08 February 2012

Why The Army's Games Aren't Your Games

Michael Peck has an article over at Kotaku. It'll be interesting to see how the comments shape up. No doubt some smart-ass is going to accuse him of not knowing what he's talking about.

First, the military doesn't play games. It uses training tools that happen to be games. The fun and competition of games is merely a means to induce students to learn, just like cherry flavor is a means to get kids to swallow disgusting medicine. Indeed, medicine is turning to video games to train surgeons. Do you want your heart surgeon to practice on a game because it's fun, or because it trains him to keep you alive?

People who sell games to the military don't think like gamers. They think like schoolteachers, with learning objectives and performance metrics. This may sound po-faced, but that's how they convince some cold-eyed bureaucrat that their game is better than a Powerpoint lecture at teaching Private Schmuckatelli to spot that IED hidden in the garbage pile by the road. Or, they need to show that the lazy Schmuckatelli will be more motivated to pay attention if his squad is competing against another squad in Virtual Battlespace 2. Making a game that's more interesting than Powerpoint would seem to be child's play, but it's not that simple. Games that will train hundreds of thousands of soldiers require plenty of computers, technical support and a generous donation of your tax dollars. Fun is good. Useful is better.

Second, everything bought by the military boils down to lots and lots of requirements. Someone has to have a need for a game, and the game will need to have very particular features. Sometimes the requirements don't make any sense, but that's how the military thinks. Boasting of your shooter's ultra-realistic physics model is pointless when the Army needs a game to teach soldiers how to butter up the natives not to shoot at them. In a burst of over-optimistic creativity, I once asked the Army why they couldn't use the Wii to practice physical tasks like fixing a tank. They replied that if they needed to teach a soldier to turn a wrench, they would get him a real wrench. Games are a solution, but never assume that they are the only solution.

By: Brant


Dan Eastwood said...

I have noted that what I think of as most fun, is a cleverly balanced scenario that is a real test of skill between players. In a scenario that is strongly one-sided, one player is destined to win even if they make substantial mistakes, and that is not much fun.

In a military setting, really close battles tend to have the highest casualties for both sides, which is no fun at all. Leaders who get into such battles either had no choice, or made some serious errors in the decisions that led to the situation.

You want to train your leaders to avoid "fun" wherever possible.

Dan Eastwood said...

On the other hand (won't this guy ever shut up?), training to master the appropriate skills can be fun. I'm sure there are (for example) surgeons who enjoy their work, and if they have a simulation game that improves skills, AND it is fun, so much the better.