The ramblings of a stark raving lunatic follow...

Saturday, November 26, 2005

America's Army unveiled as training tool

at the recent Serious Games Summit in Washington, DC, the Army showed off a new use for its computer game - training soldiers for combat.

US army cuts teeth on video game.

Eh? When I saw this linked on ActionTrip earlier today, I thought someone had screwed up and mistakenly dug up an old article. Call me cynical, but I'm a little confused by this for various reasons. For one, America's Army (hereon referred to as AA) was released to the public over three years ago, and was backed by a veritable war machine of PR and hype. Granted, it was ostensibly a recruitment tool (though didn't they initially go to great pains to refute those claims?), but you'd think that with the amount of money the Army threw at the development, you'd think that the idea of "training tool" would have surfaced a little earlier.

I suppose one way of looking at this, is that the three some years that the game has been in civilian hands has been a key part of the development cycle in and of itself, with each release equated to a development alpha, allowing the team to add and tweak gameplay aspects, as well as technical issues like network stability. Even with that in mind, it still seems a little odd, given that the game was always just that: a game. Which brings me to my other point.

I recall downloading AA on release day, and stepping through the compulsory training provided, before hopping on a server and playing a few rounds. What struck me was that, for an officially-Army-backed shooter, it sure didn't feel very realistic. Aside from the annoyingly training-safety-centric drills that have no place in a combatzone, like looking down from your target in order to visually ascertain that yes, I'm actually switching the fire selector from "Semi" to "Burst". For all the realism claims, sniper training was certainly a breeze. Well, once I realized that I didn't have to compensate for bullet drop from a 7.62mm NATO round at over 500 meters, anyway.

Over the years, the team appears to have looked into the more game-centric conventions like bunny-hopping, but at last check (which was, admittedly over a year ago) it still appeared to play much like a video game. Now, unless the team has a separate build that's been developed in parallel with the civilian builds, I don't particularly see how valuable the game would be as a military training tool. The money being poured into development, and the equipment they're using to retrofit field-ready gear for use in the game (which isn't a new idea or implementation by any stretch) seems like it would be better suited to one of the already-available COTS solutions on the market. I mean, the features they've touted aren't exactly earth-shattering technological revelations. Virtual Battlespace 1 (VBS1) in particular, which is currently in use by the USMC and ADF among others, comes to mind. DARPA is starting to use Operation Flashpoint as the basis for training scenarios, in particular convoy ambushes (which you'll note is the primary scenario mentioned in the BBC article), especially since a vast amount of theatre-relevant end user-created content is readily available.

Then again, I guess the Army have their pride to worry about. And a whole lot of money to throw around. COTS just seems like the more sensible solution. I mean, Full Spectrum Warrior as the basis of a training module to teach interpersonal interaction with local populace? The jarheads got it right when they licensed There some time back for just that purpose.

Honestly. Quit trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole, and remember that you're supposed to be trying to keep your men and women alive.


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