Academic journal article Defense Horizons

Computer Games and the Military: Two Views

Academic journal article Defense Horizons

Computer Games and the Military: Two Views

Article excerpt


Simulations are a critical aspect of U.S. military training. Commercial computer games are a growing part of our entertainment industry. The two fields have much in common, and the military can learn from the successful experience of the commercial sector. J.C. Herz provides an industry look at gaming technology and culture and suggests ways in which commercial experience can be applied to the military. Michael Macedonia responds to Herz's analysis and provides a military gamer's perspective on computer games and the military.

Despite their common antecedents, the commercial gaming and defense simulation industries have developed differently since the 1970s. Once much smaller and weaker, commercial computer gaming has grown into a $7 billion industry and has outpaced military simulations in terms of technology and innovation. Herz attributes this growth to user-driven innovation in software design and the social ecology driving online multiplayer games. The commercial gaming industry encourages player innovation by soliciting feedback in the design and development phases of new products and by incorporating player modifications into the next iterations of established products. User-driven innovation is successful because it is inherent in the industry's cultural infrastructure, which can leverage interpersonal dynamics of competition, collaboration, hunger for status and peer acknowledgement, and tendency to cluster. This social ecology that drives online multiplayer games invests players in games and compels them to play. As the military attempts to incorporate information technologies into simulation, Herz suggests that it will require not only hardware and software infrastructure but also the cultural infrastructure to leverage these resources.

Macedonia recognizes the role that the commercial game industry has played in military simulations over the past 25 years. The military has readily adopted commercial simulations for use in strategy and tactics games in school curricula and for developing individual and collective skills in unit training. These efforts have resulted in stimulating collaborative activities, either with military modifications of commercial games or commercial simulations developed for the military. The military further recognized the importance of commercial entertainment technology with the creation of the Institute of Creative Technology, which brings together the defense and commercial industries to produce a revolution in how the military trains and rehearses for upcoming missions and to prepare for the challenges of the 21st century.

An Industry View

by J.C. Herz

Computer games and military simulation are like siblings separated in infancy. Although they share the same technological parentage, the commercial game and defense simulation industries have been nourished differently over the last 25 years and developed differently. Military simulation, the older sibling, evolved in a focused, formal, hierarchical environment, as contractors built specific, costly applications on powerful workstations. Military simulation projects were fewer in number but were long-term projects implemented within large organizations in a coordinated fashion.

Commercial game development, the younger sibling, initially was much smaller and weaker. Without access to large financial resources or institutional support, commercial games were fly-by-night affairs--floppy disks in Ziploc bags peddled by enthusiasts. Gamers programmed their products hastily, played them enthusiastically, and then deleted them to save space on hard drives. Because games were processor-intensive and consumer computers were slow, resourceful game designers used every known loophole to squeeze extra processing cycles out of slow computers, such as the TRS-80 and Commodore Amiga. These small machines were inferior to military supercomputers in every respect.

Between programmers and gamers (two groups that overlapped considerably), a community took root and flourished, informally and organically. …

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