Infantry: July 14, 2001


Microsoft is entering the game console market this Fall, and the U.S. Army is planning on adopting Microsoft's new XBox as a training device. The army has been using computerized wargames for years, but these were largely expensive vehicle simulators and computerized map exercises for officers. Getting enough realism on the screen for combat troops was difficult. The XBox, and its competitors, changes that. "Photorealism" and very accurate physics models (use of gravity for movement, explosions and anything flying about) have made computer games look really, really real. Now the troops can work with what looks like a very accurate rendering of the battlefield. The air force and navy have already discovered (first, via rumor then with controlled tests) that use of commercial flight sims did have a significant effect on giving trainee pilots basic skills. The new generation of game consoles, exemplified by the XBox, not only have the computing and graphics power needed to train ground combat troops, but also networking which allows the troops to work together. The only problem is money. Developing games for the new consoles is expensive. Convincing a commercial developer to do a game that would be useful for soldiers would be tricky. What works for a commercial game often has a negative effect for military training. The marines discovered this when they first used DOOM to train their ground fighters. DOOM, while seemingly realistic and exciting to the troops, proved to be very capable of teaching the wrong lessons. The "combat model" in DOOM (how the computer controlled foes operated) was so unrealistic (if entertaining) that it would teach young marines false (and eventually fatal) lessons about how the enemy will operate. The challenge the army faces with XBox technology is to get useful games at a price they can afford. There will certainly be many avid users. Counting the army and marine ground fighters, plus special operations, you have over a hundred thousand potential users. Many would jump at the chance to buy an XBox for "professional use." The Army would also have additional XBox's in each infantry unit for organized training. In addition, there's the need for a armored vehicle centered XBox game plus ones for things like electronic warfare, artillery, engineers and, well, as many games as the army can afford to create. Like the experience with the commercial flight sims, ground combat based games will go far towards improving basic skills, and more advanced ones (like the fine points of tactics and combined arms operations.) This doesn't replace going out into the field for training, but will make that expensive training go more efficiently because the troops will have at least some practice beforehand. 


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