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Military Turned First To Serious Games, Now To Virtual Worlds

Via: The Washington Times - Military Sets Sights On Virtual World

Since 1997, when the Marine Corps used Software Inc.'s popular "Doom" game as the basis for a training tool, agencies have experimented with computer games for serious purposes.

The Serious Games Movement got a start in 2002 when the U.S. Army released the video game America's Army as a free online download. That game was the first successful and well-executed serious game that gained total public awareness. More than 5 million people have become registered users.

The US government and military have turned to the game industry for two reasons: lower costs and improved quality of user experience.

Computer games cost significantly less than a large-scale simulator in which trainees sit in a cockpit, or another life-size system. What's more, games can be deployed cost-effectively online. With simulators, the military must bear the cost of bringing trainees to the simulators.

Games by their nature are competitive, fast moving and entertaining. They also tend to include better and more realistic graphics and games are different every time they're played.

Now, U.S. military and intelligence agencies are increasingly making use of computer-generated virtual worlds for training, teleworking and trying to predict human behavior.

The capabilities of so-called synthetic world software have increased at a huge rate since they were pioneered for the public by such games as "SimCity" and "Second Life." Now, scientists working for the military and U.S. intelligence want to capitalize on that notion.

The U.S. Navy recently announced it was looking for a contractor to develop "a highly interactive, PC-based Human, Social and Culture Behavioral Modeling simulation tool to support training for military planners for handling insurgencies, small wars and/or emergent conflicts."

According to a procurement document posted online, the software "should be game-based" and must be "flexible enough" to allow users to design their own scenarios, maps and "unique situations" as "plug-in modules to experiment and train with."

The Navy project will join a growing list of programs seeking to leverage the power of such complex simulation programs for a variety of purposes.

"There's a real big push in the military for this kind of thing," defense technology analyst and blogger Noah Shachtman told United Press International.