America’s Army: Proving Grounds, the game used as a recruitment tool by the United States government, is shutting down its servers after 20 years, on March 5. As reported by Vice and IGN, the game will be delisted on Steam and removed from the PSN store. Offline matches and private servers will work, but the game will no longer track stats or provide online matches.
America’s Army is a first-person shooter released in 2002 and developed and published by the U.S. Army. The game was mainly designed to encourage American citizens to join the United States military, and represented the United States’ government’s first major use of video games as a recruitment tool, as well as being a free-to-play game long before such a term became standard practice in the video game industry.
Since its inception, players have been able to download and play the Counter-Strike-esque game for free on PCs and consoles. America’s Army released in three major iterations throughout the years, updating content and gameplay for an audience of about 20 million players. Proving Ground was the latest version, released in 2013.
The America’s Army team said it will “shift our focus to other new and innovative ways to assist the Army with comms and recruitment,” and promised “future announcements” for the series, suggesting it will return in some fashion.
In 1999, after a recruiting shortfall in the U.S. Army, Col. Casey Wardynski had an idea. Kids were playing video games all the damn time. Why not meet them where they were and design a video game that reflected American military values. Developed internally by the Army, America’s Army launched three years later in 2002.
It was a wild success. After flagging throughout the 1990s, enthusiasm for the American military skyrocketed after 9/11. Wardynski’s video game hit the market at just the right time to capture that enthusiasm. It was a first person shooter similar to Counter-Strike or Rainbow Six with some additional rules that reflected military culture. Team killers, for example, were sent to the brig. Most importantly, it was free.
For a brief period, Wardynski was all over mainstream news. “It’s designed to give them an inside view on the very fundamentals of being a soldier, and it’s also designed to give them a sense of self-efficacy, that they can do it,” Wardynski told the Washington Post in 2005. “We want them to see that they can succeed in doing this. You don’t have to think what it would look like—you can see what it looks like.”
He was even interviewed on Fox News in 2007 after a man used skills he said he learned from America’s Army to save two people after a car accident. This interview generated what is probably the only positive video game coverage ever to air on the network.