The Pentagon’s Long and Complicated History With Video Games

The Pentagon helped invent video games, now it uses them for training and recruitment.
February 11, 2021, 5:15pm
Navy esports
IMAGE: U.S. Navy

Call of Duty, a game all about wars both real and imagined, is one of the best selling video game franchises of all time. The military created the tech that made video games possible, and now it’s using it for everything from training to treatment for complex post-traumatic stress disorder to recruitment.

Welcome to RESET: The Unauthorized Guide to Video Games, a new television show from VICE and Waypoint that tackles the complicated and fascinating world of the world’s new favorite pastime. This week on RESET, Dexter Thomas breaks down the surprising connections between the U.S. military and video games. The two worlds are so intertwined that RESET needed two episodes to cover it.

In the first episode, Thomas explores how military technology created video games, the ways the military has used video games for training, and the cutting edge use of virtual reality to treat PTSD. “The video game industry actually emerged out of military contexts and military funding,” Corey Mead, author of War Play: Video Games and the Future of Armed Conflict, told Thomas

“The video game industry is built on technologies that were funded for military research. Things like advanced computing graphics or the internet or 3D environments...when the military funding started to dry up in the late ‘90s, partly because of reduced defense budgets, a lot of the technology companies and simulation makers turned to the video game industry to sell their products.”

In the second episode, Thomas dives into the troubled world of the Pentagon’s recent drive to use Twitch for recruitment. “At some of our conventions we’ve done exit surveys. Over 95 percent of the respondents said that they had a positive view of the Army as a result of having visited the U.S. Army esports booth,” Col. Megan Stallings, the U.S. Marketing and Engagement Brigade commander, told Thomas.

It hasn’t been all fun and games for the U.S. Army and other branches online. Activists and legislatures have pushed back at the Army’s new recruitment effort. “This is a site that reaches kids, especially kids 15, 16, 17, who just aren’t at the level to making this kind of decision yet,” activist Jordan Uhl told Thomas.

New episodes of RESET premiere Wednsedays at 10pm EST on VICE TV.