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NATO Group Holds Video-Gaming Session

By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service

ALEXANDRIA, Va., Sept. 22, 2006 – Members of a NATO working group met here yesterday to play video games -- not just for kicks though.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
NATO members play the video game “Battlefield 2,” during a NATO working group session in Alexandria, Va., Sept. 21, 2006. The U.S. Defense Department is examining ways to use video games to train servicemembers, and achieve better interoperability and standards among the alliance’s partners. Photo by Steven Donald Smith

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The gathering was part of a serious effort to achieve better interoperability and standards among the alliance’s partners in all aspects of training, including using video games to train troops before they deploy. Advanced Distributed Learning, a Defense Department entity tasked with leading a collaborative effort to harness the power of information technologies to modernize learning, hosted the gaming portion of the working group.

“One thing we know about games is that they’re very motivating for learners,” said Dr. Robert Wisher, director of the ADL Initiative for the Office of the Secretary of Defense. “We are looking at what can actually transfer from the games to an actual military operation.”

The vision of the ADL Initiative is to provide access to the highest-quality learning and performance aiding that can be tailored to individual needs and delivered cost-effectively, anytime and anywhere, according to the ADL Web site.

During yesterday’s gaming session, the NATO members faced-off against each other in the game “Battlefield 2,” which simulates urban warfare in a desert nation.

“The games are a good teaching tool,” Polish army Maj. Jaroslaw Bartkowski said. “It’s very interesting to play them. In the cyber age, a lot of people play with them, but we can use them in a positive way for teaching.”

Most of the games used for this purpose are off-the-shelf commercial products, which the military services sometimes modify to meet their needs. A few games have, however, been co-developed and funded by the Defense Department.

“We have some agreements with game companies,” Wisher said. “We provide subject matter experts because it will be closer to what we need for training, and the game will look more real.”

The games have only been used for research and development, thus far.

Tim Tate, director of ADL’s job performance technology center, said young people are increasingly using technology to learn, and DoD aims to expand its efforts in this area. “Younger people are very enthused about games,” Tate said. “We wanted to make this part of military training.”

U.S. enemies will always come up with surprise tactics, but the ultimate goal of using the games is to save lives by preparing troops for what they might face and improving their lethality, Tate said. “Experience saves lives in combat,” he said. “And we know lethality in combat is based on experience.”

Games can build confidence in a warfighter because of the repetitiveness of certain scenarios, Tate added. “If you do something in simulation, even though it’s not real, it builds your confidence,” he said.

Mission rehearsal is imperative to proper training, said Daniel E. Gardner, director of policy and programs for DoD’s readiness and training office. “You can get a sense of what things will look like before you actually do it,” he said.

Another value gained from the games is in cost reduction. “One of the things to remember is that it’s really expensive to do live exercises all the time,” Gardner said. “So in a sense, you can rehearse in virtual world, and that gives you the opportunity to run through the basics, talk about the command and control, know who is on your left and right, and how you’re going to communicate with each other.

“The next step would be a live rehearsal,” he continued. “It’s a balance of the live, virtual and constructive training environment that is aimed at achieving the overall capability.”

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