PMCs play dangerous game

By Luke Wilusz

As someone who follows the game industry fairly closely, I was surprised to realize that “Blackwater,” a game based on the private military company (PMCs), was released at the end of October, and that I hadn’t heard of it. It’s hard to look at this game as anything short of propaganda—according to the reviews and descriptions that I could find online, the game plays up the company’s mercenary soldiers as heroes valiantly protecting aid workers in a vague, unnamed Middle Eastern country while avoiding all traces of the numerous allegations of rape, murder and arms trafficking the company has faced in recent years.

While “Blackwater” has received generally negative reviews and is bound to be forgotten by the gaming community pretty quickly, the fact that the company—which rebranded itself as Xe Services in 2009 after a string of controversies dragged the Blackwater name into the press and the public consciousness—is marketing itself to a young demographic is troubling, to say the least. The game is rated “T,” which means that the Electronic Software Ratings Board has approved its content for players ages 13 and older. It seems like a cheap ploy to glamorize for-profit wars and PMCs in the eyes of a generation of gamers.

Military recruiting strategies aimed at teenagers have always bothered me. I’ve opposed militarism for as long as I can remember, and it always made me angry when I saw recruiters in my high school cafeteria trying to lure directionless adolescents into the military. The U.S. government faced similar criticism when it released the “America’s Army” video game in 2002. However, as much as I disagree with the practice of trying to entice kids to fight wars, I’d rather have the U.S. military employing these tactics than Xe.

As secretive and questionable as its practices may sometimes be, the U.S. military is still ultimately accountable to the American people. PMCs like Xe, on the other hand, are just large corporations with private armies, and that makes me incredibly uncomfortable. They don’t have to answer to anybody but their CEO, and they’re motivated by a paycheck rather than the best interests of the country. That kind of firepower in the hands of a corporation under very few real regulations is a terrifying combination.

Many video games tend to idealize war. This is nothing new. Most games on the market today star badass troops gunning down hordes of evil enemies and spouting clever one-liners, and they make millions. The fact that this trend would be exploited as a recruiting tool is not surprising. However, if it’s going to entice kids and teens into fighting wars, I’d rather see them become respectable troops than sociopathic guns for hire.