Any military veteran from the millennial generation has heard the eye-rolling talk of airsoft or “Call of Duty” and equating to military service; either heard in the form of a question from ignorance or statement of fact on social media. Not going to lie, as a very young and naive man I had done it in ignorance. Of course there is nothing on earth that equates to military service accept for the act itself but look closely and there is some relevance. Both of these games are based on both the military and combat. How accurately they portray it is another matter entirely but it does raise the question, “How relevant are games when training for combat?”

To even begin to answer this question we need to first address how the U.S. military currently conducts training for combat. Training is generally broken down into two sections: the instruction phase and the practical application phase. During the “instruction phase” we are presented with information and steps to understand a procedure and execute it correctly. After a sufficient amount of instruction has been received by students, they move to the “Prac-App stage” and apply the instructions to a scenario whether it be physical in nature or simulated. These phases often intermingle but for their majority are separate from each other.

The instruction period will never change, classes are perfect for the introduction of new information. However the practical application is subjective to the requirements of what exactly is being trained for and alters accordingly as such. For instance there are often several tiers of practical application/training that occur. For example, in the Marine Corps, for firearms training, we first simulate firing the rifle via dry fire during “grass week.” Then we (often but not always) simulate firing the rifle via a marksmanship simulation, a computer program where imitation rifles are “fired” at a large projected screen with targets on it.

Lastly we do the live fire/shooting phase and practice real marksmanship (but this is still not the same as firing at enemy combatants). This is a great system and is often done with other facets of Marine training to include military operations in urban terrain (MOUT) and close quarters battle (CQB) training. Simulations, dry fire, practice, force on force, and even range time are all still only practice for real life combat; they are also all simulated, much like a games and give the student an opportunity to practice individual skills that may better prepare them for a real world combat situation.

So with that in mind, can a game fill this role and still be applicable to combat skill sets? The short answer is yes, sort of; but why and to what effect? It all depends on the game and how you apply it to the targeted skill set. There are some overall benefits to most games like problem solving, communication, critical thinking, and teamwork skills. There are also a variety of other positive things that can be trained on depending on the game’s genre. Primarily I will be breaking down and evaluating three core categories; video games, airsoft and military-based board games.

Video games are technical marvels that often draw communities of people together in either competition or cooperation over a virtual objective. Much like the marksmanship simulation done by various military branches as an efficient and affordable way to practice firing a rifle without the expenditure of ammunition. Video games can be useful all together but let’s address, specifically, military driven games like “Arma 3,” “Call of Duty,” “Rainbow 6,” “Battlefield,” “Squad,” “Escape from Tarkov,” and “Insurgency,” (just to name a few).

Games like these can be surprisingly valuable to training in small unit battle drill rehearsals. War-based video games, if applied correctly, can reinforce unit cohesion while developing coordinated communication skills between teammates. We see this on a higher level between teammates in competitive gaming leagues. Also it can give teammates an opportunity to exercise tactics or formations in a virtual setting. There is some serious potential here if tapped into correctly.

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War gaming has been around for a long time now, since before video games, and has grown far from just the realm of Dungeons and Dragons. War games like “Warhammer 40k,” “Spectre Operations,” or even “Risk” and chess technically offer an excellent opportunity to perfect strategy and tactics against a real opponent or desired simulation. I personally have a vested interest in “Spectre Ops,” a modern military strategy game where players either go head to head or run through real-world-based modern military operations.

Games like these enable players to slow down while planning and executing tactical decisions based on modern combat style scenarios. While the extreme aspect of combat is not in the equation, war-based board games or wargaming is an excellent tool for running through custom-tailored scenarios, large and small, that are specific to individual needs.

Airsoft, the thing every combat veteran loves to hate. While we can all agree that airsoft is not serving in the military nor even close to the reality of entering a combat engagement, it does hold relevance when it comes down to training for the act of combat. In the military we essentially do the very same thing when we participate in a MOUT town field exercise or do force-on-force training.

I would actually dare to argue airsoft has the ability to be more relevant than anything less that simunition*-based training due to the simple fact that projectiles are involved. (*Simunitions are paint rounds on top of a real gunpowder charge that function like a regular round, and are usually incorporated into existing weapons platforms, so personnel training with them are using weapons with similar functions and capabilities as theirs.)

Not only, under the correct circumstances, can airsoft give combatants the opportunity to practice all the things they do in current opposition force-based training but does it on a smaller budget. Formations, techniques, tactics, gear/equipment organization, weapon setup, communication and physical fitness are all aspects of combat operations that airsoft actively gives its participants the opportunity to perfect upon. Unfortunately few people view it in this light and refuse to utilize its full potential.

In summation, games of all forms have the ability to not only be relevant but effective training tools for equipping combatants with some of the essential skills required of a cohesive fighting element. Many prominent firearms-based instructors have brought up this concept in the past and as of late it has been getting more traction within the tactical community. Of course a realistic perspective and set of expectations must be had when attempting to utilize this concept; games are not the real thing and never will be, but then neither is training.