America's Army: Proving Grounds is goin
g offline this year. Army Game Studio, the team at the United States Army that developed the free-to-play America's Army series for the last two decades, has announced that the game will be delisted and official servers will be shut down on May 5, 2022. No follow-up game has been revealed.
Client-side features like the game's level editor and play on private servers will be possible on PC, but the delisting on PSN will prevent console players from accessing any of the game's online services.
It's a quiet conclusion for the taxpayer-funded game that the US Army designed to recruit players who enjoy first-person shooters.
The brainchild of U.S. Army, Col. Casey Wardynski, part of America's Army's appeal was a more grounded sense of combat and emphasis on tactics. Friendly fire and other negative game behavior could get players thrown in the brig, and some mechanics were meant to evoke the mundanity and complexity of army life.
There's no definitive answer on if America's Army was pivotal in recruiting soldiers during the dawn of the War on Terror, but as Vice noted, a 2008 MIT study showed that the game concluded that "30 percent of all Americans age 16 to 24 had a more positive impression of the Army because of the game and, even more amazingly, the game had more impact on recruits than all other forms of Army advertising combined."
The ethics of using video games to recruit for military organizations remains controversial, especially among those critical of the United States military's practices over
the last two decades much of the twentieth century.
Is this the end of the US Army's game development studio, which operates out of Huntsville, AL? Probably not. A recent Army.mil article about Army Game Studio shows the team is working on a diverse array of projects aimed at education and recruitment.
The focus seems to be moving away from interactive shooters and more towards reliable tools that encourage prospective recruits to consider other kinds of careers in the armed forces.
America's Army: Proving Grounds' shutdown does strike a familiar chord for anyone who's watched a game with a dedicated community fade into the sunset. Development team members "Freeziepop" and "Soundy" joined players in lamenting the game's demise.
The game's effectiveness as a recruitment tool likely has faded since the early '00s, but its continued existence meant its developers found themselves fostering a community of players that expanded beyond members of the United States military.
So goes a strange artifact of game development history. Its tale is both a warning of how games can be used to propagandize, but also an early artifact of player interest in a niche game genre that would only grow over its lifespan.