By Michael Madrid
Recently, the Air Force Services Center and the Department of the Air Force Gaming League held their first Esports Championship, including the inaugural Air Force Gaming Minor League Championship. Many of you may be thinking, "Can you even play games in the Air Force?" The short answer is yes, but what makes it so interesting is why the Air Force and other military entities embrace video games so much.

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What Is the Air Force Gaming League?

The Esports competition was hosted by the Air Force. It was the first federally sanctioned Esports competition ever and was held over Memorial Day weekend 2022 at the FORCECON 2022: Innovation – Technology – Gaming convention in San Antonio, Texas. The game of choice was a first-person shooter game, which many of you may be aware of, called Halo: Infinite. Compared to other Esports competitions, the Department of Defense Armed Forces Esports Championship is primarily for military personnel to compete with each other. Out of all the branches that competed this year over the two-day event, the Air Force came out victorious and beat everyone that was standing – or sitting, in this case – in their way.

How Popular Is Gaming In the Military?

The military, especially the Air Force, has a large gaming community. In fact, over 86% of Airmen between the ages of 18 and 34 identify as gamers. And, out of every 10,000 soldiers, 43% of them play video games. Furthermore, 58% of them are typically enlisted as juniors. The Army, Air Force, Space Force, and Marines all have a large gaming community, and according to research, it’s making them better service members.

The Connection Between Video Games and Cognitive Skills

Besides the fact that service members love to play video games and probably wouldn't need much convincing to play them, the military has always looked for ways to use games to recruit and make better service members. As long as video games have been around, the military has tried to use them for training and recruitment purposes. For example, one of the modern ways the U.S. Armed Forces got involved in military gaming was in 2002 when they funded and developed the game America's Army. America's Army is a first-person shooter developed by the United States Army to recruit and train players to take part in similar jobs as they would if they enlisted. Needless to say, the American Army got some flack for creating a game that primed teenagers to join the Army without realizing it. In today's day and age, the military takes a more "open" approach to recruiting players by having events like the Department of Defense Armed Forces Esports Championship. But truthfully, why would the military be so interested in games? Well, besides the fact that they're an archetypal way to recruit service members, there are real cognitive benefits of playing video games. According to the Office of Naval Research (ONR), which is funding research on the effects of playing video games on the human brain, some games, such as first-person shooters, can improve

human cognitive functionality

. Dr. C. Shaw Green, professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and researcher on human learning and neuroplasticity at ONR, notes that "Anyone who is in a position where they would benefit from greater than normal cognitive control, top-down attention, peripheral visual processing would benefit from playing action games, which are primarily first- and third-person shooter games," That description undoubtedly fits the skills warranted by military personnel, especially Airmen. Not only that, but additional findings of enhanced hand-eye coordination and greater short-term memory skills are also being uncovered. Ray Perez, program officer at the ONR Warfighter Performance Department, notes, "We know that video games can increase perceptual abilities and short-term memory." So, it turns out video games may be able to improve hand-eye coordination, short-term memory, and a plethora of other things that all help improve service members' overall performance.

The Future of Military Gaming Looks Bright

The Air Force Gaming League, and video games in general, is an appealing way to recruit service members and keep them connected and competitive. For the most part, every military branch has a large gaming community, and the Air Force Gaming League is showing future members they can enlist in the military all while being able to play video games. The real power behind military gaming is its proven ability to build human cognitive functionality, hand-eye coordination, and short-term memory. So, as long as there continue to be performance improvements in members who enjoy gaming, recruiters will continue to use video games to attract players and improve service members’ abilities.

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