Support: To The Dismay Of Parents Everywhere


August 29, 2007: Much to the dismay of parents everywhere, experience with video games is, more and more, proving to be a lifesaving skill on the battlefield. Many crucial systems use video game type controllers, and troops with thousands of "wasted" hours playing video games quickly become expert at using the military gear. This includes remote control weapons (particularly the 12.7mm machine-gun turret found on armored hummers and Stryker vehicles), several models of combat robots and UAVs (like the Raven). Research has shown that eye-hand coordination is enhanced in proportion to the hours spent playing video games. This helps with everything from operating a fire control system in a tank, ship or aircraft, to using remote control surgery gear. Yes, even surgeons who found time to play video games have an easier time using the growing number of automated gear they use.

As an additional bonus, the army has found itself with lots of reservists that have programming and video game skills, thus making it easier to make simulators for the new equipment, using video game-like interfaces. In the last two years, the army has been particularly successful putting some of these simulators (like the one for CROWS, the remotely controlled 12.7mm machine-gun) on the "America's Army" online game. There, potential recruits can learn what it's like to use items based on video game technology. If one of these guys joins up, he will later find himself using the same "America's Army" CROWS module to get ready for action in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"America's Army" was originally developed as a recruiting and public relations tool. It cost over eight million dollars to create. By late 2002, it had 929,000 registered players, 563,000 of whom stayed around long enough to finish the basic training exercise. The game costs $2.5 million a year to maintain. So far, over seven million people have downloaded the front end (player) software. At peak times, over 5,000 players are online with the game simultaneously. Recruiters are satisfied with the number of prospects coming in because of the game. But an unexpected bonus has been the number of other uses the game has been put to.

The game, like many games today, was based on one of the "game engines" that are for sale to those developing commercial games. A "game engine" is the software for an earlier, successful, game, with all the specific graphics and play elements removed. When you buy a game engine, you add your own graphics and specific game and play elements, and have a new game. Military simulators are using the same approach. America's Army used the Unreal game engine, and is now providing clones of the America's Army software for additional training systems. Using the highly realistic combat operations depicted in the game, special versions are used to create specific games for all sorts of combat situations. The public will never see most of these, especially the classified ones.

Using the America's Army software, and a "tool box" that has been created to quickly modify the software, you can quickly create a custom version of America's Army. To do this from scratch, would cost over a million dollars, take over a year, and might not work. With the America's Army resources, it takes a few months, and often costs under $100,000. In this way, weapons (and equipment) simulators have been quickly created, and put to use. Because America's Army is web based, the troops can start to use it quickly, from wherever they can find a web connection. That means in the combat zone these days.


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