How the U.S. Uses Video Games for Military Training

Why and How the U.S. Uses Video Gaming for Military Training

Using video games for military training might sound far-fetched to those unfamiliar with how gaming works. 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 physical and mental health implications, research regarding the positive impacts of video games is changing the stereotypes.

Understanding the Purpose of Video Gaming in Military Training

The American government has considered video gaming as a strategic tool for bolstering national security by improving the performance and skillsets 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 members of the military force, from ranking officials and strategists to officers and battlefront personnel. In fact, the department has been running a program to carry out this specific initiative—the Advanced Distributed Learning program.

The program centers on providing the U.S. military with access to the highest quality learning and performance tools tailored to particular needs or requirements. People behind ADL are essentially responsible for research, developing, and delivering next-generation learning technologies and learning environments. 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 has 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 while mirroring 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 using dynamic and decentralized online environments in military operations. Through online games, DoD is able to explore the quality and speed of online decision-making.

Another result from the report showed 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 because it creates a feedback loop in which trainers can provide trainees additional training in problem areas.

Positive Effects of Using and Playing Video Games in Training the U.S. Military

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.

Research from the DoD also revealed that gamers perform 10 to 20 percent better in perceptual and cognitive abilities than non-gamers. The same research mentioned that gamers have longer attention spans and expansive field of vision.

Nonetheless, the studies mentioned above provide a logical reason to use video games for military training. The creation of ADL and other initiatives reveals that the U.S. government, especially the Department of Defense, acknowledges the benefits that come from training using video gaming.

It is important to note that apart from the Department of Defense, the Department of the Navy has also acknowledged 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 has been researching 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 recognizing the benefits of video gaming in the military, Perez and his team have explored possible and practical ways to integrate video game technology into learning tools.

Beyond the U.S. military and armed forces, other military organizations have also been using video games for military training. In a 2006 article by Steven Donald Smith, members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization 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 “Battlefield 2,” a popular game title that simulates urban warfare in a desert 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.

A commentary by Derek Caelin of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication noted that video gaming coincides well with the ethos of the U.S. Department of Defense on a mechanical level. Simply put, video games often revolve around 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 both inevitable and valuable.


  • Bonk, C. J. and Dennen, V. P. 2005. Massive Multiplayer Online Gaming: A Research Framework for Military Training and Education. Advanced Distributed Learning, Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. Available via PDF
  • McLeary, P. 2008. “Robotic Vehicles Gain Greater Use.” Aviation Week Network. Available online
  • Public Diplomacy. 2012. “More than a Game: The Defense Department and the First Person Shooter.” Smart Power. Institute for Public Policy and Global Communication. Available online