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‘Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition’ can teach valuable skills to service members

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Age of Empires 2 is now old enough to join the military, vote, and buy a beer. It’s crazy that this game came out in 1999 and that it has remained popular for that long too. The game is popular enough that in 2019 it got a complete remake, which has recently been ported to the Xbox series as part of their Gamepass program. It has been years since I played Age of Empires, and I couldn’t help but click Download.

I was back to being a kid, completely hooked on building societies, towns, and armies. I’ve accidentally played for multiple hours at a time because it’s just so fun. Mastering build orders, employing troops as units, and managing resources and personnel is oh-so addictive.

With that in mind, let’s dive in and explain the game. Most recruits are younger than the game! I think it’s a great game for servicemen and women, and to be honest, it’s just a great game in general.

Age of Empires 2 – What is it

Age of Empires 2 is a real-time strategy game that tasks the player with building a society and defeating their enemy in different scenarios. You play as an almighty figure floating above your society and directing it as you see fit.

Players use resources gathered by villagers to build their society through four phases which consist of the Dark Age, the Feudal Age, the Castle Age, and the Imperial Age with each age having its own buildings and units. Players can create walled cities and villages or expand rapidly into the world. There isn’t necessarily one way to succeed, but several, and each has its own strategy.

Age of Empires 2 tests players to rapidly make decisions and figure out which direction they want to go. There is no time to try things out in most modes: you can set the AI to easy and experiment, but if you step into the multiplayer, you have to be decisive and tactical. That’s why this isn’t your standard brain-dead game.

Playing for hours and building a grand society just to see it crushed by someone who played smarter can be soul-crushing, but it inspires you to be better. You have to be quick thinking and also capable of long-term planning. If not, you’ll be squashed.

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Getting our history on

A siege in Age of Empires: Definitive Edition (Xbox Game Studios)

Age of Empires 2 features an expansive series of campaigns including a series of historically-based conflicts. You can join William Wallace, Joan of Arc, repulse crusaders with Saladin, or maybe conquer Eurasia with Genghis Khan. There are so many that I’ve barely been able to play even a fraction of the campaigns.

These campaigns provide a degree of edutainment. If you are a modern service member, this is a good way to learn a little about martial history. Let’s face it, getting a 19-year-old to read a history book can be tough to do, but getting one to play a video game is pretty easy. Although you won’t learn as much as from reading a book, the campaigns do provide a bit more of a visual and interactive component that places you in the driver’s seat.

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Keep thinking

Soldiers competed in a video game tournament during 1st Signal Brigade Signal Week at Camp Humphreys, Republic of South Korea on April 19, 2023. (Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Noah Sladek)

In Age of Empires 2, you have to balance your resources and expansion against your ability to maintain control over those resources that include civilian and military units. You also have to think about which units to spend time and money producing while keeping the map’s layout in mind.

If your enemy seems to prefer cavalry and mounted troops, then producing tons of basic foot soldiers isn’t worth it and maybe you need pikemen. If your enemy keeps raining down arrows on you, maybe you need skirmishers to greet them. If you’re producing siege weapons, you can’t send them into battle alone, and it’s smart to pair some form of a soldier to protect them as they move into position.

Age of Empires 2 is a ton of fun and challenges you to think. That same level of thought could and should be applied to anyone in the military. While you might not be building a society as your MOS, the skills the game teaches are universal. The game forces you to think quickly, to be decisive, and to plan: all of those are inherently valuable skills to a service member.

Play on

Back in my day, if you got caught playing video games during the workday, there was hell to pay. These days if someone caught you playing Age of Empires 2, then I think you could argue that you’re training. It probably won’t work, but it’s worth the try.

If you’re looking for something exciting to play, check out Age of Empires 2 Definitive Edition. You might just learn something.

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Travis Pike

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record-setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines, and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.