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How virtual war can keep you alive

Feb. 9, 2013 - 12:30PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 9, 2013 - 12:30PM  |  
This is a screen shot of the Virtual Battlespace 2 game, which is intended for use as a training tool for troops.
This is a screen shot of the Virtual Battlespace 2 game, which is intended for use as a training tool for troops. ()
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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.

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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 Jimi Smyth posed a 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 this press time, the topic had more than 4,200 comments.

While the tales are 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 it 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 f------ 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 s--- at exactly the wrong time, and we buried him in a closed casket in El Paso, Texas, five years this July."

Not all of the Redditors' anecdotes 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 helped train new recruits mentioned that video games can improve 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."

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 altering 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 regard 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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