Since the 1970s the U.S. military has noted how using combat simulators seemed to impart useful skills for the user. This was most obvious with the use of wargames, which were manual combat simulations that resembled a much enhanced and more complicated game of chess. By the 1990s these simulations, and many other types have moved to computers, where the need for mastering lots of instructions for the user was eased by the “rules” being in the software and could be mastered by trial and error. Then came the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the wide spread use of computerized fire control systems. Many of these were similar to those found in popular video games and commanders were impressed at how these young guys, raised on these video games, quickly mastered remotely controlled (from inside the vehicle) gun turrets. Same with controlling UAVs or using the many new electronic weapons sights that became available early in the 21st century. But some observers warned that this was all an illusion and that games and simulations were not really helping all that much.
Then researchers began to note the advances in brain scanning that enabled observing brain activity while the subject was using or learning video games or weapons systems using. The studies conducted via scanning confirmed that those who played video games or used these new fire control systems had their brains changed. That’s not as bizarre as it sounds as this was the same as learning new mental skills. This key difference was that using the computer-based combat simulators and wargames users acquired useful new skills more quickly.
Now researchers are seeking to test another side effect of wargames noted in the 1970s; how games simulating the situations commanders face in combat can produce more successful combat commanders. Many older commanders who began using the manual simulations in the 1970s and 1980s believe they did acquire useful skills that would otherwise only be learned, at much greater cost, in combat. Now the learning process can be speeded up, fine-tuned and measured as never before. Efforts are underway to monitor brain scans of commanders using these combat operations simulations in an effort to find if there are permanent changes here also.