Thursday, September 10, 2009

Lost In The Minefield

In last weekend's installment of On The Media, Bob Garfield spoke with one David Goodman, about an article he'd written for Mother Jones, Data Minefield. During the interview, Goodman asserts that one of the ways that the Army covertly reaches out to young people is through popular video games.

DAVID GOODMAN: Halo 3 is one of the most popular video games released several years ago. What is unknown is that the primary underwriter has been the U.S. Army.


The Army’s presence can be seen in the use of actual U.S. Army-provided graphics throughout the game. There are also links to the U.S. Army recruiting website,, which is, the Army tells me, probably its most effective recruiting tool.
On The Media: Transcript of "The Thousand-Yard Snare"
There is however, one problem with Goodman's assertions - they're incorrect. They struck me as strange when I heard the story on OTM, so I looked up a couple of friends of mine who work at Bungie, the development studio behind the Halo franchise (although the Halo games are owned by Microsoft) and asked them if they'd received either money or development help from the United States military. This is what my source told me, verbatim.
"The US Army did not provide Bungie with any graphics to be used in the Halo series of games.
The US Army did not provide Bungie with any funding for the development of the Halo series of games.
There are no links to any of the US Army's websites within the Halo series of games."
Also as part of the answer to my question, a snippet of an internal communication was shared with me, which is partially reproduced below (Emphasis mine.):
"He [Goodman] states that Halo was underwritten by the US Army and that they also provided graphics for us to use. He also says there are links in Halo 3 to, which leads me to believe that he is confusing the actual development of Halo 3 with Microsoft’s Halo 3 competition that was a promotional vehicle for the Army that they sponsored on Xbox Live last year (which we had no official involvement in)."
Based on this, I feel pretty confident in saying that there's a good reason why the Army's underwriting of Halo 3 was unknown - because it never happened.

I'm irked by this for a couple of reasons - one is the idea that the Army was sneaking things into Halo, presumably with Bungie's help, to sucker poor, unsuspecting teenagers into signing up for the Army, when they wouldn't have done so otherwise. Like I said, I have friends at Bungie (us Windy City expats have to have each others backs), and I was annoyed at the suggestion that Bungie would sell out its customers in that way. The second, and perhaps more important, is that Goodman is a journalist, and journalists have a responsibility to get things right. I was suspicious when I didn't see anything about the Army's supposed involvement in Halo 3 in "A Few Good Kids?" It turns out that in a different article "War Games: The Army's Teen Arsenal," Goodman makes the claim that the Army spent $1.3 million dollars "to sponsor the hit Xbox game Halo 3."

Goodman has an axe to grind here, and I suspect that this is interfering with his journalism. Had he bothered to get the facts, I think he would have been able to make his argument without taking pot shots at people who weren't involved. If you want to take the Army to task for targeting teens for recruitment efforts, fine. But that doesn't come with a blank check to claim that anyone who's involved with whatever the Army uses is also guilty. If the Army wants to sponsor an online video game competition, that's their business. It doesn't make the creators of the game accomplices, and it surely doesn't rise to the level of "underwriting."
Underwrite: 4 b : to guarantee financial support of <underwrite a project>
This isn't a secret. I obtained the information simply by asking. I think that Goodman should have been expected to do the same. The entire point behind journalism is to educate the public about things they don't already know. In order to do that, their information needs to be accurate.

(Mother Jones seems to have something against First Person Shooters in general, and Halo in particular. This piece, from 2007 seems to blame the game itself for the hateful nature of the juvenile trash talk that one often encounters in many online games. One link to the article is titled "The Magnificent Bigotry of the Halo Series," implying that the hatefulness is somehow baked into the game itself, despite the fact that it deals with the behavior of players and not content.)

1 comment:

twif said...

my first thought was, given the army actually does produce a recruitment game, why on earth would they need to sneak stuff into halo 3?

anyway, sounds like another "video games are evil" crank. i dislike such folk, as they tend to not know what the fuck they are talking about.