Video games are all the rage in the U.S. Army. America’s Army, a first-person shooter, is used as a recruiting tool to lure in kids weaned on Xbox. For simulating convoy-protection operations, the Army has Ambush!, another shooter. And Tactical Iraqi simulates encounters between soldiers and Iraqis to teach basic language and cultural skills. Dr. Robert Wisher, from the Pentagon’s Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative, told me that the U.S. military has formally adopted 23 different video games.
But almost all of them are street-level, tactical games for young grunts. What’s missing, according to Major Kyle Burley, a staffer at the Army War College, is a game that simulates decision-making at strategic levels -– something to help make better generals. He calls it “a first-person thinker.”
Today Burley uses a moderated, text-based game that simulates top command during an imaginary Second Korean War. Essentially, the game is just a series of chat rooms where colonels hash out potential command decisions, and a moderator decides whether they’re good decisions or not. What Burley wants is an “immersive” game with a live 3D environment and avatars for the players. “Ideally, we would have a virtual, online, Web-access roleplaying environment which allows students to be an avatar [that] probably looks much like the student, and they’re given a skin like in Second Life that is equivalent to their position, and they go into different moderated rooms and talk to fellow roleplayers that are in that scenario.”
So why not just use Second Life? “Awkward interface,” Burley says. Okay, so what about World of Warcraft, which definitely encourages decision-making and group collaboration in a fluid, high-stress environment? (Pictured.) Sure, Burley says, but no self-respecting colonel will take all those dwarves, mages and six-legged alligators seriously. “The collaborative element is useful – you’ve got chat and avatars –- but the actual content and setting aren’t what we’d like for having roleplayers have committee meetings with the State Department.”