February 1, 2010: The U.S. military has long suspected that troops who have long experience with video console and computer games have made Americans better soldiers, at least when it comes to operating high-tech military equipment. But now a study (by the Office of Naval Research) has found that such experience also enables troops to solve problems faster, and act more quickly with those solutions. In technical terms, the computer game experience increases perceptual and cognitive ability 10-20 percent, over those with no computer game experience. The navy was interested in this because most sailors have technical jobs, and many of them involve operating electronic equipment. Officers and chiefs (NCOs) have noted that, over the years, the new recruits appear to be more skilled when they first show up. It didn't have anything to do with new training methods, so many supervisors suspected video games. That proved to be the case, but the increased problem solving ability and responsiveness was a generally unrecognized bonus.
The army noted the same thing, especially under combat conditions. For example, because so many troops had years of experience with video games, they took to CROWS (the remotely controlled machine-gun turret on many vehicles) quickly, and very effectively. The guys operating these systems grew up playing video games. They developed skills in operating systems (video games) very similar to the CROWS controls. This was important, because viewing the world around the vehicle via a vidcam is not as enlightening (although a lot safer) than having your head and chest exposed to the elements, and any firepower the enemy sends your way. But experienced video gamers are skilled at whipping that screen view around, and picking up any signs of danger. The army now has a CROWS trainer built into its America's Army online game. Many NCOs believe that all that multitasking kids do with their computers (and other electronic gadgets) have made the combat troops more effective.
The air force also noted the increased performance levels of new troops, be they fighter pilots or maintainers operating the computer controlled diagnosis systems. When looking to recruit non-pilots to operate UAVs, the air force found that long experience with PC based flight simulators made for a good UAV operator.
There were some other bonuses from the PC generation of recruits. The draft ended about the same time that personal computers and video games began to show up. So there have been three decades of troops who grew up with both. It was the troops who led the effort to computerize many military activities, and commercial video games evolved into highly realistic training simulators. The automation eliminated a lot of drudge work, while the simulators got troops up to speed before they hit the combat zone. Computers also made possible doing things with information, especially about the enemy, that was not possible before. A lot of troops understand operations research and statistical analysis, and they used it to good effect. There are a lot of geeks with guns out there.
In the late 1990s, the Internet enabled the troops to get in touch with each other. This made a big difference. Not just for the grunts, but also for the NCOs and officers. Each community had different problems and solutions. With the Internet, individuals in each group could find each other, and easily discuss their unique problems, and quickly share the solutions. The troops did this by themselves, and it was up to the military to play catch up. Life saving tips are passed around with unprecedented speed. This made a major difference in combat, where better tactics and techniques save lives.
The PC revolution, first recognized by the mass media in the early 1980s, went on to revolutionize the way the military operates, in ways that are only now being fully appreciated and understood.