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Screengrab from Army edition of Virtual Battlespace 2 game

The military wants to step up its training game

The government and the military have been using game technology for a number of years, taking advantage of the fact that a good game engages users and enables them to learn more effectively than if they were, say, sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture.

This is probably especially true in the military, where the students tend to be a bit younger, have been raised on video games and need to learn concepts like teamwork and fire control — which are best discovered by actually doing them — only without the inherent dangers of getting it wrong.

National Defense Magazine reported that game efforts in government are getting ramped up, with the Army planning to award a $44.5 million contract to whichever company can produce the best video game-like simulation. 

The military already has a pretty good training game, albeit one that shows why the military is looking for something new. Created in 2007, it’s called Virtual Battlespace 2.  It was developed by Bohemia Interactive, which also created the successful mainstream battlefield game Operation Flashpoint, which shares many of the same features as the military version. And to an outside observer, Virtual Battlespace 2 looks pretty good, with lots of interaction and large, realistic environments. Someone who doesn’t play a lot of video games might see the demonstration video and think that it’s pretty high tech.

The problem is that many soldiers and sailors play a lot of video games. They see a game like Battlespace 2 and might cringe at how primitive it seems. Take a look at a modern, open-world title like Far Cry 3,  ogle the lush scenery, the crazy man-eating tigers, the crystal blue vacation-guide water (which you can swim in) and then hear the crack of your Dragunov SVD sniper rifle as you engage a car-load of hard charging insurgents…er, pirates. I guess the bad guys in FC3 are pirates.

Sorry, I got a little carried away there. But I hope you see my point. Soldiers who have played games like Far Cry 3 for hours on end are going to look at something like Battlespace 2 and be a bit disappointed that they have to play it for hours on end. It may not be as bad as sitting in a lecture hall, but the educational value of such an experience is going to be a little hobbled by the boredom factor. And these are the kinds of soldiers who could benefit most from a good game simulation.

To be sure, games like Far Cry 3, or Medal of Honor or Call of Duty aren’t realistic. The emphasis is on fun, not proper maintenance of your weapon or respecting the chain of command. If you tried some the of the things you did in Far Cry 3 in real life, assaulting an armed camp with a pistol while flying past on a zip line, hunting rabid dogs with an RPG, tossing grenades into a fuel depot to see how big a boom you can create, you would die. And that’s not very good from a training perspective.

But that doesn’t mean that the simulations can’t improve. The end goal is to better prepare soldiers to do their jobs when things get real. Perhaps when they are pinned down or ambushed in real life, they won’t panic because it happened in the game. Instead, they will follow procedure and get out alive. And for that training to be effective, it has to be engaging, so it’s great that the military is starting to catch up with the times.

Posted by John Breeden II on Jan 18, 2013 at 9:39 AM


Reader Comments

Wed, Jan 30, 2013 DEFENDER OF THE FREE WORLD

Yes, it is not as detailed as say Battlefield series of games or others on the market, however, it is not scaled like those games to equal out weapon capabilities to enhance game play, but focuses more of the physics of the weapons systems and real world situations. It also allows us to build the scenarios to practice mission essential tasks from individual to collective levels and evaluate them extensively in the AAR module. You will get military personnel who will want to use this software on their own accord outside of the office or units just because of the stuff I have stated and the ability to simulate actions missions they have performed in the "big sand box". I know I down loaded the full blown edition back in 2008, but never got around to utilizing it due to busy schedule at work (not out of lack of interest). Excellent article.

Tue, Jan 22, 2013 Frank

I play ARMA 2, which looks like the civilian version of the military game. It's not Far Cry 3, but is probably an upgrade from what the Army is playing now. They should just consider updating their gear to be able to play it. And then of course there is also a zombie version which is pretty fun. And who knows, might be useful one day. http://www.arma2.com/home_en.html

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