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by Scott Steinberg

The world of gaming has captivatedour service men and women and their families.

Once used to unwind or as mere entertainment, the cutting-edgeinteractive gaming industry has turned into a phenomenon that allages enjoy and is touching lives in significant ways. Gaming is nowbeing used to problem solve, connect friends and family the globeover, and treat the wounds of war.

The military is using video games to teach essential leadershiptechniques and provide new perspectives on challenging scenarios. Arange of games offer team-building exercises, as well as pointedlessons on how to command in stressful situations. Playing avaliant warrior, battlefield commander, or business leader, takeson real-life meaning and value.

“As a former intelligence officer in the Army, I can tell youfirsthand that video games, including the Call ofDuty series, are extremely popular with the men and womenfighting in our Armed Forces,” said Army Major General James A.“Spider” Marks (Ret.), a member of Activision’s Call of DutyEndowment (CODE) advisory council.

“That’s why I was so eager to become a part of ActivisionBlizzard’s Call of Duty Endowment,” he added. “Thecompany recognized that those in the military are an important partof the gaming community, and they took the initiative to give backto them by launching an organization that will help raise awarenessfor the grave issue of unemployment, which many young vets arefacing.”
In a relatively new application,video games are also being used to treat Traumatic Brain Injury(TBI). Kinetic Muscles, Inc., (KMI) a Tempe, Arizona-based company,which addresses the rehabilitation needs of survivors of stroke orother neurological injuries, recently announced it has received atwo-year Phase II Small Business Innovation Research grant from theDepartment of Defense. The grant will fund research into a new treatment for service members returning fromactive duty with TBI.


The company’s Phase I study produced promising results combiningneuropsychological therapy and digital gaming technology.

“Treatment of TBI builds upon KMI’s neurotherapy technologyplatform,” said Ed Koeneman, chief operating officer at KMI, andthe study’s principal investigator. “Therapy interventionsincorporating both state-of-the-art gaming technology andcutting-edge cognitive and motor rehabilitation strategies have thepotential to be cost-effective and engaging—particularly for ageneration of soldiers who have grown up using video games forentertainment.”

The field’s potential is virtually limitless, as are virtualreality treatments such as the University of Washington’s“SnowWorld.” Using virtual reality, severely burned service membersmay experience relief when immersed in a virtual world of snowyvalleys using a headset, and with the click of a mouse, can throwsnowballs at penguins. These new “realities” are beginning to showpromise as an alternative treatment.

With the increased popularity ofgaming among adult males 18-34 years of age—the majority ofAmerican households now have dedicated gaming consoles such asPlayStation 3, Wii, or Xbox 360. Gamers are no longer banished insolitude to the basement.

“I am currently deployed and I use my Wii to play online when Ihave free time, usually Guitar Hero World Tour, Mario Kart, andSuper Smash Bros,” said Army Specialist Follett from Spain.
In fact, Wii games are known for bringing people together forgaming fun, regardless of their age, gender, or previousexperience.

“The men and women that make up the Armed Forces can use Wiigames to stay active, as well as get reconnected with friends andfamilies,” said Amber McCollom, director of entertainment andmarketing for Nintendo of America. “Nintendo is the leader in bothsocial and active-play video games, which get people up off thecouch and moving.

“Wii games like Wii Fit Plus and Wii Sports Resort can helpmilitary families stay active and have fun together,” she added.“And, families reconnect by playing competitively orcollaboratively, depending on the type of gaming experience theyare looking for.”

Popular games focus heavily oncreating a sense of community where one can play remotely withothers they know or with complete strangers, though they don’tremain strangers for long. The games provide a competitiveenvironment in which enthusiasts can discuss, debate, and playtheir favorites, complete with scores, rules, winners, losers,badges, and rankings.

Leading websites further cater specifically to these communitiesthrough forums and direct messaging while also providing an easyway to organize friendly competition across any game or platform.These communities are free to join, help organize tournaments, andin many cases also provide prizes to winners.

Another benefit of interactive gaming gives troops stationed farfrom home an alternative to limited phone time—they can talk withfriends or family members while playing. Gaming sites today notonly provide players the ability to effortlessly play in realleagues with scheduled matches against live opponents the worldover, they also provide a vital lifeline to other troops stationedat distant locales and the family back home.

“My home base is McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. I lovekeeping in touch with my wife and family, but it is always hardbeing deployed due to the limited amount of time that we areallowed on the phone,” said Air Force Staff Sergeant CamiloRodriguez, who is deployed to Afghanistan. “[Online gaming makesit] a lot easier to keep in touch.”

Many new games pay homage tomilitary veterans, not only through the game’s theme, but also theway in which they were created. Brothers in Arms, ahistorical combat franchise developed by Gearbox Software andpublished by Ubisoft, is a great example of the intense effort thatgoes into ensuring that representations of past battles arehistorically authentic. In the latest installment, Hell’sHighway, a realistic depiction of the Allies rescuing theNetherlands from the Nazis in a crucial 1944 battle is re-enacted.World War II veterans were brought in to review each scene andprovide input to guarantee each truly reflected historicalreality—from geography and architecture to battlefield tactics.

Likewise, games are also helping raise awareness andunderstanding for today’s Armed Forces. Online multiplayerAmerica’s Army (www.AmericasArmy.com) is an innovativetitle that provides young adults with both an inside perspective onand virtual role within today’s high-tech Army. Originallydeveloped as a recruiting tool for the Army, users have investedover 250 million hours virtually exploring the U.S. Army from basictraining to operations in the war on terrorism. The results haveproven undeniably popular, with the title consistently rankingamong the top 10 online PC action games played worldwide.

America’s Army also provides a unique, interactiveexperience allowing players to gain unrivaled perspective of lifein uniform by assuming virtual roles as U.S. Army soldiers. Playersget to navigate through challenges real soldiers confront. As theyovercome each challenge, opportunities for advancement anddevelopment in roles from Special Forces to combat medic areoffered to the player. Players are further bound by the Rules ofEngagement as they navigate challenges in teamwork-based,multiplayer, force-on-force operations. Throughout the game, as inthe Army, accomplishing missions requires team effort and adherenceto the seven Army Core Values—Loyalty, Duty, Respect, SelflessService, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage.

Troops who love to play video games face many challenges, amongthem, is not only the minimal amount of free time they haveavailable, but gaining access to game systems in-theater. And whilefinding a match opponent locally is generally not difficult, tryingto play with an old pal or family member in another time zone poseschallenges that often make it tricky to connect. Thankfully, onlinetournament sites, such as StripesGamer.com, and round-the-clockmultiplayer matchmaking services help alleviate the difficulties,as do several military support organizations.

Capitalizing on the gaming systems provided by the USO throughUSO2GO, one of the organization’s partners, Pro vs. GI Joe, doesjust that by pitting professional athletes, musicians, celebrities,high-ranking military officials, and politicians in the Statesagainst troops stationed overseas via online gaming. Pro vs. GI Joehas connected athletes with troops serving in Kuwait, Iraq,Afghanistan, Qatar, Dubai, Japan, Korea, and Germany, as well asthose stationed at various bases around the United States.

Today, gaming isn’t necessarily anexpensive hobby. Credit goes to falling hardware prices, increasingavailability, and a plethora of free-to-play games that can beaccessed by anyone with a PC or Internet connection via their webbrowser. These types of sites allow users to play literally tens ofthousands of games across various genres. Likewise, social networksare increasingly being stocked with nearly as many offerings andthey don’t cost a cent.

The world of gaming has become more than a distraction. It’s atraining tool for service members. It’s a morale booster. Andperhaps most important, it’s a communications tool, keeping ourservice members connected to loved ones.

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"At the end of the day wounded soldiers don't return to hospitals, they don't return to organizations, they return to communities and families."

~ Lieutenant Colonel Luke Knittig
Special Assistant to Army Vice Chief of Staff