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thedrifter
07-24-07, 07:56 AM
Video-game generation gains real-world skills


If you think your kids are just wasting their time playing video games, you might want to think again.

The quick reaction skills they might be developing could someday save their lives or those of others.

Montgomery County is investing $73,000 on a life-size video simulation system designed to help train police officers in so-called “shoot-or-don't-shoot” situations they might encounter on the streets.

In essence it's a big video game using infrared laser weapons instead of bullets, but the weapons produce the noise and kick of the real thing.

Police officers have strict rules and protocols that govern their use of force in various situations. They range from verbal orders, physical restraint or the use of pepper spray all the way up to firing their weapons.

The video simulator offers various situations and scenarios which an officer might face. They're displayed on a wall-sized screen, and the officer's response to the situations is videotaped.

The goal is to develop experience in making the correct split-second decisions that police officers sometimes must make to protect themselves and the public but also to not overreact and use more force than necessary to subdue a suspect.

The military for a long time has used similar simulation programs to train pilots, tank crews and other specialists. In recent years simulators have been developed for infantrymen to develop combat skills they will need on the urban battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Much like police officers, today's soldiers and Marines must make rapid, “shoot-or-don't-shoot” decisions as they confront an enemy who wears no uniform and operates among the civilian population.

A Marine Corps News article in May described a new “multi-room, mixed-environment Battle Simulation System to provide a realistic combat atmosphere for all Marines and sailors deploying to Iraq.”

The simulator at the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force headquarters at Camp Pendleton, Calif., was expected to be up and running by September.

“This prototype is designed to initiate the infantry to the sights, sounds, smells and conditions they would experience in combat,” the director of the training center said. “It provides infantry training with the most realistic form to prepare them for the real deal.”


The simulator brings participants through a variety of rooms housed within a factory compound. Each room has a set of projected screens to simulate walls, doors, scenery and enemy fighters. The rooms simulate different scenarios, from clearing houses to patrolling Iraqi roadways.

For several years Army artillery officers at Fort Sill, Okla., have been training on a simulator that has been described in USA Today as “part video game/part Hollywood sound stage with a serious dose of theme park thrill.”

One scenario is a simulated apartment in an Iraqi city, littered with chunks of brown plaster and other debris. Located in a huge building, the large screen projects a Middle Eastern cityscape, and the set has hidden surround-sound speakers that emit urban noises as soft as barking dogs to the deafening explosions of bombs and artillery shells. The room even shakes when a “nearby” blast goes off.

In this virtual combat environment trainees practice calling in artillery fire-support missions.

Traditional “field” training is still employed, but video simulation training is being used throughout all branches of the military and by police departments.

It's not difficult to understand why.

For one thing, the technology has rapidly advanced, achieving ever more realistic scenarios. It's cheaper than using live ammunition.

And we're probably on our second generation of video gamers, young adults who grew up in front of the screen with a joystick in their hands knocking off “bad guys” on PlayStation and Xbox and earlier game modules.

For them, one might suspect, the transition from virtual reality to plain old reality is relatively seamless.
Lou Sessinger is a columnist with The Intelligencer. He can be contacted at (215) 957-8172 or lsessinger@phillyBurbs.com.

July 24, 2007 5:09 AM

Ellie