Japan Self-Defence Forces (aka 自衛隊 Jieitai), the peacekeeping military force which is slowly being controversially returned to the status and operational functionality of a regular army, is on a charm offensive for young minds that might be interested in an army career, and not surprisingly the charm assault takes in mobile and gaming: Jieitai Collection [auto-translated], launched as a free game on the Android and iOs platform last week with new missions to be released monthly, presents the player with the task of defending a house against various curious flying objects (including apples) in a jet fighter.

Players are kitted out in regular SDF uniform for these operations, and the promotional page for the game makes it clear (if the video didn’t) that military recruiting is the No.1 objective of the game’s creators – if you can trust an auto-translation:

recruiting-sdf[1]According to themalaymailonline.com, a spokesperson for the Japanese defence ministry said: “We want people in a wide age group to learn about what SDF officials do,”. However, Japan’s legacy of uncompromising military standards is maintained in Jieitai Collection, which has received some online criticism for being difficult to complete.

Japan’s military might currently stands at a force of 230,000, but intake fell by 10% in 2014. The SDF is consequently engaging some unusual PR tactics, including letting officers participate as runway models at a fashion fund-raising event for victims of Japan’s 2011 tsunami.

Opinion Despite Japan’s legendary leveraging of new technologies, social trends and videogames, it is relatively early days for the SDF’s use of such propaganda. The U.S. military has a far deeper involvement with videogames as recruiting tools, dating back to the 1950s, when a physicist working on missile trajectory calculations created what is widely regarded as the world’s second-ever videogame, the militarily agnostic Tennis for Two. Thirty years later the U.S. military’s Army Training Doctrine and Command (TRADOC) commissioned a ‘training’ version of Atari’s popular Battlezone videogame, though the special edition was never finally used in official military training.

In 1997 Marine Corps commandant Gen. Charles C. Krulak issued a directive [PDF] favouring PC war-based videogames as ‘Military Thinking And Decision Exercises’:

The use of technological innovations, such as personal computer (PC)-based wargames, provide great potential for Marines to develop decision making skills, particularly when live training time and opportunities are limited. Policy contained herein authorizes Marines to use Government computers for approved PC-based wargames.

In 2002 the U.S. military abandoned any elliptical shyness about associating itself strongly with videogames as a recruiting tool, releasing America’s Army, an online multi-player first-person shooter with a clear recruiting objective – and it went on to become a firmly-established training tool for the U.S. army.

Since games report so much information on players who need to be registered, with email addresses or other contact details, it would be interesting to know to what extent military game creators seek contact with the brightest stars of new outings such as Jieitai Collection…