Military simulation training may lead recruits to view war as a game

Video games used to train recruits for war could also be masking the reality of the battlefield and creating a kind of detachment for those who become involved in the real thing.

It’s a fact that video games have become an important part of the military training regimen. It’s not that they are a new technology, but video games are an interesting addition to traditional approaches and, so the theory goes, are a necessity for current “digital-native” generations of recruits.

However, according to a LiveScience story, although video games are being used to train recruits for war, they could also be masking the reality of the battlefield and creating a kind of detachment for those who become involved in the real thing.

The story quotes Brooking Institution senior fellow Peter Singer, who opined on this in a recent edition of Foreign Policy. As Singer points out, the Pentagon’s goal with all of this is to create a simulation and quick training scenario for just about any military skill set, which is why it spends some $6 billion a year on the virtual universe.

If you want to see just how serious the military is about this, check out the presentations made at GameTech 2011, the latest in an annual series of conferences the Defense Department uses to promote the use of gaming technology in the military. It’s as detailed and academic as any serious tech gathering.

There’s good and bad in all of this, of course. Video games are also being used to (somewhat) successfully treat soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder more than a decade after the much less capable gaming technology of the 1990s was tried out on Vietnam vets.

However, with all of this techno wizardry, there’s a question of whether it’s blurring the border between gaming and reality for warfighters. Virtual training, for example, is at the heart of the Air Force’s vision for the future, and flying by joystick and screen is already a career path for pilots.

But Singer points to a conversation he had with a former F-15 pilot who, while standing in awe of the capabilities of U.S.-based pilots of unmanned drones, said the virtual nature of their training and video-based flying gives them no sense of what’s really going on. That pilot refuses to let his own kids play war-based games, preferring ones involving cars.

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