What Impact Do Video Games Have on Strategic Military Advantages?

Younger soldiers who grew up playing video games could be at higher risk of injury, but may also have boosted cognitive skill, according to two separate military papers released in the past month.

Video games have become a cultural phenomenon among young people, with NPD reporting that one survey of those age 2 and up who play video games spent on average 12 to 16 hours playing each week between 2019 and 2021. But the United States military offered mixed opinions on whether or not they will help prepare the next generation of armed forces.

The military warned that young recruits—who come from a generation who often spend significantly more time playing video games than others—are living a "far more sedentary" lifestyle than previous generations in one press release.

The military warned that the sedentary lifestyles can make them more prone to injuries when they arrive for training because they're not used to the intense physical activity involved, the statement said.

female marines boot camp pendleton integration graduation
Experts are weighing in on the effects of video games on armed services trainees. Above, female Marines from Lima Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, congratulate each other after graduating from boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on May 6, 2021, in San Diego, California. For the first time in MCRD San Diego's history, male and female platoons completed their 13-week training concurrently in a gender-integrated company. Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

"We see injuries ranging from acute fractures and falls, to tears in the ACL, to muscle strains and stress fractures, with the overwhelming majority of injuries related to overuse," Army Captain Lydia Blondin, assistant chief of physical therapy at the General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital, said in the statement.

Blondin noted that the injuries typically occur in the lower extremities and that the military also commonly sees low levels of calcium and vitamin D, which is often associated with sedentary lifestyles, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).

However, another paper released by the United States Navy weeks later outlined some benefits to video games on young recruits. The article outlined that the Navy has been using video games to train sailors and marines for years and that the Office of Naval Research is sponsoring research to better understand the cognitive effects of video games.

"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," Dr. C Shawn Green, a professor of psychology at University of Wisconsin-Madison wrote in the article. "That's obviously a huge set of individuals, from those involved in combat, to people like surgeons or pilots."

Dr. Ray Perez, a program officer in ONR's Warfighter Performance Department, noted that people who play video games are quicker at processing information and that "tens of hours of video games" can change the structure of a persons' brain.

In the past, the U.S. military has used video games to recruit potential members of the military. As recently as 2020, they used a channel on Twitch, a service often used to stream video game content, to redirect viewers to a military recruitment page—though the practice drew the ire of some in the video gaming world. The military has also published their own video games, including America's Army, as a recruitment tool.

Newsweek reached out to the Department of Defense for comment. This story will be updated with any response.

Video games effect on military
Video games could have cognitive benefits and physical drawbacks for new members of the military. Above, people are seen playing video games in Los Angeles in June 2019. David McNew/Getty Images