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Real tanks, virtual enemies and the whole exercise can be integrated into one training platform and monitored - even altered on the fly - by a central computer. If you think this is starting to sound a little too much like Ender's Game, you're not alone.
The use of games as war simulators is a definite improvement over sending young men unprepared into the crucible of war, but it does raise the question of whether the lines will begin to blur. Will the simulations themselves become so indistinguishable as to render the difference meaningless? And what happens then? When games are used to teach war, will war itself become a game? I asked Shockley if anyone using his simulators had stopped themselves, realizing they were having more fun than they should be.
"The very first exercise we did where we had simulated bad guys shooting back," he said, "we had a company of guard soldiers out, and they were doing these exercises with our system, and they're out running around doing maneuvers. We were using them, basically to make sure that the system was tuned right and it was all working properly, and it was toward the end of the day. We said, 'Gosh, guys, we got everything we need, thank you very much.' And they said, 'Well, can't we go out again?'" He said "No."
I asked John how much an operation involving his systems would typically cost. What, in other words, is the monetary difference between videogames and war games?
"For an individual exercise it's probably in the few thousands of dollars. ... [But] I'd be really hesitant to say because it varies so much ... depending on the scale."
So, significantly more than a quarter; which, at least for now, seems to be the only difference. Will some lucky videogamer soon find himself completing a game and then, instead of a story cut scene, or rolling credits, seeing an invitation to join the Army? According to SRI's John Shockley, such a scenario isn't too far from the realm of possibility.
"I think there's something to that [idea]," he says. "I really think there's something to that. You know, [as] the skills of simulation get better and better, a lot of the skills will be very realistic."
Meaning the next game you play could be far less than virtual.
Russ Pitts is an Associate Editor for The Escapist. He has written and produced for television, theatre and film, has been writing on the web since it was invented and claims to have played every console ever made. His blog can be found at www.falsegravity.com.