The Convergence - An Army Mad Scientist Podcast
40. Gamers Building the Future Force with Air Force Gaming
Air Force Gaming (AFG) is the official gaming program and competition hub for the United States Air Force and Space Force. Over 86% of Airmen and Guardians between the ages of 18-34 identify as gamers. AFG was started to help Airmen of all ages, ranks, and backgrounds find common ground through video games, while also promoting mental acuity, fine motor coordination, and competitive excellence. Its mission is to create an inclusive gaming community for Airmen of all ages, ranks, and backgrounds.
Capt Zach “ZB” Baumann co-founded AFG, and for the better part of 2020, led the explosion of AFG's digital reach to 575K impressions and 40K profile visits (doubling its digital footprint of followers on social media and verified members on its Discord server) across five platforms, and tirelessly built the connective tissue between the Department of the Air Force, DoD at large, and the gaming industry — ultimately leading to AFG’s “acquisition” by the USAF in November of 2020. AFG is helping to bridge the gap between the DoD’s digital natives (tomorrow’s leaders) and digital immigrants (today’s leaders).
Capt Oliver “OliPoppinIt” Parsons founded AFG and leads a diverse group of Airmen and Guardians all across the world. AFG strives to be the leading DoD eSports/gaming organization. In 2020, he led the AFG Space Force Call of Duty team to victory in the first ever transatlantic Armed Forces eSports bowl (CODE Bowl).
MSgt Michael Sullivan co-founded AFG, launching the Department of the Air Force’s first gaming and eSports organization, with a primary focus in mental health and resiliency for service members. MSgt Sullivan led day to day operations; advised on the organization’s direction, event planning, and brand implementation; developed its “Ambassador” volunteer program, on-boarded, and trained 50+ personnel; and established the first ever USAF/USSF official eSports teams, achieving the Championship title in an international tournament.
In today’s podcast, Capt Baumann, Capt Parsons, and MSgt Sullivan discuss how gaming breaks down barriers in rank, generation, and geography; identities the digital talent residing in the gaming community; and how video games can cultivate the future Senior Leaders in the military. The following bullet points highlight key insights from our interview:
- AFG seeks to identify and engage gamers already ‘within the gate’ of the Air and Space Forces, providing an online platform where Airmen and Guardians can network and develop skills in teaming, organization, and strategy. AFG hopes to expose the benefits of gaming to the DoD, counteracting the outdated stereotype that gaming is a waste of resources.
- AFG engages service members on a massive array of games, ranging from tabletop games like chess to interactive streaming games like Minecraft and League of Legends. This feature of the community allows for the inclusion of a wide spectrum of gamers with different skills and interest levels.
- AFG emphasizes that almost all ‘techies’ are ‘tinkerers’ who can use games to test new strategies and creative processes. Thus, games provide service members with opportunities to fail in a safe environment. Embracing this feature of gaming, in which new strategies can be developed and tested, can help create a culture of game appreciation in DoD, even up to the level of Senior Leaders.
- Importantly, gaming communities within the DoD can facilitate better talent management. Gaming exposes ‘hidden talents’ among service members, helping the branches identify tomorrow’s leaders that are already serving.
- Gaming can also help promote cooperation and competition across the branches of the military. As each branch works to develop new ways to engage gamers, they can learn from each other, advancing the DoD mission collectively.
Stay tuned to the Mad Scientist Laboratory for our next episode of “The Convergence,” which, now that the 2021 Baseball Season is in full swing, will feature last year’s interview with proclaimed Mad Scientist Keith Law, author and Senior Baseball Writer with The Athletic, discussing the parallels between baseball and the Information Environment, how stats skew our thinking, and the implications of anchoring bias.
Brought to you by The Army Mad Scientist Initiative of The Convergence - An Army Mad Scientist Podcast