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EGX: Major gaming event features army recruitment stall

Over this weekend, gamers from across the country are flooding into London to attend EGX 2019: the UK’s largest games industry event. It’s a huge show, full of spectacular corporate reveals, reams of indie games, speed run competitions, cosplay, playable betas and peaks at games about to hit the market. It’s a Shangri-La for gamers. However, nestled in amongst the Nintendo, Thermaltake and Polyfox stalls you’ll find a hideous black spot that does not belong.

Having had a great time at DSEI, we have the “Careers” mob from the Royal Navy.

Now, like the rest of the military, they’ve been having a hard time of it this past decade. The Royal Navy hit a recruitment and retention crisis in 2016/7 so severe that they could not use the £1 billion Destroyer HMS Dauntless out of port. They set a target to recruit 3,571 new sailors, But it only achieved 2,980. And of the combined aim of 1,237 new engineering ratings and officers, only 1,080 were recruited. One of their chief targets blame? Well according to Admiral Alan William John West, (Baron West of Spithead ooh la la), the culprit for the Nay’s woes? Low unemployment. In agreement with him was Flick Drummond, Portsmouth South MP who commented: “(…) in times of low unemployment they have to compete with other potential employers to attract young people”. So while the HMS Dauntless sits next to idle as a training ship, they got busy.

You see, the military survive on poor working-class lads and lasses who they offer escape to. Who’d want to sit working in a bar in Carlisle when you could be travelling to exotic locations? Why push Trolleys in Asda when you could pilot an AV-8B Harrier II? It’s just like the games kids, pew pew! So they’ve had a massive campaign to capture the dreams of “millennials” in a trite and vomit-inducing advertising campaign and rocked up to alongside Novatech and Portsmouth Uni. To show off their new VR and portable motion simulation rig, look, guys, don’t you want to play with VR? Judging by their spiel on the Royal Navy is currently short of Submariners. They promise you’ll “Travel the world. Make friends for life. Develop skills you never knew you had. And go places you never imagined.” I’ve played Barotrauma mate, you’re alright.

The Ministry of Defence has spent (as of Jan 2018) more £1.3 billion in the recruiting partnership with Capita since first signing the contract in March 2012. Near £175 million has been spent on the Royal Navy alone in it’s attempt to fill it’s 10% shortfall in recruitment. Capita tasked WCRS/Engine Group to make them relevant (Funnily enough, this is the same agency that does the Home Office). They’d built a Royal Navy campaign around roping teenage gamers and bored youth into technical roles, all while maintaining a traditional macho patter in their “He changes what he thinks is possible” campaign for the Royal Marines. Meanwhile, the Army taking a similar angle to populate it’s near 30% shortcomings pleading with “snow flakes” ‘selfie addicts’, ‘binge gamers’ and ‘phone zombies’. A youngster previously mocked for staying in playing video games will be “championed by the Service for his stamina”, according to the Soldier magazine. 

This is woefully removed from the reality of enlisting people so young. According to the British Medical Journal Paediatrics Open, younger recruits are more vulnerable to self-harm, suicide, substance abuse and combat trauma. They are also more likely to end up in front line combat: “(…) it is precisely child recruits from disadvantaged backgrounds who are at highest risk of adverse outcomes in the military”.

This state of affairs is utterly disgusting. Teenagers out to enjoy a weekend of gaming and pop culture should not be a subject to the slick marketing of those who would have them kill- or killed.

One in four UK army recruits is under the age of 18. The UK is the only country in Europe to recruit children with 15-year-olds allowed to begin the enlistment process, starting their training at the age of 16. The government doesn’t trust them to vote or even buy a knife but sign up to military? Sure, no problem. This is nothing more than taking advantage of people at a vulnerable age.

Let’s be clear, we’re not talking about some girl who has been with the cadets for years and can’t wait to serve her country or such. This is a slick full-on marketing campaign infecting what should be recreational space, pushing military service onto youth with flashy media and the promise of a life full of adventure.

Mind you, they are not alone, right there with them, seeking to capitalise on the dreams of gamers, is the National Crime Agency. They had their first appearance at EGX back in 2016 preaching an ideal career in combating cybercrime. That’s right, with their gaming skills and problem-solving capabilities folks on their way to play Yooka Laylee were sold a future in analytics. Like the Royal Navy, they have a profile problem and selling themselves to the youth is a significant part of their marketing campaign. Their aim this year is to promote “Cyber Choices” a Law Enforcement programme which aims to stop talented individuals from engaging, or further engaging, in cybercrime. In short, don’t hack, come work for us instead.

These branches of the government have no place recruiting anyone, let alone the young and impressionable at an entertainment expo. Their presence is the sick result of low recruitment and general disinterest from the youth who see through their lies. Instead, kids today are looking up and seeing a thousand possibilities in a fresh and creative industry. Thankfully, you’ve got folks like the Game Workers Union, Women Making Games and Lightforge Academy present to better show off the possibilities, to empower young and old gamers alike and to inspire the future architects of our dreams.

~Peter Ó Máille

Photo credit: PaulNUK, CC BY 2.0

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