The History Of Video Games And The Military

Entertainment
A close up of a T.V. screen shows two video game characters looking through weapon sights in "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2."
Photo by Pfc. Adrian Muehe

Today, some of the most popular video games involve military-inspired imagery and gameplay. The juggernaut first person-shooter series Call of Duty has sold almost 200 million copies as of July 2014. A look at the game database of Giant Bomb reveals nearly 1,000 titles with a “modern military” setting. But the relationship between the commercial games industry and the American military establishment goes deeper than simple inspiration.


The U.S. military’s first involvement with any type of electronic gaming was more of a happy accident than anything else. During the 1950s, Brookhaven National Laboratory had several early computers, designed to crunch the numbers on ballistic missile trajectories. In an attempt to garner interest from bored visitors to the lab, an enterprising physicist named William Higinbotham took one of these computers, hooked it up to oscilloscope, and created a small physics-based game dubbed Tennis For Two. Though the game had no real involvement from any military organization, the computer technology pioneered by the Department of Defense in the wake of World War II played a crucial role in bringing the game to life.

Thirty years later, the military was getting directly involved. One the first links between a commercial game company and a military agency occurred during the arcade game frenzy of the early 1980s. One of the more popular games at the time was Atari’s Battlezone, a tank game with eerie green wireframe graphics. The Army Training Doctrine and Command, aka TRADOC, wanted Atari to turn its sci-fi shooter into a training simulator for the Army’s latest infantry fighting vehicle, the M2 Bradley. Two Army Battlezone prototypes were eventually produced, but no Bradley crewman ever trained on the system. Still, it was an early signifier of how the mainstream games industry and the military would collaborate in the future.

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Another step came over a decade later. In 1993, a small developer from Texas, Id Software, released Doom. The game pioneered the first-person-shooter genre that continues to dominate the industry. The Marine Corps took note of the growing influence of games, and how it could be a cost-effective supplement to training. Ever frugal, the Corps charged it’s Modeling and Simulation Management Office with finding a commercial product that could be modified for Marine training needs. Lt. Scott Barnett was assigned to play PC games on the market that might fit the bill, and eventually selected Doom II. Barnett enlisted the help of Sgt. Dan Snyder to modify the game from its sci-fi Mars terrain to small desert village, and replace the game’s demon enemies with more real-world adversaries.

The resulting product --- while nowhere near realistic --- was intense and engaging, and promoted the kind of consistent, repetitive teamwork a Marine fireteam would employ in combat. While “Marine Doom” never became an official training tool, Marines were encouraged to play it, and it was sanctioned to be installed on government PCs. In 1997, Gen. Charles C. Krulak, who was the commandant of the Marine Corps at the time, issued a directive supporting the use of PC games for “Military Thinking And Decision Exercises.” The stage was set for the Marine Corps and other branches of the military to work hand in hand with game developers.

The Corps developed a fire team training tool with Destineer Studios, who would later commercially release it in 2005 under the name Close Combat: First to Fight. The Army partnered with console game developer Pandemic Studios, to develop Full Spectrum Warrior, its own squad-based training game, released in 2004. That game spawned a commercial-only sequel.

Arguably the highest profile and most controversial, military game project is America’s Army. Initially released in 2002, the title was not a training implement, but a recruiting tool. The game, available for free download or on disc at Army recruitment offices, was an online multiplayer, first-person shooter game that had players assuming the role of different infantry-related jobs in the Army. Financed and developed by the Army, the game rivaled many of its commercial contemporizes in terms of quality. The game was also designed to reinforce Army values and training; players had to complete a virtual boot camp and marksmanship test before jumping online, and specialized roles like medic or sniper were locked behind further tiers of training. The game was also notable in that players only could play as the U.S. Army; the enemy team always appeared as a generic “opposing force” faction. America’s Army quickly became the subject of criticism for targeting teenagers in its recruiting strategy; the game aimed to get high schoolers thinking about a career in the Army long before they turned 18. This controversy did not impact the game’s massive popularity, and the project has continued, receiving 41 updates as of January 2014.

The military’s use of games continues unabated; whether for training, recruitment, or more recently, the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. As budgets tighten, games have become an attractive supplement to expensive field training. And as gaming moves into mainstream culture, the military faces the challenge of enticing a new generation of players to serve and fight.

(U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith)

Three U.S. service members received non-life-threatening injuries after being fired on Monday by an Afghan police officer, a U.S. official confirmed.

The troops were part of a convoy in Kandahar province that came under attack by a member of the Afghan Civil Order Police, a spokesperson for Operation Resolute Support said on Monday.

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Marine Maj. Jose J. Anzaldua Jr. spent more than three years during the height of the Vietnam War. Now, more than 45 years after his release, Sig Sauer is paying tribute to his service with a special gift.

Sig Sauer on Friday unveiled a unique 1911 pistol engraved with Anzaldua's name, the details of his imprisonment in Vietnam, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" accompanied by the POW-MIA flag on the grip to commemorate POW-MIA Recognition Day.

The gunmaker also released a short documentary entitled "Once A Marine, Always A Marine" — a fitting title given Anzaldua's courageous actions in the line of duty

Marine Maj. Jose Anzaldua's commemorative 1911 pistol

(Sig Sauer)

Born in Texas in 1950, Anzaldua enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968 and deployed to Vietnam as an intelligence scout assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

On Jan. 23, 1970, he was captured during a foot patrol and spent 1,160 days in captivity in various locations across North Vietnam — including he infamous Hỏa Lò Prison known among American POWs as the "Hanoi Hilton" — before he was freed during Operation Homecoming on March 27, 1973.

Anzaldua may have been a prisoner, but he never stopped fighting. After his release, he received two Bronze Stars with combat "V" valor devices and a Prisoner of War Medal for displaying "extraordinary leadership and devotion to his companions" during his time in captivity. From one of his Bronze Star citations:

Using his knowledge of the Vietnamese language, he was diligent, resourceful, and invaluable as a collector of intelligence information for the senior officer interned in the prison camp.

In addition, while performing as interpreter for other United States prisoners making known their needs to their captors, [Anzaldua] regularly, at the grave risk of sever retaliation to himself, delivered and received messages for the senior officer.

On one occasion, when detected, he refused to implicate any of his fellow prisoners, even though severe punitive action was expected.

Anzaldua also received a Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism in December 1969, when he entered the flaming wreckage of a U.S. helicopter that crashed nearr his battalion command post in the country's Quang Nam Province and rescued the crew chief and a Vietnamese civilian "although painfully burned himself," according to his citation.

After a brief stay at Camp Pendleton following his 1973 release, Anzaldua attended Officer Candidate School at MCB Quantico, Virginia, earning his commission in 1974. He retired from the Corps in 1992 after 24 years of service.

Sig Sauer presented the commemorative 1911 pistol to Anzaldua in a private ceremony at the gunmaker's headquarters in Newington, New Hampshire. The pistol's unique features include:

  • 1911 Pistol: the 1911 pistol was carried by U.S. forces throughout the Vietnam War, and by Major Anzaldua throughout his service. The commemorative 1911 POW pistol features a high-polish DLC finish on both the frame and slide, and is chambered in.45 AUTO with an SAO trigger. All pistol engravings are done in 24k gold;
  • Right Slide Engraving: the Prisoner of War ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor and "Major Jose Anzaldua" engravings;
  • Top Slide Engraving: engraved oak leaf insignia representing the Major's rank at the time of retirement and a pair of dog tags inscribed with the date, latitude and longitude of the location where Major Anzaldua was taken as a prisoner, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" taken from the POW-MIA flag;
  • Left Side Engraving: the Vietnam War service ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor engraving;
  • Pistol Grips: anodized aluminum grips with POW-MIA flag.

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Five Marines aboard a KC-130J Super Hercules and one Marine onboard an F/A-18D Hornet were killed in the Dec. 6, 2018 collision that took place about 200 miles off the Japanese coast. Another Marine aviator who was in the Hornet survived.

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A former Army soldier was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Thursday for stealing weapons from Fort Bliss, along with other charges.

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(U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Airman 1st Class Corey Hook)

Editor's Note: This article by Richard Sisk originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

The Department of Veterans Affairs released an alarming report Friday showing that at least 60,000 veterans died by suicide between 2008 and 2017, with little sign that the crisis is abating despite suicide prevention being the VA's top priority.

Although the total population of veterans declined by 18% during that span of years, more than 6,000 veterans died by suicide annually, according to the VA's 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report.

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