The Army rolls through Indianapolis: Fieldwork at the Virtual Army Experience

  • Robertson Allen University of Washington
Keywords: America's Army, Army Experience Center, Ethnography, Marketing, Militarization, Military recruitment, Propaganda, U.S. Army, Video game


This essay takes an ethnographic look at the individuals and institutions associated with the development, production, and implementation of the Virtual Army Experience (VAE), a mobile mission simulator that travels across the United States to venues such as state fairs and air shows. As an explicit aid to Army recruitment and interaction with the public, the VAE is an interesting nexus point that often channels public anxieties surrounding the medium of the video game and its role in the militarization of society. Here, I present my own experience of doing ethnography at this site, describing how it is received by visitors and interpreted by its employees. By means of the example of the VAE, I argue that polarizing media reports and academic criticisms that pit the processes of militarization against critical reflection of those processes are counterproductive and result in silencing more nuanced and thoughtful critical reflection that is already present at sites such as the VAE.

Author Biography

Robertson Allen, University of Washington
Robertson Allen is a Ph.D. candidate in sociocultural anthropology at the University of Washington.