Using video games for military training might sound far fetched to those who are not familiar with how gaming works. Take note that computers and gaming consoles have become more sophisticated over the recent decade, thus allowing the development of video games that are more realistic and immersive. Although common perception regarding gaming remains controversial due to possible implications in physical and mental health, research regarding the positive impacts of video games is changing the stereotypes.
The American government has in fact found video gaming as a strategic tool for bolstering national security by improving the performance of army and navy officials and personnel. In other words, the government has been using video games for military training.
Within the United States Department of Defense, video games have become useful in training military personnel—from ranking official and strategists to officers and battlefront personnel. In fact, the department has been running a program to carryout this specific initiative—the Advanced Distributed Learning program.
The program centres on providing the U.S. military with access to the highest quality learning and performance tools that could be tailored to particular needs or requirements. People behind ADL are essentially responsible for research, developing, and delivering next-generation learning technologies and learning environment. One of the products or services provided by the program involves the use of video games to train military officials and personnel.
There are several sound reasons why the U.S. government have turned to video games for military training. According to a 2008 article by Pentagon correspondent Paul McLeary and published by Aviation Week Network, ADL has been using a combination of commercial games and in-house video simulation tools to train the military in leadership, reaction, and war or battlefront scenarios.
Former ADL director Robert A. Wisher mentioned that commercial games like Cassandra, Doom, Corrosion, Peacemaker, and World of Warcraft, among others are used in training exercises alongside in-house developed games. Accordingly, these multiplayer games provide an immersive environment that promotes teamwork and mirrors the real world.
The Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness released a 2005 technical report conducted by Curtis J. Bonk and Vanessa P. Dennen. The report revealed that online multiplayer video games replicate scenarios in the real world, specifically the use of dynamic and decentralised online environment in military operations. Through online games, DoD is able to explore the quality and speed of online decision-making.
Another result from the report revealed that video games allow trainers to identify the strengths and weaknesses of trainees. To be specific, different types of video games can address preferences for different learning styles. Identifying weaknesses is important simply because it creates a feedback loop in which trainers are able to provide trainers additional training in problem areas.
Several studies have demonstrated the positive impacts of playing video games, particularly in sharpening the cognitive and perceptual abilities of individuals. Specifically, one study revealed that gamers who play action-packed and fast-paced games have greater visual performance and prediction capacity than those who play non-action games.
Another study concluded that gamers see the world differently than non-gamers. It is possible that these individuals see more immediately and they are better able to make the most appropriate decisions from available information.
A research from the DoD also revealed that gamers perform 10 to 20 percent better in terms of perceptual and cognitive abilities compared to non-gamers. The same research mentioned that gamers have longer attention spans and larger field of visions.
The aforementioned studies nonetheless provide a logical reason to use video games for military training. The creation of ADL and other initiatives are revealing of the fact that the U.S. government, especially the Department of Defense acknowledges the benefits that tagged along trainings centred on video gaming.
It is important to note that apart from the Department of Defense, the Department of the Navy has also acknowledge the importance of video games in training navy personnel. Dr. Ray Perez, a program officer at the warfighter performance department of the Office of Naval Research, said that gamers make better soldiers.
Perez have been conducting research regarding the development of training technologies and training methods to improve performance on the battlefield. One of his studies revealed that video games help trainees become better thinkers or problem solver. In recognising the benefits of video games, Perez and his team have been exploring possible and effective ways to integrate video game technology into learning tools.
Beyond the U.S. military and armed force, other military organisations have also been using video games for military training. In a 2006 article by Steven Donald Smith, members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation or NATO working group held a video-gaming session arranged by the U.S. Department of Defense
The gathering was part of a serious effort to achieve better interoperability and standards. NATO members specifically played the game title “Battlefield 2” that simulates urban warfare in a dessert nation. Accordingly, the gathering demonstrated how video games not only help in fostering teamwork but also in motivating trainees. After all, video games are very motivating for learners.
According to a commentary by Derek Caelin of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication, video games seem to fit well with the ethos of the U.S. Department of Defense on a mechanical level. Simply put, video games often revolve competition, cooperation, and the achievement of goals—concepts that are the bread and butter of DoD. Thus, the use of video games for military training is inevitable if not valuable.
Details of the report of Paul McLeary are in the article “Pentagon taps video games for training” published in 2008 by Aviation Week Network. More details of the report of Bonk and Dennen are in the article “Massive multiplayer online gaming: A research framework for military training and education” published by Advanced Distributed Learning and the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.
Further details of the report of Steven Donald Smith are in the article “NATO group holds video-gaming session” published in 2006 in DoD News. The commentary of Caelin in the article “More than a game: The defense department and the first person shooter” published in Take Five, the official blog of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication.