When an old high school buddy came back from Afghanistan, I felt compelled to ask him about that for which I would be disqualified, for "constantly wetting oneself before, during, and after each firefight": war. "Well, we played a lot of games," he said. "Every now and again some idiot would shoot a rocket at the base, so we'd suit up, shoot back for about 10 minutes, then take off our gear and play some more Xbox."
Despite the black humor of playing FPS games in the midst of a war zone, the military has had a history with video games. Back in the nineties, the Army used a modified version of Doom II (the aptly named Marine Doom), which utilized LAN multiplayer to simulate a squadron, help soldiers to work as a team, follow on-the-fly orders, and generally acquaint players with the tactical approaches that would benefit them in real-world combat. Then of course there was America's Army, a free-to-play bit of digital propaganda FPS title, published and distributed by the US Military. An article on the Army website, "History of Military Gaming" has more for those who are interested; for the rest, let us march boldly - comrades in arms until the bitter end - into the fray.
Hit the jump to read on!
As one might expect, the United States is not alone in this approach: The UK has been training recruits with a program called Vitrual Battlespace 2. Unfortunately, as the years roll on, combat simulation games such as VB2 are becoming outdated - concerns echoed by Andrew Poulter, Defense Science and Technology in Portsdown, Hampshire, as quoted in the Guardian:
"Back in the 1980s and 1990s, defence was far out in front in terms of quality of simulation [...]Military-built simulators were state of the art. But now, for £50, you can buy a commercial game that will be far more realistic than the sorts of tools we were using. The truth is, the total spending on games development across the industry will be greater than spending on defence."
To remedy this, and as a broader goal of training modernization, the UK's Ministry of Defense aims to update their simulations. While realism takes precedent over production values - this is, after all, done in the interest of training - Poulter concedes that given the visual standards of modern FPS titles, "levels of immersion are very important." Thus, the MoD has launched "Project Kite (knowledge information test environment)," of which Poulter serves as leader, which has been given the task of modernizing military war games, in order to bring them up to the standard of their commercial counterparts. Part of this will involve purchasing technology from game companies, rather than building an entire simulation from scratch. Still, it's worth noting that however well the game may be designed, it is simply a supplement to, rather than a substitute for, conventional training.
It's interesting stuff, and my gamer nature is curious as to how a proper, military-minded game would play when compared to the standard, CoD fare. Nonetheless, despite its advantages to recruits, I can't help but remember the words of my old chum, regarding the hours of incidental training he received at base:
"A lot of sitting around, and a lot of Halo... Yep, that was Afghanistan."