[UPDATED: We now have Ubisoft's official statement:"Ubisoft is a leading publisher that strives to create the best entertainment experiences possible. Ubisoft worked with the U.S. Army to create America’s Army games for the Xbox and Xbox 360 in order to deliver a compelling experience for our customers. As we discussed with the Direct Action to Stop the War (DASW) organization, our games are created to meet a diverse range of interests and not to express or endorse any political view. We respect DASW's First Amendment rights, and would hope they also respect and recognize ours."]
Ryan Lockwood, a 24-year-old ex-U.S. Army soldier and member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, joined dozens of protesters outside game publisher Ubisoft's San Francisco office today to protest the publisher's involvement in the "America's Army" series.
The protest would be answered by the head of Ubisoft itself who met with some protesters in the company's offices to offer a defense of their involvement with the controversial series.
Outside, Lockwood summarized his complaints with the game:
"It's definitely a recruitment tool and the fact that it's put out by the federal government and being funded from our tax dollars, that sounds illegal to me," said Lockwood. " I'm not exactly sure what the laws are, but if it is being funded by our tax dollars, we have the right to say 'hey, stop taking our money and using it for stupid sh**.'"
The protest is part of a long-running controversy about a popular series that the Army describes as "the most authentic military experience available, from exploring the development of Soldiers in individual and collective training to their deployment in simulated missions in the War on Terror."
"America's Army" is a government-funded military shooter series produced by the U.S. Army. Ubisoft only publishes the console versions. It's seen by some as a recruiting tool for the U.S. Army -- versions of the free online version of the game, for example, have been able to visit a virtual recruiting office. The recruitment aspect has been criticized for, as gamers who are under the age of enlistment have the ability to play the T-rated game.
The protest began at noon at a park around the corner from Ubi headquarters in downtown San Francisco. It later moved to outside the office itself. Dozens of people gathered outside Ubisoft to join in the protest. The protest was hatched by a non-violent organization "Direct Action to Stop the War," and brought together writers, speakers, educators, veterans and others to speak about "America's Army" and other issues related to the war.
"[Ubisoft] is creating video games that promote [that] inappropriately glorify war, something there is little, if anything, to glorify," said San Francisco board of supervisors member Chris Daly. "That is not a San Francisco value. That is not okay."
While the rally kicked off at a park around the corner from Ubisoft, two organizers went and met with the company. After talking to several public relations representatives, the two protesters told the gathered audience, they were allowed 30 minutes with Ubisoft North America president Laurent Detoc.
The rally members said Detoc defended Ubisoft's decision to publish the console version of "America's Army," but said the games generated only a small part of their revenue. They said Detoc told them there were no plans to produce more "America's Army" games, but would not "promise" that would not happen.
The protesters were provided some insight into how Ubisoft has approached the touchy issue, however. In response to internal conflict over the decision to produce the "America's Army" games, an ethics committee was formed within the publisher.
Most people attending the protest were of the older set. While young faces spotted the crowd, most were either video game journalists or bloggers running around with cameras. We did, however, spot one Iraq veteran who chose to came out.
"If it is being funded by our tax dollars, we have the right to say 'hey, stop taking our money and using it for stupid sh**.'"
Lockwood, the Iraq war veteran, said he sees a difference between an "America's Army" and a war game like "Call of Duty." Even though "Call of Duty 4" isn't branded with the U.S. Army logo, it's meant as a quasi-realistic portrayal of engaging in war, but that's fine with Lockwood. The sticking point is that "America's Army" has been created using American tax dollars.
"You could consider it ["Call of Duty"] art, expression," he said. "You can call a video game whatever you want. That's part of freedom. It might not be the responsible thing to do, but still, what're you going to do? Start banning books next?"
The rally eventually moved directly outside of Ubisoft's offices. No employees came out to talk to the crowd, but several were seen looking at the commotion. One employee tried to walk through the front door and was tailed by several organizers as he went for another entrance.
A little over an hour and a half after the rally began and many "war is not a game" chants later, one of the organizers declared their point made, thanked Ubisoft for cooperating with the rally and the crowd began to disperse.