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Headshot! How Video Games Influence the Military

Feb. 7, 2013 - 12:43PM   |  
By LAUREN BIRON   |   Comments
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Members of the military, gamers, and the rest of the Reddit community are weighing in on the effects of video games on the military.

A user with the handle JimiSmyth posed the question Feb. 6 on the AskReddit forum, looking for ways video games have changed new recruits in terms of “mindset, skill level, education, [and] understanding of modern technology.” As of writing, the topic has more than 4,200 comments.

While the tales are entirely anecdotal, they seem to reinforce the idea that video games improve pattern recognition and the level of detail people notice. However, they also cast some doubt on the efficacy of first-person shooter games, of note particularly because of the upcoming recompete for the Army’s major training game (currently “Virtual Battlespace 2”).

One user, igrokspock, wrote that his team was clearing a house in Ramadi, Iraq, when they took fire. A Marine poked his head out to get a glimpse of the shooters, as though it were “Call of Duty.”

“The Sgt yells at him to stop, and literally said verbatim ‘This is not a fuckin videogame.’ Cpl B didn’t have time to pull his head back in. He took a hot one at a right angle to the face,” igrokspock wrote. “He ignored doctrine, ignored his training, and did some videogame shit at exactly the wrong time, and we buried him in a closed casket in El Paso, Texas, five years this July.”

Not all the Redditors’ anecdotes on first-person games were negative. During basic training, IsoNeko wrote, he performed well in immediate action drills and was asked where he had learned “effective positions/locations/cover and things without the training that [he] was to receive.”

IsoNeko wrote that he had learned most of it from games such as “Battlefield,” “Call of Duty,” and “Operation Flashpoint”: “Stuff I’d learned from games to keep me alive in games, translating it to a real world environment.”

A medic from the Norwegian armed forces who was involved in training new recruits mentioned that video games can improve “basic things,” such as communication, equipment recognition, and working in groups. He noted that it was “easier to teach the COD-players, because you can directly link actions to their earlier “online” experiences.”

User gilbatron told of a friend training to become an air safety controller. Of the 50-some people who took the test, 12 passed, and seven of them were highly ranked on the strategy game StarCraft, which places similar demands on players’ concentration and multitasking skills.

An avid gamer, paper_liger, noted that he played first-person shooters throughout his five deployments and would “always spot movement before anyone and notice little details other people would miss.”

Deathofregret told a similar tale about her husband, who scored high on “cognitive and response tests” that require quick reactions.

Many in the forum tell stories of first-person shooters such as “Modern Warfare” or “Call of Duty” giving recruits an inflated sense of skill and alter the expectations of what the military experience will be like.

“I can’t tell you how many idiots think it’s going to be like a video game,” wrote user usefulbuns. “They talk the most, and they whine the most. It’s annoying as hell and all they want to do is ‘Kill bodies, ORAAAH!’”

Howardmoon68 told a similar story about a scrawny friend.

“Before he signed up I asked him what made him think he wanted to go that direction with his life,” he wrote. “His exact quote was ‘I’m a pretty big badass on call of duty [sic].’”

Even some of the “slower” games, such as “America’s Army” or “Project Reality,” have fans among those who enjoy the realism, planning, and emphasis on tactics.

One final and perhaps unexpected consequence is how authority figures use their power in regards to games. FreefromUSMC said that during boot camp in 2009, one of the drill instructors would call a recruit to beat levels of “Grand Theft Auto IV.”

“Whenever the SSgt. was stuck on a mission, he hollered for the GTA recruit, recruit would go in the duty hut and beat said mission, and recieved [sic] a power bar and a swift kick in the ass out the door.”

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