Ask America’s 1stSgt: Call of Duty

Bookworm writes: “My son and his friends are addicted to Call of Duty.  They bandy around phrases about weapons and warfare, and seem to believe that they have actual knowledge and abilities.

Do you believe that these computer war games, with their incredible graphics, make a difference in what incoming Marines know or what they think they know?  I can see where the former would be an advantage (i.e., they come in with some useful knowledge), while the latter might be actually dangerous (i.e., they have just the right mix of ignorance and knowledge to hurt someone).  Also, do these games affect recruitment?  Are young men positively or negatively influenced regarding the military as a result of these games?”

I don’t know anything about video games. I pretty much hate them because I suck in any virtual reality. Inevitably I throw the controller down in frustration because I can’t get the cross hairs off the ceiling and can’t hit a damned thing. Normally I storm off remarking I am better at this kind of thing in real life.

My parents had a friend once who told a story about her young grandson (I want to say he was 5 maybe). He was really brilliant with computers and video games. He was so good his mother tried to enroll him into a school for gifted children. The school did not accept him because while he was good at computers and whatnot he had spent so much time on them he wasn’t even able to kick a soccer ball. His grandmother ended up taking him outside to play and sitting him down to work with clay. He was even unable to do common things other kids do with clay at that age. The point: finger dexterity and video game skill do not translate into physical capability.

Do you believe that these computer war games, with their incredible graphics, make a difference in what incoming Marines know or what they think they know?

Nope, young men always think they know something. They don’t know jack. Not sure how in the world playing a game in the comfort of their homes translates to running in the 130 degree desert heat with 100lbs of body armor on when someone is trying to kill you. There is nowhere to ‘spawn’ another avatar of yourself and continue the fight. Ask your son to play Call Of Duty where they all have to quit playing after they die the first time. Not as much fun I’ll wager. If anything I think the video game era makes recruits worse candidates. They spend a lifetime on the couch playing games and then join up and can’t even run a mile.

As far as knowledge goes, even book knowledge has never been superior to practical experience. Even if they gain some technical knowledge of weaponry I really have a hard time trying to imagine what it could be. They certainly don’t learn how much weapons weigh as they would never be able to physically handle all the arms they carry on them in these games. How is it possible for a human being to run around with a pistol, hand grenades, machine gun, sniper rifle, flame thrower, grenade launcher, shotgun, and an anti tank rocket?

Do these games affect recruitment?

I really couldn’t say if they affect recruitment or not. I know active duty and civilians both love to play though. I believe Terminal Lance has a cartoon dedicated to the anticlimactic transition from video game to real world.

Are young men positively or negatively influenced regarding the military as a result of these games?

My XO told me a story about his last return from Afghanistan. He walked into a store and the overweight clerk asked him if he was military. Then asked him what it was like over there.

“Was it just like call of duty?”,  he asked eagerly.

My XO, not really interested in describing what really happened, replied with: “Yeah, I was just changing magazines [reloading] the whole time.” 

Clerk: “Aw man! I totally knew it!”

So I can say with some certainty that Call of Duty does not reflect the realities of war nor does any “skill set” gained by playing translate into real world ability. If anyone thinks they are “training” by playing games they are dead wrong.

Finally, playing Call of Duty doesn’t prepare one for combat any more than Mortal Combat prepares one for the UFC.  I wonder what Mike Tyson would think about some fat kid who claimed he was ready for a boxing career because he kicked all kinds of ass at Punch Out?

Semper Fidelis,
America’s 1stSgt

/ / / /


  1. 1. Nothing prepares you for combat except good training.
    2. Talked to a lot of young Marines who served in El Anbar Province. Heard numerous stories about young Marines coming in from patrolling and playing Halo.
    3. Think it’s a generational thing.
    4. When dinosaurs roamed the earth, we’d smoke a cigarette and rack out when we got back. (Everybody smoked in those days.)
    5. Tried MW3. It’s not that realistic.
    6. Will say all the scenes were knee deep in trash -and that was realistic.
    7. Going to college on GI Bill -was up late one night and watched Sands of Iwo Jima in the dorm TV room.
    8. Just after they land, JW and crew are lying in the sand, experiencing a mortar attack. Took me back about three years.
    9. Got to relive being pinned down and totally helpless.
    10. Nothing I would pay to experience.
    11. Someone who hasn’t been there wouldn’t get it, anyway. And wouldn’t want to if they could.
    V/R JWest

  2. Top,
    It cracks me up how many civilians think that they can shoot a real gun because they play a video game…when they get on the line and pull the trigger, it’s usually:”Wow, that’s louder than my computer!”
    One of the last simulators I went through a few yrs ago at Ft Lewis was just coming online. They had you driving the truck & running the fifty cal with a mouse. It was very weak and un-real.
    But, all those who’d never deployed told the contractor is was great.
    When they got to me and asked what I thought, I told them: “I never had a gun I could run with a mouse, and never had a truck that ran with one either.”

    I’m still waiting for the game that has the troops sitting around pulling PMCS on their vehicles and weapons, having a Sgt Major come in the motor pool and have them line up the trucks in perfect order after a day in the field, and have the mess hall run out of fresh fruit.

  3. Concur. If anything, I suspect it might have bad effects. For example, I worry that shoot-em-up games might be ingraining poor fire discipline. In a game, you can shoot off your basic load and run over to a glowing widget on the screen to resupply, and all that happens if you hit a noncombatant is you lose some points. Real-world, it’s a little harder to get more bullets, beans, and bandaids, and you can earn a “promotion” to General Prisoner if you shoot somebody you shouldnt…

    I grant that realistic simulators can expand and enhance your training. When I was in, and we started getting MILES gear and FATS trainers we could do a lot with scenarios. But, those tools only seerved to augment the real-world in-the-mud training; they couldn’t substitute for them. My botttom-line cut: the only way to learn to put steel on target is to get out there and put steel on target, until you could do it cold cold, wet, worn-out, and miserable or hot, sweaty, beat-down, and miserable.

  4. I don’t know, A1S. Those computer game skills with the controls and screens could come in hand in the Air Force. The guys and gals who pilot those drones over Afghanistan from some place in the US use the same technology. And if some mess tech feeds them at the consoles, it would be like being at home.

  5. I have no experience with video war games, but I do know that virtual games of all kinds really mess you up and keep you from doing the things that you should. I’ve been addicted to computer games before, and it didn’t teach me anything, just how to stop writing, interacting with my family, and doing my schoolwork. It sucked my life as a human being into something that didn’t exist. It was awful.

    Good post 1st Sgt., and an excellent question, Bookworm.

  6. It were the early ’80s. I was at main-side.

    I walked into a rec facility and saw some young grunts establishing their ranks in the pecking order by competing on a video game. Donkey Kong or some such, iirc.

    I felt despair. I felt lost. I knew the world was coming to an end.


  7. JWest, my dad always said you will never understand the experience until the rounds are snapping past you. He was right.

    CI Roller, I seem to remember something called Marine DOOM that came out a long time ago. It was supposed to be some kind of training aid. Don’t hear about it any more. Nothing replaces putting rounds down range.

    – I hated MILES gear. That cumbersome garbage rarely worked as advertised anyway. Simunitions are pretty good since they hurt. If there isn’t some risk involved in the training it will not resemble the real thing at all.

    Coffey, those drone clowns are claiming combat stress too. Douches.

    Erika, I too have found if I actually enjoy a computer game that I can blink my eyes and 12 or more hours have disappeared. So I don’t guy myself games anymore. Read a book. You’ll get more out of it.

    Grimmy, now days MWR sponsors HALO tournaments. Scary.

  8. Top,
    Simunitions are about the only training stuff that every actually got my heart rate up!
    I went through an instructors course years ago…and shot the guy training us…he said it was the first time he’d ever been shot by a student instructor.

    I guess I was just lucky.

  9. I must admit Coffeypot is right.

    On xBox I’m an awesome sniper – in real life I was AirForce.

    I vaguely remember them letting me fire a few rounds every couple years or so.

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