After earlier condemnations of the US military’s recruitment practices on Twitch, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has reiterated her opposition with an amendment to a federal defense spending bill that was passed by voice vote.
The H.R. 7617 Department of Defense Appropriations Act dictates US military spending for 2021 and Ocasio-Cortez has produced an amendment, No. 49, to ensure that said budget does not contribute to recruitment on Twitch and similar platforms. This amendment, which is in line with the Marine Corps official position on recruitment and more general protections of the 1st amendment and underage recruitment guidelines, was passed via voice vote but will be officially tallied once the House reconvenes. [Update: AOC’s amendment was shot down 292-126.]
AOC’s original response was elicited by the surfacing of the US Army Esports channel’s presence on Twitch with questionable practices of recruiting underage gamers and simultaneously bans of anyone who asked about war crimes. While the former bypasses recruitment guidelines and the latter contradicts the right to free speech, AOC’s newest point of emphasis ties into the Marine Corps’ ideological position on gaming.
While Army Esports went from generating 3,500 recruitment leads in 2019 to over 13,000 so far in 2020, the Marine Corps, despite having the youngest force of all branches, has proclaimed that it is ideologically opposed to recruitment via gaming: “The brand and issues associated with combat are too serious to be ‘gamified’ in a responsible manner.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s amendment, despite being approved by voice vote on the floor, is not unanimous and its “yeas and nays” were ordered (designating the need for an official vote) by Congressman Ken Calvert, who also ceded some of his time to the bill’s original author, Congressman Peter Visclovsky, for response against AOC.
In his rebuttal, Visclovsky agreed that he does “find recent media reports on the army esports team and the banning of commentators concerning” and that oversight is needed to ensure that the military’s Twitch channels, which have been set for 18-year-old audiences and older since August 2019, do not bypass age restrictions.
He also noted that “Army Esports has taken a pause on streaming and is reviewing its internal policies and procedures” and that “we on the committee certainly look forward to seeing the results of that review.”
While many had noted the Army Esports channel’s streaming pause, it was not known until now that it coincides with an internal review process. Chief among the practices deserving review are the usage of nebulous prized contests that seem to simply lead to recruitment information sign-ups for kids as young as 13 and the banning of Twitch users who ask controversial questions about the American military’s history.
Congressmen and women, like California’s Ro Khanna, have been adamant in their support of AOC’s amendment following her exposure of an issue gamers brought to light. Khanna, specifically, reiterated the Marine Corps’ insistence that gaming is an uncomfortable foundation upon which to ground recruitment efforts, as the fun of shooting games and their impressionable, young audiences blend together in a way that detracts from the gravity of warfare.
As AOC expanded upon in her own speech, “we should restrain and restrict ourselves from explicit recruitment tactics … on platforms that children are using to play games from Animal Crossing to Call of Duty.”
Twitch embodies the rise of emerging technology and the vote on AOC’s amendment demonstrates welcomed attentiveness to a concerned, growing gaming community.