(StatePoint) For military members, video games are not just a fun way to unwind during downtime, they can provide much-needed stress relief and an opportunity to connect with friends and family.
For these reasons, video games have had a place in USO centers over the past four decades — from the early days of standup arcade games and pinball machines, to today’s modern video game consoles and livestreaming. In fact, the USO has taken its gaming initiative to the next level by outfitting more of its locations with dedicated gaming spaces, equipped with all the latest technology, as well as by hosting in-person and online video game events. Here are the top ways these initiatives benefit service members:
- Combating isolation: In recent surveys, time away from family because of military service is a top concern within the military community. Through gaming, military members can connect with loved ones back home.
- Stress relief: About half of military and veteran video gamers specifically play video games in order to deal with military-related stress. Research conducted by the Department of Veteran Affairs shows that gaming can improve mental health by helping veterans cope with combat-induced trauma, by alleviating stress and by providing opportunities to bond with others.
- Building camaraderie: Gaming often encourages collaboration and can be an important way to socialize and make friends with fellow service members. USO locations are outfitted with a variety of gaming equipment and consoles designed specifically so that groups of service members can play together. This is significant, as studies show that playing video games on teams and with others can improve teamwork in daily life.
- Breaking barriers: Gaming allows service members of all ranks to step away from the chain of command and be on equal footing as they compete against and alongside one another. And thanks to dedicated spaces at USO centers around the world, such as the 2,500 square-foot facility gaming center on Eglin Air Force Base in northwest Florida, service members and their families can enjoy state-of-the-art systems and games at no cost.
- Engaging with the community: In addition to local gaming events at its individual centers, the USO hosts larger online gaming competitions, which are often livestreamed via Twitch. These competitions, which are occasionally open to the public and sometimes feature high-profile professional gamers, serve as a means for active military to engage with members of the community, bridging the civilian-military divide.
“Gaming’s ability to give service members a break from the pressure and responsibility of their daily missions, while building community and strengthening bonds, goes straight to the heart of our mission,” says Callum Fletcher, USO director of Global Gaming Operations. “Although video games are, in fact, games, for America’s military, they can be so much more.”