War is not a game

War is not a game. But impressionable kids may not be able to tell the difference if the U.S. military continues its esports recruitment.

The U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force have all launched esports teams and have been using popular video game streaming websites, such as Twitch, to drum up recruitment. Active and reserve personnel have been hopping online to stream themselves playing video games and, in the process, talk with viewers about a range of topics, including the opportunities afforded by military service. Recruit numbers have been down, and the military is turning to modern platforms to expand its reach.

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But the military’s esports teams quickly found themselves embroiled in controversy. Automated links would drop into the army’s Twitch chats that told viewers they could win a premium Xbox controller in a giveaway. But these links reportedly took viewers to a recruitment webpage with no reference to any contests or giveaways.

When one considers that a large portion of Twitch users are underage, primarily 13- to 17-year-old boys who may just want a nifty video game controller, and that military recruitment of people under 18 is illegal, what the military is doing raises numerous red flags.

What’s more, both the Army and Navy esports operations have been accused of violating some users’ freedom of speech rights after banning those who posted questions about war crimes committed by the United States. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Knight First Amendment Institute have both stated that these bans likely violate the First Amendment and should be reversed immediately.

Due to the controversy, the Army unceremoniously suspended its efforts to recruit via Twitch. Meanwhile, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., recently introduced an amendment to a House Appropriations bill that would ban the military from using video game streaming sites for recruitment, calling the strategy “irresponsible.”

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Whether the practice is ended voluntarily or by legislation, the military’s Twitch experiment should be shuttered for good. While military service is a noble and patriotic act, conflating that service with the bloody theatrics of violent video games is a recipe for disaster. Throw in phony giveaways, marketing to children and violations of the First Amendment, and it is clear the military should figure out a better way to modernize recruitment.

— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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