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America’s Army going dark after 20 years

Oft-criticized recruiting tool declared ‘mission success, time to withdraw’

title art for America’s Army: Proving Grounds Image: United States Army
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

America’s Army: Proving Grounds, the free-to-play first-person shooter developed and published by the United States Army, will shut down online features on May 5, the Army announced on Monday. The closure ends a 20-year run for an Army recruiting tool whose tone and purpose was frequently criticized.

America’s Army: Proving Grounds is currently available for PlayStation 4 on the PlayStation Network, and for Windows PC via Steam. The shutdown ends player stat-tracking and removes access to the game’s Play Online mode. Offline features are expected to function; the Windows version also had a mission editor and private server support. Those are expected to continue, the Army said.

The shutdown also means the end of the America’s Army website, and any login created to access features there. America’s Army: Proving Grounds was part of a public affairs mission designed to get a recruiting audience to create accounts and list their contact information in them. More than 13 million did so, according to reports at the time of Proving Grounds’ launch in August 2013.

“Thank you to everyone who played AA:PG, and thank you to those who still enjoy it,” the Army said on Monday. “While support and servers are still active, we encourage you to dive into matches with your battle buddies and continue the mission.”

America’s Army launched for Windows PC on July 4, 2002, before the war in Iraq and barely one year into the Afghanistan campaign, the Army’s longest-ever conflict. It was intended as a virtual experience, mainly targeting potential recruits and helping them understand if becoming a soldier fit their interests and abilities. America’s Army later branched into other applications, including a traveling booth that made appearances at sporting events, amusement parks, and similar locations.

Despite winning awards from gaming press early in its life cycle, the game was also criticized as a propaganda vessel and a cultural tool that furthered the militarization of American society. Others complained that the game inappropriately targeted teenagers or minor children, or trivialized the combat soldiers were seeing in Iraq and Afghanistan, as a kind of gamified event.

America’s Army: Proving Grounds launched in August 2013 for PS4 and Windows PC. In it, players completed missions and drills in the fictional nation of Czervenia. Developers included a user-friendly “normal mode” to lead players through the basic tasks soldiers would perform in a typical operation, and “hardcore mode” where players are responsible for a lot more of their own safety. Developers told Polygon in a 2013 preview that the game was focused on teamwork and completing objectives, rather than killing or eliminating enemies.

According to SteamCharts, the game’s concurrent-user average on Steam dipped below 200 in June 2021, and climbed above 220 in January. It last saw a peak concurrent user count above 1,000 in June 2017.

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