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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Vermont YouTube of the Day

The other day, we got a phone call about a military counter-recruitment protest at Algebars, the video gaming center on Church Street. The call came after the fact, so there wasn't much we could do about it.

But just now I was looking around on YouTube, and I think I found a video of the action.

This clip shows an Army recruiter demonstrating how to play a military video game. Looks like his audience is a bunch of teenage boys. Things start to get interesting when the protestors show up about six and a half minutes in.

They only appear for a couple minutes, but they seem to cause quite a stir. The owner definitely gets worked up.

After the protestors get kicked out, (minus the cameraperson, who must have been a plant), the recruiter calmly tells the kids not to get riled up about the disruption. "I deal with stuff like that on a daily basis," he says. "I come down to Church Street, I get called a murderer every other week."

He tells the kids that it's the protestors' right to object to his presentation, and that they can do it because people like him fight for their rights. Which sounds really magnanimous, and makes you feel for the guy.

But then he says... "Could I probably have taken them out? Maybe, maybe not. Who knows."

Wait, what?

Here's another interesting bit of dialogue. These guys are standing in a darkened room, diagrams of a machine gun, a human target silhoutte, and a soldier crouching to shoot displaying on the wall. They're listening to an Army recruiter tell them how to fire a gun.

One of the protestors says, "What do you guys think you're going to get by going to Iraq and killing people?"

The guy who responds, you can almost hear the "well duh," in his voice. He says, "We're not going to Iraq man, we're playing a game."

Here's the write-up of the event, from the Algebars website:

Vermont's Staff Sergeant Philip Thomas will be introducing the America's Army game as well as provide a realistic shooting experience with the America's Army Laser Shot system this Friday, June 22, from 7pm to approximately midnight. He'll teach participants how to fire an M4 Carbine and a 9mm pistol (obviously without ammunition) like a real soldier (NOTE: must be 16 years and older to handle the weapons).


June 26, 2007 at 04:21 PM in Vermont YouTube | Permalink


Wow. OK, until humanity is able to get beyond tribalism, get beyond brutal ambition, and ensure that basic resources necessary for survival are shared equally the world around, countries need armed forces to maintain their boundaries and security. If we Americans don't want a military draft, we need to accept the need for the armed forces to engage in recruitment activities.

That said, it's so sad that an Army recruiter has to appeal to the allure of firearms as, essentially, a sales technique. I'd say the video shows Sergeant Thomas engaging in "soft recruiting", using as leverage his audience's would-be curiosity about how professional soldiers use their weapons.

What's disappointing is the thought that our armed forces are recruiting soldiers by playing up (in this case, literally) the opportunity to use lethal force. My conclusion: Armed forces recruiters can't get enough people in Burlington solely by appealing to their patriotism or sense of civic duty.

Then there's the whole, "Could I probably have taken them out? Maybe, maybe not." What I hear is the voice of a young man who, despite his training, hasn't yet matured enough to deal with the opposition he admits he receives "on a daily basis". He may just be the very embodiment of the recruitment issue: Being mature is a liability to one's recruitability in our very left-wing city.

Posted by: Nato | Jun 26, 2007 11:57:21 PM

This is really interesting - being a gamer, i play these types of games fairly often, but one i do not play on principal are the America's Army games, which from all the reviews and word of mouth, are excellent games in the genre. Regardless, i'm a bit taken back by there use of what Nato called Soft recruiting; when you DL' the game they ask for information that will be sent to a recruiter, this of course is easily worked around by entering false info, but the majority of kids will more than likely put in their real info. It all seems quite underhanded...

On another side, the guy who said "We're not going to Iraq, we're playing a game" made me happy - this i feel is something that even still in our entertainment/fantasy soaked world many people just don't understand - kids today - people today, are so much more savvy when it comes to separating levels of reality from fantasy - advertising knows this and creates elaborate ads that include the viewer in the joke, reality television, though passe' at this point, was a new way of capturing the imagination of people... and yet still, there are people out there trying to connect violence and video games by a nice neat line, when the reality of it is much more complicated, with studies on either side some pointing to beneficial increases in problem solving and cooperative skills, others remain neutral, while some still point to violence. (albeit in those deemed already potentially violent or unstable).

I'd like to think that the majority if not all, of the kids in that room were there to play a game and to get in on a curiosity, a little real world immersion to aid in the illusion. Meanwhile, the recruiter gets his kicks, talks his big man talk, fills his quota or whatever, and afterwards the kids get to play their game. Though, I'm sure it's more complicated than that.

As far as the protesters, i say good for them - way to stand up and be heard.

Posted by: Tanner | Jun 27, 2007 10:09:06 AM

Nice points, Tanner. Like you, I'm unwilling to equate interest in video games, even inherently violent ones, with interest in actual violence. As you say (about Sergeant Thomas' presentation, but I'm borrowing it), it's more complicated than that. Even the AMA isn't currently willing to create a diagnosis for video game addition, let alone make a video-game-to-violence connection.

BTW, I made up the term "soft recruiting". I just wanted to distinguish what Sergeant Thomas was doing up in Algebars from what I imagine he would do in other gigs, i.e., walk up to young folks and ask them if they know how they're paying for college, if they've ever thought about a career in the armed forces, etc.

Posted by: Nato | Jun 28, 2007 12:41:13 AM

I was interested to see this post. I'm one of the owners of Algebars, the one Cathy Resmer (hi, Cathy, remember me?) describes as "definitely gets worked up". I realize this is a blog, so maybe you're not interested in the other side of the story. You've interviewed me before, so a phone call would have been great! Anyway, what you don't have on that video tape is the 20 minute discussion I had with the protestor, trying to explain that all of these kids had their parents' permission to be present, and that they were aware of the event. I would never let anyone under 18 participate without their parents' knowledge and permission and further, no one under 16 was allowed.

During that 20 minute conversation, I remained calm and was as reasonable with him as I could be. When I asked him to leave, and he said he would, I assumed that everything had been dealt with. I then heard him push his way into a private area, pushing into some of the kids. This is when I raised my voice.

I was later told, by the son of this man, that his parents are in the middle of a custody issue and that this was somehow connected. No idea how.

In any event, the kids who attended this event all play Americas Army, as they all play CounterStrike and Battlefield 2. They also attended a similar event at the recent Balloon Festival. Anyone got a post on that? :P

Posted by: Lauran | Jul 10, 2007 6:22:23 PM

I forgot one more thing. Just the other day a letter arrived at my desk. It was from the protestor. It says:

Dear Algebars,

I give my son, Name Withheld, permission to play all video games at Algebars.

The best to you,

Name Withheld


Posted by: Lauran | Jul 10, 2007 6:31:57 PM

Hi Lauran.
Thanks for chiming in. I usually let these videos stand alone, since that's how people encounter them on YouTube. I didn't try to contact the protestors, either. If I had had any doubt that this was Algebars, I definitely would have given you a call.

But I can see how you'd be upset, since the video is obviously one-sided.

I highlighted this video to point out that this was an innovative use of video and YouTube to document a local protest. Sorry if it seemed like I was slamming Algebars.

Thanks for the reminder that there are always two sides to every story.

Posted by: Cathy Resmer | Jul 11, 2007 6:50:59 AM

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