBAL VR has recently entered the gaming industry where contracts are in place with Bally Gaming for development of video casino game entertainment. More information on GLOBAL VR can be found at

Via Boingboing.

(No word yet as to the alleged follow-up game where you play a quadriplegic vet trying to escape a rat-infested hospital. — JC)


Soldier Pleads Guilty to Going AWOL

Published: February 22, 2007
Filed at 1:09 p.m. ET

FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — A soldier who fled before his second deployment to Iraq pleaded guilty Thursday to desertion under a plea deal that will send him to military prison for less than a year.

”I quit the Army, I quit my unit, and I did not show up when I needed to,” Spc. Mark Wilkerson told a military judge during his sentencing hearing.

Wilkerson, 23, surrendered at Fort Hood in August — about a year and a half after failing to return from an approved two-week leave — saying he was tired of running and wanted to move forward with his life.

He told the judge Thursday that he packed his belongings at Fort Hood and put some in storage, then went home to Colorado Springs, Colo., for part of his leave. He didn’t say where he spent his time while he was absent without leave.

Before surrendering, he sought help from Cindy Sheehan’s protest camp in nearby Crawford, which helps educate soldiers about their rights as war resisters.

As part of his plea bargain, the judge will sentence Wilkerson to no more than 10 months in prison for desertion and missing troop movement, Wilkerson’s lawyer Michael J. Duncan said.

Relatives of Wilkerson testified on his behalf Thursday, and more witnesses were expected later in the afternoon at the sentencing. The prosecution didn’t call any witnesses.

Since his return, Wilkerson has worked in an office at the Central Texas Army post and has been allowed to leave after initially being confined to the post, although he was never in a cell, he said.

Wilkerson said he decided to go AWOL because his conscientious objector status was denied a month before his unit was to return to Iraq in early 2005. Wilkerson, who was 17 when he enlisted, has said his views on the war changed after he served in Iraq for a year beginning with the March 2003 invasion.

Two weeks ago at Fort Lewis, Wash., a judge declared a mistrial in the court-martial of an Army lieutenant who refused to deploy to Iraq. A new trial is set for next month for 1st Lt. Ehren Watada of Honolulu, who has said he refused to go because he believes the war is illegal.

Army medic Agustin Aguayo, who turned himself in last fall after fleeing before his second deployment to Iraq, is scheduled for trial next month in Germany.

How do de-militarize our schools: a case study

Los Angeles Times – 9:19 PM PST, February 18, 2007

Junior ROTC falters under fire

At L.A.’s Roosevelt High, teachers and students work to end the program, and its numbers are dropping.

By Sonia Nazario, Times Staff Writer

First Sgt. Otto Harrington — tall, muscular, his head cleanshaven — has soldiered through battles in Bosnia, Kuwait and Somalia. He has patrolled Korea’s DMZ.

None of that prepared him, though, for the attacks he has faced as senior teacher in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights, where students and teachers have launched a crusade against military recruiting and JROTC.

Harrington blames their campaign for cutting the number of cadets at Roosevelt by 43% in four years, from 286 to 162. Some teachers urge students not to sign up for JROTC, he said,and have worked to end involuntarily placement in the program.

“They seem to think I’m some evil, horrible soldier down here trying to sacrifice our kids to Iraq,” Harrington said in describing the increasing tensions on the Eastside campus.

The program’s critics see JROTC as a Trojan horse targeting students in low-income minority schools with high dropout rates. “We are a juicy target,” said Roosevelt social studies teacher Jorge Lopez.

At Roosevelt and other schools in the L.A. Unified School District, the anti-JROTC movement has helped drive a 24% drop in enrollment since 2003-04, Harrington and his critics said. The decline runs counter to enrollment nationwide, which grew 8% to 486,594 cadets between 2001 and 2006, fueled by a 57% jump in federal funding, according to the Department of Defense.

Roosevelt’s “Rough Rider Battalion” was once among JROTC’s finest, a powerhouse that routinely bested rivals in citywide competitions. In 1990, when the program had 400 cadets, the battalion’s girls’ drill team won the national championship.

JROTC students have uniforms and attend one cadet class each day, learning skills that include financial planning, map reading and how to give a PowerPoint presentation.

The Department of Defense-sponsored program, which is in 30 of L.A. Unified’s 61 high schools, also includes physical education, target practice and marching drills. JROTC participants have no obligation to join the military, but students who complete the program are entitled to higher starting pay if they enlist.

Roosevelt 11th-grader Jesse Flores said that as recently as his freshman year, students didn’t think less of kids for being in JROTC; some even stopped cadets to admire ribbons and medals pinned to their uniforms. “Now,” Jesse said, “everyone says JROTC is bad.”

Teacher opposition

Many teachers are openly hostile toward JROTC, Jesse said, and some wear T-shirts that say “A War Budget Leaves Every Child Behind.”

Arlene Inouye, a speech therapist formerly at Roosevelt, said she thinks anti-military advocacy by teachers is a counterbalance to a strong military presence on campus. She said she once counted 14 recruiters approaching lunchtime crowds of students in Roosevelt’s quad, handing out “Join the Army” book covers and promising adventure, travel and money for college.

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“So Much Fire to Roast Human Flesh”

With wars raging across the Middle East and prospects for peace dimming, the youth of America have wised up and are starting to stay away from military recruiters in droves. Said recruiters have retaliated with aggressive–and often criminal–tactics.

An eye-opening study issued this August by the Government Accountability Office reported that “allegations and service-identified incidents of recruiter wrongdoing” increased almost 50 percent between 2004 and 2005. Criminal violations more than doubled over the same period of time. Increasingly common tactics used by the nation’s 20,000 military recruiters range from lying about the financial benefits of service to threatening high school students with arrest if they back out of an enlistment process already underway. Military recruiters have also been assisting recruits in the falsification of documents to cover up conditions like autism, mental illness and serious drug problems that would bar them from service if reported. [See Endnotes below for more information.]

Musician Josephine Foster is joining forces with Bastet, our publishing imprint, to help give America’s kids and parents the tools they need to protect them from the depredations of the nation’s many unscrupulous military recruiters.

On August 29, we released So Much Fire to Roast Human Flesh, an 18-track, multi-artist compilation CD curated by Foster featuring exclusive contributions from some of the more outspoken members of the nation’s burgeoning psychedelic folk scene, including Devendra Banhart, Feathers, David Pajo and members of Espers and Spires That in the Sunset Rise. Musicians from earlier generations of the underground, such as Michael Hurley, Kath Bloom and Angels of Light, are also present.

All profits from sales of So Much Fire… will be distributed to specific counter-military recruitment and pacifist organizations and programs who effectively advise high school students and other Americans at risk of being taken advantage of by the military’s recruiters and omnipresent big-budget marketing campaigns.

“All of the musicians represented on So Much Fire… are American citizens,” said Josephine Foster. “Our voices join with many others across this land that freely question and openly oppose war. Hopefully we will raise a good sum of money to help fund the educational pacifist tasks these organizations do. They are dedicated to creating a positive counter to the rising tides of the war being waged. We hope to assist them in their efforts promoting peace and non-militarism in the United States.”

“I am deeply grateful to everyone involved in this gesture; from every musician, to Fred Tomaselli for use of his incredible painting as the cover art, to Jay Babcock and Laris Kreslins at Arthur Magazine who so enthusiastically took up this idea and worked to realize it. In the end, all of the labor was donated, including the manufacturing.”

The album’s title is taken from a line by the poet Apollinaire, who died from wounds he sustained while serving in World War I.

So Much Fire… is available for order from and, starting August 29, from record stores across North America.

Track listing:

THE CHERRY BLOSSOMS – “Dragonfly” (live)
MICHAEL HURLEY – “A Little Bit of Love for You”
MEG BAIRD – “Western Red Lily (Nunavut Diamond Dream)”
ANDREW BAR – “Don’t Trust That Man”
GOATGIRL – “President Combed His Hair”
DEVENDRA BANHART – “I Know Some Souls” (demo)
KATH BLOOM – “Baby Let It Come Down On Me”
CHARLIE NOTHING – “Fuck You and Your Stupid Wars”
DIANE CLUCK – “A Phoenix and Doves”
JOSEPHINE FOSTER – “Would You Pave the Road?”
ANGELS OF LIGHT – “Destroyer”
RACHEL MASON – “The War Clerk’s Lament”
PAJO – “War Is Dead”
MVEE – “Powderfinger”
KATHLEEN BAIRD – “Prayer for Silence”

Preview songs from the album at the “So Much Fire to Roast Human Flesh” mySpace page.

Cover artwork by Fred Tomaselli

Available now. $12US/14Can/17World postpaid.

If you would like to order a copy:

USA – $12 postpaid

Canada – $14 postpaid

World – $17 airmail

Order will not ship until check clears.
Send your order to:
Lime Publishing
13104 Colton Lane
Gaithersburg, MD 20878

Also available from better record stores.

RETAILERS: Order direct from Revolver.



Read the GAO report, “Military Recruiting: DOD and Services Need Better Data to Enhance Visibility over Recruiter Irregularities” here:

High school students, their parents and friends can learn more about their rights when confronted by recruiters at


Los Angeles Times

Amid War, Troops See Safety in Reenlisting

The military offers steady wages, housing and a health plan — benefits that many service members find scarce in civilian life.

By Faye Fiore
Times Staff Writer

May 21, 2006

TACOMA, Wash. — The first time Staff Sgt. Matthew Kruger came home from Iraq, he and his wife, Maggie, went straight into marriage counseling. The second time, she threatened to divorce him if he didn’t get out of the Army. The separations were tearing them apart. So in July, to save his seven-year marriage, Kruger quit the service.

Then he looked around the job market, and it didn’t take long to figure out that leaving the Army held its own perils. Nothing offered him the financial security of his military job — especially the generous health coverage for his wife and three small children.

And so, 29 years old and with no other place to turn, Kruger spent his first full day of freedom at a military processing center, signing up for four more years.

“We had nothing. We were scared,” Maggie said recently, struggling to keep their rambunctious children entertained in a pizza parlor outside the Ft. Lewis military base. “We suddenly realized there was no way to take the kids to the doctor or dentist for any little reason, as we had been used to.”

For Kruger, who returned to a war zone for his third tour in December, the danger of losing his family’s health insurance was more real and immediate than the danger of dying in combat.

At military installations around the country, other families cling to the modest but steady wages, the guaranteed housing allowance, the solid retirement plan and the health benefits of the armed forces.

Although the Army missed its recruitment goals last year, in part because of the Iraq war, retention continues at record levels. Reenlistments this year are running 20% above the Army’s goal, despite the long overseas deployments. Two out of three soldiers eligible to reenlist do so.

For many service members, it’s a matter of balancing risk: Within the military, multiple deployments are commonplace, and more than 2,400 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq and 18,000 have been wounded. Outside the military, 46 million people in the U.S. have no health insurance, and those who do pay increasingly higher prices for it.

“It used to be that General Motors had a health plan equally as generous as the military,” said Susan Hosek, a senior economist specializing in military benefits at Rand Corp., a nonpartisan think tank based in Santa Monica. “But GM has cut their benefits, while the military has maintained the level of benefits and even improved it. Being in the military is a risky occupation, but in other ways, it’s very secure.”

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The Oregonian

An Army of one wrong recruit

Autism – The signing of a disabled Portland man despite warnings reflects problems nationally for military enlistment
Sunday, May 07, 2006
The Oregonian

Jared Guinther is 18. Tall and lanky, he will graduate from Marshall High School in June. Girls think he’s cute, until they try to talk to him and he stammers or just stands there — silent.

Diagnosed with autism at age 3, Jared is polite but won’t talk to people unless they address him first. It’s hard for him to make friends. He lives in his own private world.

Jared didn’t know there was a war raging in Iraq until his parents told him last fall — shortly after a military recruiter stopped him outside a Southeast Portland strip mall and complimented him on his black Converse All Stars.

“When Jared first started talking about joining the Army, I thought, ‘Well, that isn’t going to happen,’ ” said Paul Guinther, Jared’s father. “I told my wife not to worry about it. They’re not going to take anybody in the service who’s autistic.”

But they did. Last month, Jared came home with papers showing that he not only had enlisted, but also had signed up for the Army’s most dangerous job: cavalry scout. He is scheduled to leave for basic training Aug. 16.

Officials are now investigating whether recruiters at the U.S. Army Recruiting Station in Southeast Portland improperly concealed Jared’s disability, which should have made him ineligible for service.

Jared’s story illustrates a growing national problem as the military faces increasing pressure to hit recruiting targets during an unpopular war.

Tracking by the Pentagon shows that complaints about recruiting improprieties are on pace to approach record highs set in 2003 and 2004. The active Army and the Reserve missed recruiting targets last year, and reports of recruiting abuses continue from across the country.

A family in Ohio reported that its mentally ill son was signed up, despite rules banning such enlistments and the fact that records about his illness were readily available.

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MTV News – Fat Joe, 3 Doors Down, Godsmack Speak Out About War In Iraq – JANUARY 22, 2003

As President Bush sends more and more troops to the Middle East for a potential military operation to oust Saddam Hussein, an increasing number of artists are speaking their minds. And it’s not just the usual suspects like Bono, Chuck D and Michael Stipe.

Some artists, like Fat Joe, don’t believe the Bush administration’s assertion that Iraq poses a threat to the U.S. “It’s all over oil,” the rapper insisted. “The president comes from an oil-driven family, [and Saddam Hussein] is the same guy who [his father] tried to kill when he was president. We entrust our president to not be biased and … not [have] personal beef. I think this is personal beef.”

Others argue that even if Saddam Hussein doesn’t pose an immediate threat, he eventually will, and the problem is better solved now than later.

“Unfortunately, there were some really bad things that happened [involving the Middle East], and I think if we don’t cut out the cancer while it’s still young, then it’s gonna grow to be this entity that we may not be able to defend ourselves against,” Godsmack frontman Sully Erna said, pulling a page from the quote book of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. “I applaud the government and President Bush for doing what they’re doing, and I think our military are some of the bravest souls, much braver than I could ever be.”

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