EA's video, posted on Wednesday to announce the upcoming World War 2-based Battlefield V, began with an unexpected disclaimer: 'No weapon, gear or vehicle manufacturer is affiliated with or has sponsored or endorsed this game.'

The publisher, like many that create military-themed games, has in the past worked with arms and vehicle manufacturers to include licensed products in its games. In 2012 EA hosted links to the websites of companies that sell and make assault weapons and tactical gear on the Medal of Honor Warfighter website, and sold a limited edition Medal of Honor-themed tomahawk as part of a charity drive to raise money for veterans and their families.

In 2013 EA formally announced that the company would no longer be working with arms manufacturers, following an investigation into the use of gun licensing by video game companies published by Eurogamer. In that report an employee for Barrett, the American manufacturer of the M82 sniper rifle, admitted the company had licensing agreements in place with various game publishers at the time, including with Activision, creator of the Call of Duty series.

While this is not the first time EA has included a disclaimer of this sort - in 2016 the same text was rendered in small print during a livestream announcement of Battlefield 1 - it has never before been given such prominence in marketing materials.

The reason for the emphasis is unclear. EA has in the past joined other game industry leaders in meetings at the White House to discuss the potential links between video game and real-world violence. The latest of these meetings - and the first to be organised by the Trump administration - took place in March, following a spate of school shootings in America. EA may want to champion the fact it currently works independently from arms manufacturers at a time when gun makers are under unprecedented scrutiny.

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The publisher has, however, also been involved in legal proceedings related to the use of real world vehicles in its games. In 2013, Trexton, the makers of three helicopters that featured in Battlefield 3 without a formal licensing deal in place, took EA to court. Initially EA asked a judge to rule it had a right to the depictions because they were part of a creative work protected by the First Amendment. The two companies settled outside of court for an undisclosed sum.

Video game publishers have a long relationship with military suppliers in the US and UK. In 1980 the US military commissioned Atari to make a variant of its game Battlezone, designed to provide targeting training for gunners on the Bradley Fighting Vehicle (a hippyish culture prevailed at Atari at the time, and the lead programmer on the game only agreed to make the mod if he was guaranteed he'd never again have to work on another military project).

In the 1980s the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency approached many mainstream game developers petitioning them to create video games that could be used to train soldiers (Chuck Benton, creator of the seminal racing game, B.C. Quest for Tyres, was an early recruit). Later, the US Marine Corp famously used a modified version of Doom 2 to teach new recruits. Lieutenant Colonel Rick Eisiminger, then team leader of the Modeling and Simulation Office, told Wired at the time: "We were tasked with looking at commercial off-the-shelf computer games that might teach an appreciation for the art and science of war."

Numerous games, including 1994's Desert Tank, 1996 Apache Longbow and 2001's Rainbow Six Rogue Spear were either made in conjunction with the military, or had special, non-commercial versions of the game created for training purposes, often featuring licensed guns and vehicles.

This culminated in America's Army, released on Independence Day 2002, the US military's first attempt at producing a game specifically designed to attract recruits. The brainchild of Lt. Col. Casey Wardynski, director of the Army's Office of Economic and Manpower Analysis, it cost $7.5m to produce, and, by December 2003 has 2.4 million users. By 2005, 40 per cent of new enlistees said that they'd previously played the game. Wardynski later said that the game had "achieved the objective of putting the Army in pop culture". Considerable resources still flow into the game, which is constantly updated for new systems. 

In Hollywood, film studios routinely accept money and the loan of hardware such as tanks and planes from various arms of the US military in exchange for script sign-off. The creators of Transformers, Lassie and The Mickey Mouse Club have all yielded to military demands for script changes, editing key episodes in order to portray the armed forces in a way that was more palatable and even aspirational to children.

To date, no video game publisher has admitted to this practice, which is not covered by the current Battlefield V disclaimer.

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Simon Parkin

Simon Parkin

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Simon Parkin is an award-winning writer and journalist from England, a regular contributor to The New Yorker, The Guardian and a variety of other publications.

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