PLA's video game to teach communist values
An Apache attack helicopter hovers above palm trees in a tropical forest as a surface-to-air missile blasts off from the shoulder of crouching solider. The missile draws a graceful curve in the air and hits the engine, bringing the chopper down.
The soldier is wearing a People's Liberation Army uniform and it's a scene from Mission of Honour, a first-person-shooter video game developed by the army and a commercial game studio for more than two years.
The scene from the game, just completed and soon to be played by PLA soldiers in barracks across the country, was aired by China Central Television on Thursday.
According to details of the game's development released by the PLA Daily newspaper yesterday, Mission of Honour's purpose is to improve modern warfare skills, to experiment with new assault tactics, to boost the morale of computer-savvy young soldiers and to avoid copyright disputes.
There are also political and ideological factors at play. The PLA has been using foreign games, but the PLA's 'values and military ideology' are very different, the daily said.
'Using these [foreign] games for the long term is not beneficial to the training of the army and it may even mislead soldiers,' it said.
The PLA, with a new generation of recruits, has been looking for ways to improve 'political education', especially as many of the new recruits are better educated than earlier generations of soldiers.
Modernising the army for warfare in the digital age is also on the agenda for the 2.3 million-strong force.
Countries such as the United States have long used commercial PC games in military training. The US Army, for instance, invested US$50 million in 2008 on games and gaming systems designed to prepare soldiers for combat, according to Stars and Stripes, a news outlet authorised by the US Department of Defence.
Mission of Honour has been jointly developed by the Nanjing Military Region and an IT company called Wuxi Giant Network Technology, a Shanghai subsidiary of US-listed Giant Interactive Group, the PLA Daily said. The company could not be reached for comment yesterday.
First-person-shooter games put the player behind the gun and project a virtual world on screen. The player can command the character to jump, run or shoot, and if linked to a network, he or she can interact with other players. It's designed for leisure use in barracks, but also has ideological and military training purposes.
The PLA Daily report said Mission of Honour had three gaming modes - training mode, offline mission mode and online combat mode.
The training mode sets Mission of Honour apart from similar PC games. It not only teaches players how to play the game, but also guides them through propaganda material on issues such as Communist ideology and military history.
'The game will influence soldiers at a subconscious level and help them to have a deep understanding about the substance and the essence of the core values of contemporary revolutionary soldiers,' PLA Daily said. 'It will also create good political character, fighting spirit and improve their psychological qualities.'
The game would be particularly attractive and persuasive for young soldiers who were used to playing PC games for entertainment, it said.
A previous report by the newspaper said that one of the foreign games that the PLA had been using in military training since 2006 was Counter-Strike, a popular first-person shooter developed by the US studio Valve.
The report also highlighted that the PLA held intellectual property rights to the new game.
Beijing-based retired PLA Major General, Xu Guangyu , said that the introduction of PC games to the PLA's military training had obvious benefits, but also side effects that could not be overlooked.
'Combat simulation on computers will help our soldiers get used to the highly sophisticated equipment in modern warfare, improve the efficiency of digital communication among officers and soldiers and cut training costs significantly,' Xu said.
'But over-using computers will also make our soldiers rely too much on technology and hardware. Games can make soldiers lonely, physically weak or even disillusioned.'
The PLA Daily said the designers of the game would add elements involving different military services.