After 20 years of operation, America’s Army—the videogame, not the real-world military force—is going away. The US Army said in the official America’s Army forum that all support and official servers for America’s Army: Proving Grounds, the current iteration of the series, will be shut down on May 5.
America’s Army first appeared in 2002, and in case the title leaves any doubt, it was designed as a promotional tool for the US Army. It was a free-to-play tactical shooter at its core—and a pretty good one—but also featured more mundane aspects of military life such as medical training, Humvee driving, and weapon systems operation. It was surprisingly popular, and made enough of an impact to land a spot in our 2018 list of the 50 most important PC games of all time.
One design quirk of the FPS-as-propaganda was in how America’s Army structured its multiplayer. Everyone who played was on the side of the US Army, but saw their opponents as a generic enemy faction—an unsettlingly deep message about the nature of war, if you think about it.
Multiple sequels followed the first edition, and so did public attention and criticism of the military’s overt outreach to young gamers through videogames. By all reports, the Army’s effort was wildly successful: A 2008 MIT study (via Game Developer) found that “30 percent of all Americans age 16 to 24 had a more positive impression of the Army because of the game and, even more amazingly, the game had more impact on recruits than all other forms of Army advertising combined.”
The Canadian punk band Propagandhi actually wrote a protest song about the game in 2005, Die Jugend Marschiert, that it hosted on a fake America’s Army website that remains up to this day.
Despite that opposition, the series persisted, although it’s been largely dormant since 2013, when the Army released Proving Grounds. A new game in the series was reportedly being considered, but these days it seems that the Army, and other branches of the US military, have found more fertile recruiting grounds in streaming and esports.
America’s Army: Proving Grounds is still being played—SteamCharts indicates that there are currently about 300 people in the game—and the good news for committed fans on PC is that private servers, the mission editor, and other offline features are expected to continue to function.