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Roger Smith

The Long History of Gaming in Military Training Simulation & Gaming

For centuries the military have used gaming interfaces taken from the entertainment industry for training, tactics analysis and mission preparation.


Stone Age

  • Ancient Oriental generals planned battles using icons on maps or in sand.
  • Roman military leaders often implemented sand tables with units and soldiers detailed as physical pieces on them so they could visualize and manipulate a smaller version of the battlefield.
  • Sand Tables became a popular tool for the military and also a new form of entertainment.

Paper Age

  • The birth of strategy board games.
  • Asia, the Middle East, Europe adapted these forms of gaming.
  • Made from both wood and paper.
  • Date as far back as 3000 BCE to a game called WEI HAI (encirclement).
  • The game Chaturanga emerged in India in 500 BCE, and by AD 500 the game had a new name as we all know it know- CHESS.
  • Games at the end of the 1960’s had become so complex that a dichotomy between games as serious military tools and games as a form of entertainment was reborn.

Mathematical Age

  • The Military implemented the use of computing devices to help generate results of specific actions encountered during the playing of a game.
  • And as computing calculators become more accessible they could be used in real-time and by players for entertainment.
  • Games were still played on paper but the calculator brought with it logic and mathematical possibilities enabling a richer and more realistic version of gaming.
  • Was essential to create simulation games that could stay the same but have multiple outcomes, like AIR DEFENSE SIMULATION created in 1948 by the Army Operations Research Office.

Computer Age

  • The birth of strategy board games as digital programs.
  • The calculations and complexity of manipulation was maintained by the computer allowing the players to focus entirely on the tactical movements.
  • Created the opportunity to share the same game in multiple spaces with custom views.
  • Computers improved the mathematical models of warfare.
  • Graphics were introduced which allowed for more aesthetically appealing games. This was one of the first steps toward bringing the military and hobby players back together.

Personal Gaming Age

  • Gaming platforms became affordable and easy to access.
  • Military simulations like Simulator Networking (SIMNET) and Modular Semi-automated Forces (MODSAF) were uniquely military and became much more valuable in preparing officers for actual warfare.
  • These simulators pushed the boundaries of emerging graphic tools which would later be commercialized by companies that in turn, created games such as Castle Wolfenstein.
  • Allowed military simulations to migrate from large institutions to the individual hobbyists.
  • Traditional military training games were recreated by entertainment companies.
  • While at the same time games created entirely in the entertainment side of things began finding themselves in a militaristic domain.
  • Term “serious games” is coined by Michael Zyda.

Game Technologies

  1. 3D Engine
  2. Graphical User Interface
  3. Physical Models
  4. Artificial Intelligence
  5. Networking
  6. Persistent Worlds

Smith begins by stating that there is a renewed tension in the 21st Century between entertainment and military applications over games. He argues that, “each generation has had to wrestle with the personal and public image of a game being used for something as serious as planning warfare.” It seems that people are worried that there will be repercussions if games are adopted for military training because they are visually attractive rather than accurate representations of battlefield activities. This adoption is the result of commercial and entertainment technologies, surpassing those in military systems.

Smith’s conclusion describes the word game as an activity that entertains, and functions as a base of competition. Competition in its superior form can be found in military operations where life, liberty, and global security are at stake. These games specifically are not for entertainment, but they incorporate the competition and strategies that emerged from their entertainment roots. In todays military life, one is almost certain to come across some form of gaming apparatus and Smith concludes with the notion that it has and will always stay apart of these very serious activities.


Neil Postman

Amusing Ourselves to Death

Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

How specifically does TV change people?


Themes of the article: Seriousness vs. entertainment, narrative continuity vs. Radical discontinuity, Hard facts and context vs. sound-bites and theatrical performances, Citizen-driven Democracy vs. Consumer-driven Entertainment.

Neil Postman has a pessimistic and deterministic view of TV in culture and its affects on society. Postman believes that television turns everything it touches, even the most profound and serious matters into entertainment. TV transforms the most important things into mere trifles that are then packaged and sold. The problem is not the subject matter it is that the subject matter is intended to entertain us, and that everything now is represented in the ideal vision through TV. Postman is not saying entertainment is bad what he is saying is that everything has become entertainment at the cost of better things, like the pursuit of knowledge through reading.

Postman speaks about the age of pre-television, where people lived in a print culture, with mass reading. People even developed cognitive apparatuses that helped foster a creative way of thinking. This however changed once TV came around. TV results in passive spectatorship. Through paper we are forced to imagine the scenarios we read. When we read a book there is much more depth of knowledge. On TV the world comes to us in sound bites. Clips and carved up images that do not add up and as a result the knowledge is not absorbed.

Postman describes that television and entertainment have become a fundamental part of our lives. If this is true, why not incorporate these systems into real world applications such as military training? Well they have and they do on a consistent basis. The military uses video games to help train their soldiers which at its core is simply entertainment. After reading both articles I have begun to think that by using games to train soldiers may actually be doing them harm.


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