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[infowar.de] ABCNews 21.08.02 A Play for Better Soldiers
A Play for Better Soldiers
The Rise of Computer Games to Recruit and
Train U.S. Soldiers
By Paul Eng
? War can be hell. But training for one ?
or even finding soldiers to fill the ranks ?
shouldn't have to be. At least, not
according to the U.S. Army.
For decades, the various branches of the U.S.
military have been using high-tech training tools of one sort or
another. Sophisticated flight simulators that mirror actual flying
conditions have been used by the Air Force since the beginning of
World War Two.
But as the military turns to more exotic and expensive high-tech
weaponry, ranging from computer-equipped tanks to remotely piloted
aircraft such as the Predator, the need to find and adequately
train tech-savvy troopers has become even more paramount.
And for the Army, the answer seems to lie with using increasingly
realistic computer video games and simulations.
Operation: Game Time
Last month, the Army released its first official video game ever
designed for civilians called "America's Army: Operations." Taking over
two years ? and nearly $8 million ? to develop, the game is
similar to popular first-person shooting games such as Doom, Quake
But unlike many other commercial combat games, where players are
rewarded for racking up tons of "virtual kills," the official Army
game is designed to portray a soldier's life in a bit more
realistic light, say officials.
For example, instead of a plethora of weapons and ammunition,
players in the game are limited to what they can carry ? just like a
real soldier, says Lt. Col. George Juntiff, operations officer for
the game's design team at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey
Bay, Calif. And the Army models each weapon in the game ? from a
standard M-16 rifle to grenades to machine guns ? after the
real version currently in use.
The game also adheres to real-life military principles. Shoot a
sergeant or a team member during the game, says Juntiff, and the
character is sent to the stockade. Such programmed rules help to
the game to stress teamwork above individual capabilities. "It's not
Saving Private Ryan or Platoon," says Juntiff. "You have to work
[with other players] as a team [to succeed]."
Lt. Col. Casey Wardynski, director of the Office of Economics and
Manpower Analysis at the West Point Military Academy and one
of the game's creative directors, says the game is designed to be
entertaining yet educational as well.
"The main intent [of the game] is educational," says Wardynski.
"We want to show kids that the Army links training to future success."
We Were (Virtual) Soldiers
But Operations is just one part of other games the Army is
developing. By October, Wardynski hopes to have the next part of the
game called "Soldiers" completed and available from the Army's Web
Instead of a first person action game, Soldiers will be a
role-playing game where players will create characters that go through
challenges that accompany life in the Army.
Players will create a virtual soldier's life by going though basic
training, selecting one of 20 military specialties such as
and pursing promotions and further training. "You come in
basically as a recruit and see what [Army life] looks like," says
While Wardynski admits that such a game might not have a wide
appeal to gamers, there is a good reason for players to go through the
role-playing portion as well.
Just as in a real soldier's life, how well a player succeeds in
the non-combat portions of the game affects the combat part. Electing
additional classroom training in the Soldier's portion of the
game, for example, may help players avoid "friendly fire" incidents in
"The [Operations] game becomes much more entertaining once you go
through the Soldier's portion," says Wardynski.
Wardynski is also careful to note that both parts of the game
won't contain any overt messages of recruitment. But he says that it
wouldn't be illogical that the game could be used as some form of
"Let's say you play a lot and you've done very well," says
Wardynski. "You could get a message that says guys that perform like you
do in the game do really well in the Army."
Whether such a feature will be in the final CD-ROM version of the
games isn't clear. "We're pretty conscious not to step on any toes
and act like Big Brother," he says. "We don't want to go down that
Power From the Common PC
Such virtual simulations of the modern Army life are just the tip
of the iceberg, however.
For years, the Army's Simulation, Training, and Instrumentation
Command (STRICOM) in Orlando, Fla., has been developing
advanced simulation and training tools that are meant to give
America's soldiers a combat edge.
And Michael Macedonia, the chief scientist at STRICOM, says the
rapid advancements in personal computer technology is helping to
make virtual training even more attractive to military planners
In fact, he says that over the last few years, STRICOM has been
working to move many of the military's specially-developed virtual
training systems over to much more powerful ? and cheaper ?
"Game consoles such as Microsoft's Xbox are more powerful than a
1975 IBM mainframe," says Macedonia. "Essentially, we can do
a lot of simulation and apply them to training and analysis
All Virtual Training, All the Time
One of the things STRICOM is looking at, for example, is creating
a huge online network that would link tens of thousand of soldiers,
sailors, and aviators to train in a virtual battlefield using
simple handheld computers. "That's where the future is," says Macedonia.
get soldiers to collaborate and train at any time."
So far, STRICOM has spent about $6 million doing research on such
a capability. But Macedonia says it's most likely still three to five
Still, most military experts note that sophisticated computer
simulations will become an increasingly unavoidable part of the military
The primary reason is cost. The recently concluded "Millennium
Challenge" training exercise involved over 13,000 military personnel
from every branch of service at a cost of about $250 million. And
as weapons become more sophisticated, they're also becoming more
expensive ? and too costly to be used during such "field
"In the past, you really had problems doing high-quality training"
says John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, an online military
research firm in Alexandria, Va. "To get well trained used to mean
a lot of field training exercises where you burn up a lot of expensive
But with many of modern weapons being controlled by computer
technology, computerized training systems offer near-perfect
simulations at fractions of the cost, says Pike.
Still, he notes that not every aspect of training a soldier for
war can be simulated ? yet. "At the end of the day, there's no way you
simulate being cold, wet, and hungry," says Pike. "You might be
able to do that on the holodeck on the next millennium, but there are
some parts of it that have to be physically experienced."
Copyright © 2002 ABC News Internet
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