Gaming Skills: The Secret Weapon of Military Forces 

War games have existed since ancient times, with earliest examples played by advanced civilizations including the Egyptians and the Assyrians. They have often been used for military training and strategy planning, helping to prepare soldiers for battle and allowing them to practice tactics in a safe environment conducive for theory testing and to develop optimal courses of action (COA) through experimentation. While war games have been present in some form or another since the dawn of civilization, their use in military contexts grew exponentially in the 19th century. Chess board games and table top miniatures were used to simulate and study various strategies for warfare, and armies around the world began to adopt them for training purposes. As technology progressed, so too did the complexity of war games, culminating in today’s modern video games that offer realistic depictions of warzones and battlefields. 

Credit WARGAMES, Matthew Broderick, Ally Sheedy, 1983, (c) MGM

Today, these games are not just for entertainment . . . they are also used to study military tactics, plan battlefield strategies and recruit new talent. In fact war games have proven to be an invaluable source of military training and strategy planning. They offer a safe environment to practice tactics without the risks inherent in battle, and they can be used to simulate real-world scenarios. 

War games and virtual reality technologies have the potential to revolutionize military training and operations in the near future. These technologies can offer a realistic and immersive experience for soldiers, allowing them to experience battlefield conditions without the risk of injury or loss of equipment. They can also provide a way to simulate different scenarios and conditions, allowing for the study of strategies and tactics in a safe and controlled environment. 

Counter Insurgency and the Sony PlayStation

Bomb Disposal Team, UGV controlled by Sony Play Station controller uses a robot-mounted cradle to dig up and transport 155mm artillery rounds converted into IED’s by insurgents and adversarial actors, Lebanese Armed Forces, Beirut Lebanon, 2011. Credit David Tashji

In support of operations in the CENTCOM AOR circa 2010 -2012, I was given the mission to educate, train and equip military and security forces with robots for IED/VBIED/UXO, primarily as a response to a Joint Urgent Operational Need (JUON) coming from theatre.

The 510 Packbot is used by Bomb Squad, Combat Engineers, EOD, Special Forces, Police, SWAT, First Responder, Fire Service, Counter-narcotics, Oil & Gas Services, Nuclear Power, Ports and Multi-modal Freight Transportation, Airports, Critical Infrastructure, VIP Protection, and Humanitarian Aide organizations.

The robot is tele-operated by a soldier using a Play Station game controller, and when the soldier first sees it, the usual reaction is “I have thousands of hours using that game controller!” They grab hold of it and just take off. Within a few hours they have it all figured out and the skills to effectively operate the robot. With practice they can deploy the system on real missions. After a short time it turned into . . . find every comrade in theatre wearing a bomb suit, explain how their trade craft has changed, show them the robot and all the accessories, and let the decade or more of gaming skills take over. In fact, cancel the training budget – they have this covered, occurred often.

Modeling the “What If?”

The Operational Art of War (TOAW) is a portfolio of computer wargames noted for accuracy, scope, detail, and flexibility in recreating and simulating, at an operational level, the major land, air and naval battles of the 20th century. The game system features an artificial intelligence programmed opponent called Elmer, along with hundreds of community scenarios where various “what if” scenarios can be planned and executed in an attempt to rewrite history. One scenario entitled Bitter Victory at Sicily features the Anglo-American Operation Husky invasion of Sicily in 1943. General Montgomery’s famous plan for the invasion had General Patton landing in the south west at Gela on his left flank and the British army approaching Messina from the south east from Syracuse.

The Operational Art of War IV, Bitter Victory Sicily, alternate history with General Montgomery and General Patton. Disposition of combatants on 15 July 1943, St Stefano to Siracusa

Using the TOAW game system to run a full simulation including accurate OOB’s, airborne landings, naval combat, air combat, weather, terrain effects, supply and logistics . . . an improved  battle plan was conceived where airborne landings and amphibious assault would instead occur in the north. After running the simulation, this played out to the Allies great favor. Instead of fighting for every farmhouse and field throughout Sicily, the allies quickly reached Messina and contained the Italians & Germans. Both the airborne landings in the north and follow up sea landings at the new invasion sites in Capo D Orlando and Giarre resulted in a stronger Allied position and far fewer losses in men and equipment. It also accomplished what Operation Husky did not, prevent the German escape to mainland Italy through the straits of Messina.

Credit Fight Club International

The First Rule of Fight Club . . .

In recent years, the military and the gaming community have begun to intersect in exciting new ways. Many popular video games feature military themes and storylines, allowing gamers to experience a version of military life, creating positive feelings about those who choose to serve our country. At the same time, movements such as Fight Club International have emerged, uniting military personnel and gamers around the world in a shared interest and community of practice. This connection between gamers and the military also extends to the world of online gaming.
 
Augmented reality, artificial intelligence and automated and unmanned (un-crewed) weaponry now calls for recruits with increasingly technical skill sets. A recent Office of Naval Research study unveiled that playing first-person shooting games could actually create a better fighter. Playing those games, researchers said, could improve cognitive processing, peripheral vision, and the ability to learn tasks better. 

In the Air Force, over 86% of Airmen between the ages of 18-34 identify as gamers.

With the rise of online gaming, the military has recognized the potential of recruiting gamers. The skills that gamers have acquired through their gaming experiences, such as strategic thinking, quick adaptation, and problem-solving capabilities, are incredibly valuable. The military can leverage the sense of camaraderie and trust that gamers have built up in their gaming communities to create a more cohesive unit that functions as a well-integrated team. 

The Navy has laid out ambitious goals for fielding “un-crewed” weapons, and so they use video games as a tool to attract and engage potential recruits who serve as remote skippers & pilots. By creating custom video games that showcase the skills, technology, and equipment used by the navy, they provide a fun and interactive way for young people to learn about naval careers and explore the different opportunities available to them. 

Command: Modern Operations is “the next generation in cross-domain modern wargaming” Credit Matrix Games

The Navy also uses popular video games as a recruitment tool. For example, the navy has sponsored events and tournaments featuring popular military-themed games, such as “Call of Duty” and “Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon.” These events provide an opportunity for potential recruits to interact with navy personnel and learn more about naval careers while playing the games they enjoy. 

Overall, the navy’s use of video games as a recruitment tool is a creative and effective way to engage potential recruits and showcase the skills and opportunities available in naval careers. By providing an interactive and immersive way to learn, the navy is able to reach a wider audience and attract talented individuals to join their ranks. 

The Metaverse 

Simulated drone swarm attack on US Navy DDG Warship Credit: David Tashji

The military has been exploring the use of virtual and augmented reality technologies for training and operations for some time. These technologies have the potential to provide a more immersive and interactive learning experience, as well as to allow for the simulation of complex situations and scenarios that may not be feasible to recreate in the physical world. 

One application of these technologies that has gained particular attention is the use of the metaverse for military training and operations. The metaverse is a virtual shared space, where users can interact with each other and with virtual objects and environments in real time. It has the potential to provide a highly realistic and immersive training environment, as well as to allow for the coordination and execution of complex military operations, something that cannot be done in the real world. 

The military is actively researching and developing ways to leverage the capabilities of the metaverse for training and operations. This includes the development of custom virtual environments and simulations, as well as the integration of virtual and augmented reality technologies into existing training and operational systems. 

Conclusion 

The military has become increasingly interested in recruiting gamers because of the skills and expertise they bring to the table. The Pentagon actively seeks out gamers to join its ranks in order to gain access to their technical skills, strategies, cutting-edge technology, virtual training skills, and prior participation in battlefield simulations. The Air Force is working to create a bridge between the gaming and military communities by introducing initiatives like Air Force Gaming, officially launched in November 2020. Other exciting new developments include Fight Club UK and Fight Club International, “A Wargaming Experimentation Group Learning to Fight Across All Domains of Conflict and Competition”. 

All services of the military are becoming increasingly active in recruiting from the gaming community, providing a unique opportunity for gamers to serve their country, hone their skills, and enjoy the camaraderie of being on a highly efficient team. 

While the use of the metaverse for military training and operations is still in the early stages of development, it has the potential to significantly enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of these activities. By providing a more immersive and interactive learning experience, as well as the ability to simulate complex situations and scenarios, the metaverse has the potential to significantly improve the military’s ability to prepare for and respond to a wide range of challenges, and deliver the right war-winning capability, when and where needed.

References:

{01} Hill, John, Avalon Hill Squad Leader, 1977

{02} Libro de Los Juegos, Knights Templar playing chess, Image from Public Domain: Wikimedia Commons, 1283

{03} WARGAMES, (c) MGM Studios, Matthew Broderick, Ally Sheedy, 1983

{04} Tashji, David, Photo Credit, Lebanese Armed Forces, Bomb Disposal Team, UGV Demonstrations, Beirut Lebanon, 2011

{05} McNeil, Iain, CEO Slitherine/Matrix Games, The Operational Art of War IV, Bitter Victory at Sicily, Community scenario by Marc Custer. Play test by David Tashji, 2022

{06} Arnel, David, US Army Strategist, Fight Club International, https://www.ukfightclub.co.uk/, London UK, 2022

{07} McNeil, Iain, CEO Slitherine/Matrix Games, Command Modern Operations, 2022

{08} Tashji, David, Photo Credit, Great Power Drone Swarm attack on Allied DDG, Paracel Islands, South China Sea, 2022

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