Games in Science and Technology

FWD News: Defense Sector Targets Video Games

GameTech Conference LogoThe place of video games in the defense sector has been growing steadily as technology has become more advanced and realistic. Promoting the use of gaming resources within the US Department of Defense was the focus of GameTech 2010, a conference exploring games that enhance warfighter training.

The conference was organized by Team Orlando, a collaborative military alliance that supports the development of training systems for all branches of the armed forces, the US Department of Defense, and other government agencies. Read More...

GameTech 2010, which took place from March 29-30 2010, touched upon serious games with a presentation by Ben Sawyer, co-director of the Serious Games Initiative. It also offered introductions to instructional systems design, standard and web-based virtual worlds as well as immersive learning experiences. Several sessions looked at specific uses of Virtual Battlespace 2, an interactive 3D military training and experimentation system developed by Bohemia Interactive Simulations.

The winners of two design competitionswere announced at the conference; the Federal Virtual Worlds Challenge and the Innovations in DoD Gaming Award. The Challenge honoured 19 entries that excelled in the virtual world fields of collaboration, skill building, instruction and visualization, from both government and non-government developers.

Virtual Battlespace 2 from Bohemia Interactive SimulationsThe Innovation Award, for a game featuring the use of technology in an innovative way to perform realistic and effective military training, saw the top prize go to a group of three simulation experts. The program developed by Luke Devore, Pat Maloney and Brian Libretto, civilian contractors with Cubic, uses after-action reports from deployed troops to train Marine squads in critical thinking and evaluation before they go on tour.

In this first-person shooter-style game, scenes are programmed to match reports taken from very recent actions on the ground. Troops receive a short briefing, enter the game simulation, execute the mission and then discuss the results of decisions taken. The development team will be presenting a demo of its program at ImplementationFest 2010, a conference focusing on innovative distributed learning technologies for defense training taking place from August 10-12 in Orlando, FL.

Serious Entertainment

While specially developed simulation games have the power to effectively train recruits and troupes, off-the-shelf games also have potential benefits in the defense sector. For example, games like Wii Fit or Dance Dance Revolution could find a place in boot camps, helping new military recruits get accustomed to physical training. Navy Surgeon General Vice Admiral Adam Robinson believes so, saying that such games could help newcomers to the service build up the endurance they need to get in shape safely.

“There is an issue in terms of physical fitness,” said Robinson. “There have been more fractures and femur fractures and long-bone fractures in some of our young female recruits, and that’s related to the amount of activity and a sedentary lifestyle that they’ve had before they’ve entered the service and then the uptick in physical activity after they’re in the service.”

“There are lots of programs now that people can [use to] become very physically active while they’re using interactive computer games,” he added. "This is about incorporating those types of activities into something that people can use to become more physically active.” While the idea is considered, no specific timeline has been set for the introduction of such games.

Another example is found in Daphne Bavelier's research focusing on the benefits of first-person shooter games like Unreal Tournament and Medal of Honor.

"We are testing this hypothesis that when you play an action video game, what you do is you learn to better allocate your resources," said Bavelier, speaking at the Games for Learning event, part of the Games for Change festival.

Not only do these games favour active learning, they also promote brain functions that are essential in the military. "People that play these fast-paced games have better vision, better attention and better cognition," said the University of Rochester brain and cognitive science researcher. "Through entertainment these games test your memory skills, your eye-hand coordination, your ability to detect small activities on the screen and interact with them," she added.