The US Army’s TCM Gaming has revolutionized Games for Training by developing a capability where each soldier’s actual performance and abilities are accurately represented in their personal gaming-avatar, thus enhancing in-game realism and enabling soldiers to train as they fight.
Anthony Rolfe,1 MA
National Simulation Center (NSC), Leavenworth, KS
Serious game technologies, simulations, and simulators are essential to the US Army training strategy. Following this public sector lead, private sector commercial entertainment gaming technologies provide appealing didactically capable virtual environments with high resolution to replicate complex battlefields (Roman & Brown, 2008). However, various current entertainment games like Madden 25 and EA Sports College Football compel participants to create fantasy avatars (characters) with behaviors/capabilities not typical of even the highest caliber professional athletes. Entertainment game play would be short lived if avatars reflected the true capabilities of a non-professional athlete such as myself. We rapidly would become disillusioned with a lack of personal avatar performance or have realistically simulated avatars sidelined with career ending injuries. In contrast, serious games for military training make essential the use of realistic, not fantasy, avatars through human dimensional modeling (HDM).
In serious games for military training, HDM matches environment accuracy with player truthfulness. Accurately simulated combat environments are populated with individual players reflecting real skill levels and proficiencies. Historically, most military simulations did not replicate each participant’s capabilities, relying instead upon a generic standard generation of equally proficient avatars. These unrealistic training avatars absolved small unit leaders from responsible evaluation of inherent soldier and unit capabilities and further limited critical analysis, thereby minimizing decision-making processes, the cornerstone of military operations (Caird-Daley, 2009).
HDM effectiveness in game-based military training was empirically evaluated recently by the NSC’s U.S. Training and Doctrine Command Capability Manager of Gaming and the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia. This evaluation assessed the feasibility of modeling physical attributes of height, weight, body fat content, gender, race and performance attributes of weapons proficiency and aerobic fitness to produce accurate avatars that represented soldiers’ realistic performance/capabilities.
Using an XML data format, individual soldier performance training records were exported from the Digital Training Management System (DTMS) database into the Army licensed gaming application known as Virtual Battlespace 2 (VBS2). Each attribute was replicated using a series of mathematical algorithms to create a hybrid in-game avatar that accurately portrayed the individual player’s height, weight and body mass index as well as cardio-respiratory capability along with muscular strength and endurance. DTMS stores participants’ frontal and profile digital photos which then generate realistic facial representations for the game.
During the initial study over a five-day training session, 9 soldiers and 1 training observer were required to complete preliminary training in VBS2 to develop a basic system understanding and mastery of computer keystroke manipulation skills. Evaluation measures included comparisons of live versus in-game individual marksmanship, cardio respiratory endurance, and the impact of fatigue upon shooting and maneuvering capability. At the study’s conclusion, the soldiers discussed user feedback, identified capability strengths and weaknesses, and proposed recommendations for future enhancements and applications. Additionally, a 74-item exit survey determined the added value of HDM.
Study results identified soldier perceptions of the HDM versus standard in-game avatars along with perceived user preferences, usability, and desirability of HDM to enable training.
All participants reported entertainment video game playing; however, when the focus changed from entertainment to military training applications, participants’ mindsets changed considerably. All 9 participants preferred, both now and for future training events, to use the HDM avatars over the standard “superhuman” version in VBS2. Compared to the standard version, the HDM avatar increased player frustration by placing limitations upon in-game performance capabilities; but, participants recognized added value with a more realistic military training application. Six out the 9 participants indicated that the standard superhuman avatar supported team and squad performance for in-game tactical operations and all 9 participants expressed satisfaction with HDM training.
Quantitative data and exit survey responses suggest that introducing HDM avatars improved training experience, but had less entertainment value for participants. Specifically, while training for combat with real-world consequences, all soldiers preferred realistic avatars based upon their personal abilities versus the fantasy superhuman avatar provided by the standard in-game version of VBS2. Additionally, participants reported greater motivation to improve future live training scores since in-game avatars reflect individual live training outcomes. Quantification indicates that accurate modeling of soldier fitness and personal weapons qualification scores can be simulated in the current game Virtual Battle Space 2 (VBS2) using HDM data injects from live training performance records found in the Digital Training Management System (DTMS).
Results suggest that soldier fitness data from DTMS live training performance records can be incorporated into the current version of Virtual Battle Space 2, resulting in an accurate representation of each soldier’s actual performance and abilities for their personal gaming-avatar, thus enhancing in-game realism and enabling soldiers to train as they fight.
Our future efforts focus on determining (a) the long-term effects of this technology for improving live training performance, (b) the benefits of HMD applied to a large training audience, and (c) what information platforms and technologies this capability best serve training audiences and those in the simulations profession who are charged with facilitating the highest quality of training. Additional research will focus on importing other attributes such as sleep deprivation, nutrition, and applying crew qualifications (e.g., armored vehicle crew’s in-game gunnery capabilities will only reflect their real-life capabilities).
These results propelled the US Army to include Human Dimension Modeling avatars as a standard capability in its new Games for Training Flagship, Virtual Battlespace 3 (VBS3), scheduled for release in January 2014.
Roman, P., & Brown, D., (2008). Games just how serious are they?, Florida. Retrieved from http://www.vbs2.co.za/images/Games_How_Serious_Paper.pdf
Caird-Daily, A., Dawson, B., Ciereszko, R., Osborne, B., & Parker, I. U.K. Ministry of Defence Scientific Research Programme, Human Factors Integration Defence Technology Centre. (2009). Training decision making using serious games: Requirements analysis for decision making training. Retrieved from website: http://www.hfidtc.com/research/training/training-reports/phase-2/HFIDTC-2-4-6-2-1-decision-making-serious-games.pdf
1. Appreciation is extended to Marco Conners and Mary Gregerson for previewing and editing this manuscript.