El impacto cultural de los videojuegos, Pt. 2

Las maquinas y las computadoras se van integrando cada vez más con nuestras actividades humanas. Las personas que juegan videojuegos estarán más preparadas para adaptarse a este nuevo mundo que se esta creando día tras día.

Una nota en WIRED hoy describe como las personas que juegan videojuegos on-line de multi-jugadores, como World of Warcraft, están en mejores condiciones para entrar al mercado laboral (el exigente e hiper-technologizado). Dicen los autores de la nota:

Gaming [la palabra en inglés es el verbo activo de jugar, y se refiere a ‘jugar videojuegos’] suele ser visto como una diversión inocua –en el mejor de los casos— y un vil corruptor de la juventud, en el peor. Pero los criticos comunes no logran ver el potencial de aprendizaje experimental [en gaming]. Al contrario de la educación adquirida por libros, seminarios y enseñanza en el aula, lo que sucede en juegos on-line con masivas cantidades de jugadores es lo que nosotros llamamos aprencizage accidental. Es un aprender a ser –el producto
secundario natural de adaptarse a una nueva cultura—y no un aprender sobre. Mientras que el aprendizaje tradicional esta basado en la ejecución de desafíos graduados, el aprendizaje accidental esta basado en el fracaso. Entornos virtuales son plataformas seguras para prueba y error. La probabilidad de error es altisimo, pero el costo es bajo y lo que se aprende es imediato.

Sigue. Es una lectura fundamental.

Para ver el impacto de esto --y de como se estan confundiendo los mundos virtuales con los mundos reales-- solo hay que escuchar a la generación de soldados estadounidenses en Irak, criados por Playstation y la X-box.

Hace unos meses salio una nota en el Washington Post sobre este fenómeno, pero hay decenas. Ver este post, por ejemplo, de we-make-money-not-art, del 16 de Febrero de este año: Can video games prepares soldiers to real war?

Concretamente los soldados se han preparado para la experiencia de luchar jugando videojuegos. Uno tras otro testimonio dice “Era igual a Halo” o “Era como estar en Grand Theft Auto

Y los generales saben esto y lo estan aprovechando. Vean, por ejemplo, esta nota seminal de Clive Thompson, The Making of an X Box Warrior.

Allí describe como el ejercito contrato a Microsoft para hacer un juego para entrenar a los soldados en via a Irak.

Futuratrónics cross-index: El impacto cultural de los videojuegos; La guerra es un juego infinito.

Imagen: del juego Halo 2

4 comentarios:

Andrés Hax dijo...

August 22, 2004
The Making of an X Box Warrior

t was only a virtual Baghdad, baking under a virtual sun. As in real life, though, troops were dodging gunfire. I was at the Institute for Creative Technologies in Marina Del Rey, Calif., playing a new X box video game called Full Spectrum Warrior. Leading eight men in an Army squad on a patrol of the war-torn city, I got a taste, however approximate, of why Iraq is such a hard place to be a soldier these days. My job, as squad leader, was to order my soldiers where to go and what to do. First, I sent half of my men into an alleyway, where they immediately came under fire from insurgents hiding nearby. Scrambling for safety, I ordered us to duck into a building, pausing to marvel at the detail of the architecture. I then led us back out onto the street, directing my team to crouch behind a car while we tried to locate the snipers. This was a bad idea. Despite what you see in action movies and other video games, cars do not provide good cover from bullets. The snipers cut loose, and my troops crumpled to the ground. It was surprisingly distressing. In barely three minutes, I had led every single one of my soldiers to his death.

I play video games regularly and, modesty aside, usually do quite well. Though this was my first attempt at Full Spectrum Warrior, the reason that I played poorly was not that I was inexperienced but that the game was not designed solely for entertainment. Full Spectrum Warrior was created by the Institute for Creative Technologies, with help from the Army, to teach soldiers realistic strategies for surviving what the armed forces call ''military operations in urban terrain.'' As a result, the game is unforgivingly precise. The soldiers you command are programmed to respond the way a real soldier would. There are no magic weapons to bail you out. All you have going for you is the real world. ''This is what you'll really see when you're out there,'' said Maj. Brent Cummings, a soldier then stationed at Fort Benning, Ga., who worked as a consultant on the game and walked me through it.

For the past three years, the military has been entertaining the surprising idea that video games, even those that you play on a commerical system like Microsoft's Xbox, can be an effective way to train soldiers. In fact, the Army is now one of the industry's most innovative creators, hiring high-end programmers and designers from Silicon Valley and Hollywood to devise and refine its games. Some of these games are action-packed, like Full Spectrum Warrior. Others, like one that the military's Special Operations Command is currently designing to help recruits practice their Arabic, are less so. All the games, however, speak to the military's urgent need to train recruits for the new challenges of peacekeeping efforts in places like Iraq.

Teaching someone to be an accurate shot is not particularly hard to do. Military trainers have learned that if you put someone through a week of intensive work with a point-and-shoot simulator (not unlike today's commerically available shoot-'em-up video games), he will be reasonably good with a rifle. Teaching judgment, however, is much harder than teaching hand-eye coordination. Today's military is in the market for games that train soliders, in effect, how not to shoot -- how to avoid conflict whenever possible, to recognize danger and find a route around it. As a squad leader in Full Spectrum Warrior, you do not even carry a gun that fires, which makes it the first military-action video game in which the player never discharges a weapon.

Some skeptics worry that if the military's games are not realistic enough, they will encourage bad habits and incorrect strategy -- tactics that work on the screen but get soldiers killed on the battlefield. It is certainly true that many video games for sale in stores would be disastrous for training and would trivialize a task that is literally a matter of life and death. James Korris, the creative director of the Institute for Creative Technologies, said that he once analyzed the behavior of the computerized enemy forces in the commercial game Command & Conquer Generals. At first glance, the enemy appeared to be marching in intelligent formations, but on closer examination, he said, they were revealed to be ''sort of running laps.''

But for now the skeptics will have to hold their breath. The Army is already preparing plans to ship out copies of Full Spectrum Warrior to soldiers, and its creators envision the game being played by troops in Iraq, where Xboxes are popular among Americans looking to unwind. Many of the military's young soldiers, members of the PlayStation generation, spend much of their downtime each week playing games. As the military sees it, they might as well be playing games that hone their skills. ''When a soldier is off-duty,'' Cummings said, ''he's going to go back to his barracks, and he's going to play Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. What if I give him a simulation instead?''

Modern military simulations have existed since the Second World War, when projected films of planes were used to train gunners to identify aircraft and mocked-up cockpits were physically rocked side to side to replicate the feeling of a dogfight. The military began to create highly sophisticated simulators in the 80's, taking the electronic instrument panels of helicopters, ships and tanks and wiring them to computers that could display virtual targets. With these installations, still regarded as the most accurate training technology available for learning complex battle maneuvers, hundreds of soldiers could fight together as if on one battlefield, practicing moves that they had previously been able to discuss only theoretically.

In the early 90's, however, the military lost some of its dominance in the field of computer simulations as the video-game industry began to take off. Groundbreaking games like Quake and Counterstrike -- so-called first-person shooters, because the players view the action from a first-person perspective -- were pioneers of a style of graphics that depicted combat from an individual's perspective. Computer-game designers in the 80's looked enviously at the state-of-the-art graphics available to the military. Now military experts could walk into a Wal-Mart and buy games off the shelf that had crisper visuals and smarter artificial intelligence than some of their own tools. Michael Zyda, director of the Navy Modeling, Virtual Environments and Simulation Institute, remembers the moment when that shift occurred. ''We'd show our stuff to generals,'' he said, ''and they'd say, 'Well, my son is playing something that looks better than that, and it only cost $50.'''

The military's simulators, of course, were still elite tools. But they were prohibitively expensive (a single military flight simulator can cost up to $30 million), and they were products of the cold-war era, designed for combat in which large armies face one another head-on. In the eyes of someone like Neale Cosby, director of the simulation center of the Institute for Defense Analyses, a private group that advises the Pentagon, the old technology was outdated. ''We do not have good simulations for combatants who walk to work,'' he said. ''Tanks, Bradley vehicles, that's all cold-war stuff.'' For the needs of today's lighter, more flexible Army and its urban campaigns, in which soldiers walk door to door, video games that made you stroll through dungeons looking to slay shrieking monsters suddenly seemed relevant.

Before long, military experts began to approach private-sector game designers, looking for opportunities to collaborate. Video games have even been used as a form of outreach, the military's public face to American youth. More than 10 million people have downloaded a first-person shooter game called America's Army that the Army gives away as a recruiting tool. It now ranks as one of the most popular games ever. (In a recent poll by I to I Research, 30 percent of a group of young people with a favorable view of the military said they had developed that view from playing America's Army.)

Not only did the military seek out game designers, but after Sept. 11 there were instances of game designers reaching out to the military to offer their services. ''It was the reversal of the cultural flow,'' Zyda said. He remembers fielding phone calls from people saying, ''Well, I've been doing entertainment for years, but now I want to do something for the country.'' One of the designers who got involved was Robert Gehorsam, the C.E.O. of the games company Forterra Systems, who as a Sony executive oversaw the development of the wildly popular online video game EverQuest.

Gehorsam lives three blocks away from ground zero, and even before Forterra released a commercial game called There last year, he wondered whether the military might find it useful. The game There is what is known as a ''massively multiplayer online world'': for a yearly membership of $50, you can log onto the game any time from any computer connected to the Internet. You select a character, or ''avatar,'' and then wander around a vast 3-D world, engaging with other players who have logged on from their computers in any number of ways. Some people choose to race dune buggies; others take potshots at one another with goofy weapons or just hang out and talk. (There is even a book club of There players who meet and talk online in the game's universe.)

Unlike other online games of this genre, many of which are modeled on fantasy worlds like that of ''The Lord of the Rings,'' There is scrupulously realistic. All the avatars look human and even appear to breath and blink in convincing ways. Gehorsam suspected that with certain modifications, There might allow soldiers around the world to train with one another. Battle-hardened officers in Baghdad, he speculated, could participate in urban-warfare scenarios, in real time, with fresh-faced recruits in the Midwest. Friendly Iraqis could log on and take part in a virtual mob scene, complete with abuse hurled in Arabic.

In 2002, Gehorsam showed There to some people in the field of military simulations, and they agreed that he was onto something. In early 2003, he landed a $3.5 million, four-year contract from the Army Research, Development and Engineering Command to build a simulator geared to model warfare against insurgents in urban settings. Forterra's game designers immediately set to work creating a new, parallel version of their online world -- a separate, cordoned-off virtual earth for the Army's exclusive use. In this souped-up version, the world in which your avatar lives and moves is based on a remarkably accurate, roughly one-to-one counterpart to the real earth, derived from satellite data. ''If your avatar was standing in New York, and you wanted to go to San Francisco,'' Gehorsam explained, ''you'd have to walk the exact same distance as in real life -- step by step.'' Forterra's designers also started erecting a Middle Eastern city reminiscent of Baghdad and before long had produced one square mile of tightly nested buildings, which Army soldiers all over the world could roam simultaneously.

After Gehorsam demonstrated a prototype this spring on the high-tech cable channel TechTV, he received a call from Jim Kondrat, a captain in the Illinois National Guard. Kondrat wanted his troops to try it out.

In June, I traveled to Moline, Ill., to watch Kondrat and a team of soldiers give There its first military test drive. Though the system was still, at that point, a prototype, Gehorsam wanted feedback from real soldiers who might be deployed in the near future. In light of the military's recent stop-loss orders, all the soldiers in the room had been alerted to the possibility of deployment to Iraq. (And, indeed, one captain was scheduled to depart a few weeks later.)

Gehorsam's There team set up the game in the convention room of a Holiday Inn, while Kondrat lounged at the back of the room in his Army fatigues. A tall, round-faced man, Kondrat radiated a sort of wry calm, which seemed fitting since, as he explained, he is a Buddhist. When I remarked that it was appropriate that a Buddhist would experiment with a virtual-reality world, he chuckled and said he was willing to try anything to help prepare his soliders for potential combat. He explained that equipment for on-the-ground training is hard to come by. ''We don't even have ammunition to do training,'' he said. ''They need it all in Iraq.''

Kondrat's unit, a battalion, particularly needed to practice convoy maneuvers -- piloting a large number of vehicles down a road while keeping them safe. Kondrat said that he would like to take the battalion more often to one of the Army's desert outposts in California, where installations are set up like Iraqi villages, but that those resources, too, are now in high demand.

Instead, Kondrat's soldiers hoped to use There to create a virtual village that a battalion might drive through. ''We can go out, try it, screw it up, reset, do it 20 times again -- before we go out there burning diesel in the real world,'' explained Capt. William Ehrhardt, a burly man who combs what is left of his short-cropped hair straight down over his forehead.

One of Gehorsam's team members sat in front of a computer to demonstrate how to create a virtual city. At the keyboard, he pecked at a few keys and called up a blank expanse of land. He selected an avatar and walked him out onto an empty plain. With a few mouse clicks, he picked the shape and size of a building, and with one more click, it zoomed into place. A few more clicks generated rugged hills and scrub grass to cover them. In a final flourish, he reached up and turned off the sun. Presto: one Iraqi building at dusk.

The soldiers were visibly impressed. ''Cool,'' one said, exhaling. ''It's like 'The Matrix.'''

Each soldier then logged onto one of the dozen computers in the room and started experimenting with the game. Mostly in their late 20's and early 30's, many were longtime video-game players, and they quickly mastered the basics of moving about, drawing their rifles and driving a vehicle. At first, they mostly horsed around, intoxicated by a world that was void of real repercussions. Two soldiers piled into a car and began hunting for another vehicle to slam into. ''Let's play chicken!'' one said. Another soldier practiced aiming his machine gun: when he pointed it at his comrade's head, his friend just laughed.

As they became more expert at the keyboard controls, though, the soldiers became more serious and hunkered down. When they were given a military exercise to run, they became engrossed. At one point, the soliders set up a roadblock and practiced preventing unauthorized drivers from going past. Cars trundled up full of virtual Iraqis (operated by real-life soliders, some of whom had logged onto the game from California). Each player was equipped with a headset microphone, so when he spoke, you could hear their voices in the game.

''I need to get through to my wife!'' one of the Iraqis shouted. ''I need to get through to the marketplace!''

''Back up, sir,'' the squad leader said. ''This way is closed. You'll have to find another route.''

The Iraqi was furious. ''You Americans! You come in here, and you just make stuff up!''

Soon, several other cars had pulled up, and nobody was retreating. The atmosphere turned palpably tense. ''You've got 10 seconds,'' the leader warned, training his gun on the cars.

Then chaos broke out. An Iraqi hopped in his car and made a break for it, driving straight through the blockade. The soldiers opened fire, but the driver got through safely and escaped down the street.

''Another one coming!'' shouted one of the soldiers, as a second Iraqi ran up with a machine gun and stormed past the sandbags. This time, the guardsmen wheeled in unison and fired. The terrorist flopped to the ground.

''Well,'' said one soldier, ''that'll make the evening news.''

ot everyone in the military is convinced that receiving training in a game is possible or even useful. Army culture is deeply physical: training is about sweating hard and keeping your boots in the mud. Video games, in that context, can seem like a frivolous or even dangerous detour from real-world experience.

One of the biggest concerns that skeptics voice is the danger of so-called negative training. If a game is programmed with unrealistic physics and behavior, it can teach soldiers incorrect techniques -- potentially deadly when they eventually enter combat. In a game like Full Spectrum Warrior, where the enemy is made up of computerized opponents with artificial intelligence, the obvious concern is that the preparation will not give a human-enough sense of how devious, or inept, a real enemy can be.

The soldiers in Illinois generally found There impressive, but they offered several criticisms of its realism. One soldier pointed out that you should not be able to jump inside a vehicle and drive it unless you are licensed for it. ''I don't even know how to drive a Bradley,'' he said, ''but I just got in one and drove it downtown.''

A lieutenant wondered whether the game was too exciting for its own good. Boredom is a key part of training, he said, since part of the challenge of gun battles is that they often come out of nowhere after hours of tedium. All agreed that There could better simulate exhaustion: a virtual soldier who stands around in Iraqi heat ought to become fatigued, they argued, unless he is drinking lots of virtual water.

Even the enthusiasts agreed that the games can be oversold. Cummings, the consultant on Full Spectrum Warrior, worried aloud about the possible perception that a simulation would be taken as something more than just that -- a rough approximation. ''I think people will see it, and they'll say, 'Oh, jeez, I can't believe you're training your army this way,''' he said. He even shies away from using the word ''game'' to describe the simulations. ''Global war on terrorism is not a game,'' he said. When he was posted in Afghanistan, he recalled, it was so hot that his sweat erased notes he was making on a map. In a video game, he said, ''you can't replicate that.''

On the other hand, what if the games are accurate, but they fall into the wrong hands? The Army made Full Spectrum Warrior in two versions: one for the military and a slightly modified form for the public. The commercial version instantly became a best seller. Today, you can walk into a game store, buy it and get a taste of what it is like to manage troops under Arab fire. (The decision to release the game to the public was driven by an interesting business consideration. Microsoft, which created the Xbox, reserves the right to approve any game that another company creates to run on it, and it charges a fee for each copy of the game that sells. Microsoft will typically only green-light a game with a sufficiently large market -- in the case of Full Spectrum Warrior, one that included not just soldiers but the general public.)

If a game like Full Spectrum Warrior is an accurate representation of Army training, you might wonder about the wisdom of selling it to the public. Real-life terrorists might well use it to learn about the urban-warfare tactics of American soldiers. Granted, the version of Full Spectrum Warrior available to the public is not as precise about military doctrine (ambulances carry ammo, for example), and it has bigger, Hollywood-style explosions. But it turns out that the military-grade version of the game also resides on the disk of the public version. Anyone who can figure out the ''unlock'' code can buy the public game, unlock it and play the military one.

James Korris of the Institute for Creative Technologies said that Full Spectrum Warrior includes only classic battle drills, with which Al Qaeda, and most foreign countries, are already familiar. ''If there were classified content,'' he said, ''there's no way it would end up on a commercial product with a static access code.'' Still, even nonclassified information can be useful. To prepare for the 9/11 attacks, terrorists used commercially available flight simulators, not secret Pentagon ones.

Some military experts argue that while it is possible for the games to provide useful training for terrorists, the benefit of some of these games to the Army far outweighs any potential security hazard its theft might pose. ''This is going to give us a bigger edge than it gives to somebody else,'' said William Davis, who heads the lab that created the virtual weapons for the recruitment game America's Army.

In June, when I met with Brent Cummings at the Institute for Creative Technologies, he was slightly abashed about being dressed down in jeans and a golf shirt. When he first came to the West Coast from his spit-and-polish military base in Georgia, it was a bit of a culture shock. ''I wasn't a hard-core gamer,'' he said. ''I'm thinking: O.K., these Hollywood flakes, what am I going to get out of it? They all probably smoke dope.''

But he said he was quickly impressed by the commitment of the programmers at the Institute for Creative Technologies to make an accurate game. Cummings's job was to ensure that Full Spectrum Warrior conformed to military doctrine. He brought military manuals so that he could show the programmers the myriad details of how soldiers are really trained to act, down to the way they go into a room when they are entering and clearing a building. Particularly crucial, he said, was developing the ''nudge'' -- the player's ability to physically grab a fellow soldier and point him in the desired direction. ''A squad leader is very physical,'' he said. ''He goes up, and he grabs people literally on the shoulder and says: 'Hey, knucklehead. Over here.' He drags people around.''

The game was booted up for me, and on a huge screen in an auditorium, an institute staff member guided the squad around the city. He was much better at the game than I was: when he encountered insurgents taking potshots from behind a barrier, he sent a team of his men to neatly flank them.

But can you learn strategy from the game? Cummings said he believes so. Out in Illinois, Jim Kondrat, the captain in the Illinois National Guard, said that he had seen firsthand the results of training with Full Spectrum Warrior. He bought a copy of the game when it was publicly released and watched his young recruits gather around an Xbox to play it. ''When you have wounds and action going on around you,'' he said, ''it starts to stress the leader. We had one guy with both his teams pinned down by fire, and I was saying: 'What are you going to do? What are you going to do?' And he was freaking out.'' Then one soldier hit upon a plan to fire a smoke grenade. It worked: the enemy was confused, and the soldiers successfully flanked them.

In fact, the virtual world offers some unequalled ways of visualizing a battlefield. Consider how the game faciliates ''after-action review,'' a key part of training. After soldiers practice a technique, they talk about it to analyze what went wrong. Typically, soldiers will argue about precisely what happened on the field. With video games, however, they can literally replay the scene to find out.

Cummings showed me a game called Full Spectrum Command, currently in use at Fort Benning, Ga., in which you control a company of up to 150 people. For my benefit, he had a staff member run a mission infiltrating a building where terrorists were holed up. The soldiers advanced, blowing a hole in the gate, and terrorists began firing back. All of a sudden, Cummings froze the scene, as in a ''bullet time'' moment in ''The Matrix.'' Red lines onscreen showed the flight paths of enemy bullets. The camera zoomed along one of the lines, showing us what the bullets ''saw'' as they raced toward the soldiers. With another keystroke, Cummings made the walls on the buildings vanish so we could see where the enemy had been crouching.

He pointed to a red line that showed where one of the soldiers was hit. ''See that?'' he said. ''That was our vulnerability.''

Cummings conceded that the games have limits. ''You can't play Full Spectrum Warrior and become a squad leader,'' he said. ''It doesn't work that way. But you can experience a few things. You can make a few mistakes. You can learn from those mistakes.''

For all the critiques of the video games, the fact is that real-life physical exercises are not perfect themselves. When I spoke with Neale Cosby of the Institute for Defense Analyses, he described some of the Vietnam-era training exercises as being no better than playing cowboys and Indians. ''You walked through the forest,'' he said. ''You shot at each other, and you yelled: 'Bang! Bang!''' In the 80's, the military devised a system of laser tag called the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System, which, it turned out, could not fire through bushes.

It is the grim paradox of all training for war: unless you are actually risking your life in battle, it is not real. As Stephen Goldberg, a psychologist who works for the Army, told me, any type of play-acting -- whether in the field or on the computer -- is liable to teach you something wrong. ''Whatever you're doing other than fighting the enemy has compromises that make it artificial,'' he said. ''Our motto is 'All but War Is a Simulation.'''

Clive Thompson writes frequently about science and technology. His last article for the magazine was on electronic voting machines.


Andrés Hax dijo...

Virtual Reality Prepares Soldiers for Real War
Young Warriors Say Video Shooter Games Helped Hone Their Skills

By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 14, 2006; A01

One blistering afternoon in Iraq, while fighting insurgents in the northern town of Mosul, Sgt. Sinque Swales opened fire with his .50-cal. That was only the second time, he says, that he ever shot an enemy. A human enemy.

"It felt like I was in a big video game. It didn't even faze me, shooting back. It was just natural instinct. Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! " remembers Swales, a fast-talking, deep-voiced, barrel-chested 29-year-old from Chesterfield, Va. He was a combat engineer in Iraq for nearly a year.

Like many soldiers in the 276th Engineer Battalion, whose PlayStations and Xboxes crowded the trailers that served as their barracks, he played games during his downtime. "Halo 2," the sequel to the best-selling first-person shooter game, was a favorite. So was "Full Spectrum Warrior," a military-themed title developed with help from the U.S. Army.

"The insurgents were firing from the other side of the bridge. . . . We called in a helicopter for an airstrike. . . . I couldn't believe I was seeing this. It was like 'Halo.' It didn't even seem real, but it was real."

This is the video game generation of soldiers. " 'Ctrl+Alt+Del,' " the U.S. Army noted in a recent study, "is as basic as 'ABC.' " And computer simulations -- as military officials prefer to call them -- have transformed the way the United States military fights wars, as well as soldiers' ways of killing.

"There's been a huge change in the way we prepare for war, and the soldiers we're training now are the children of the digital age who grew up with GameBoys," says retired Rear Adm. Fred Lewis, a 33-year U.S. Navy veteran who now heads the National Training Systems Association, a trade group that every year puts on the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference, the military counterpart of the glitzy Electronic Entertainment Expo. "Live training on the field is still done, of course," but, he adds, "using simulations to train them is not only natural, it's necessary."

War is no game, of course, but games, in a big way, have updated war. The weapons Swales uses when he plays "SOCOM 3: U.S. Navy SEALS," for example, are virtual replicas of the weapons he used as a soldier in Iraq.

"The technology in games has facilitated a revolution in the art of warfare," says David Bartlett, the former chief of operations at the Defense Modeling and Simulation Office, a high-level office within the Defense Department and the focal point for computer-generated training at the Pentagon. "When the time came for him" -- meaning Swales -- "to fire his weapon, he was ready to do that. And capable of doing that. His experience leading up to that time, through on-the-ground training and playing 'Halo' and whatever else, enabled him to execute. His situation awareness was up. He knew what he had to do. He had done it before -- or something like it up to that point."

In the mid-1990s, Bartlett, an avid gamer himself, created "Marine Doom," the military version of the original "Doom," the granddaddy of first-person shooter games. The simulation was conducted in a lab with six PCs networked together. It served as a precursor for more expensive, highly immersive, state-of-the-art military simulation centers and PC labs. Some, like the Asymmetric Warfare -- Virtual Training Technology, largely train soldiers how to coordinate complicated missions. Think of it as a sort of military "EverQuest" that can be played by multiple people in multiple places at the same time. With the Indoor Simulated Marksmanship Trainer, soldiers train to effectively shoot their weapons by holding a rifle that looks like an M16, except it fires a laser and the target is a giant screen.

Lt. Col. Scott Sutton, director of the technology division at Quantico Marine Base, where the mock-up M16s are used, says soldiers in this generation "probably feel less inhibited, down in their primal level, pointing their weapons at somebody." That, in effect, "provides a better foundation for us to work with," he adds.

No one knows for sure whether Sutton is right. Since at least World War II, studies purporting to explore how readily troops pulled the trigger -- S.L.A. Marshall's "Men Against Fire," for example -- have aroused controversy and been scored as anecdotal. Indeed, collecting data in the swirl of battle is no less formidable a challenge today than in the past. As a result, comparisons to previous generations of soldiers are problematic. Nonetheless, soldiers today are far more knowledgeable about weaponry than their predecessors, Bartlett feels sure, and have "a basic skills set as to how to use them."

Retired Marine Col. Gary W. Anderson, former chief of staff of the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, agrees. And he takes it a step further: Today's soldiers, having grown up with first-person shooter games long before they joined the military, are the new Spartans, he says.

"America's Army," a free online game with more than 6.5 million registered players, is being used by the U.S. military as a recruiting tool. "Call of Duty," "Medal of Honor" and "SOCOM," to name just three best-selling military-themed titles, are popular with soldiers, whether they're deployed in Iraq or back home in the States. A version of "America's Army" will be available on cell phones this summer.

"Remember the days of the old Sparta, when everything they did was towards war?" says Anderson, now a defense consultant. "In many ways, the soldiers of this video game generation have replicated that, and that's something to think about."

Swales, the 29-year-old combat engineer from Chesterfield, joined the National Guard in 1998 "as a way to get my life in track," he says. While deployed in Mosul, he mostly hung out with Sgt. Sean Crippen, Spec. Alfred Trevino and Spec. Mike Jones -- they were all in the Guard, all in their twenties, all from Virginia. They were dubbed "the minority squad" (Swales and Crippen are black, Trevino is half Mexican American, Jones is Korean American). To pass the nights, they watched such classic war movies as "Full Metal Jacket" and "Apocalypse Now."

"Saving Private Ryan" was their favorite.

"That's gonna be us, man, when they first opened the doors on the boat, when they're hitting the beach, just watching guys get mowed down," Swales, the eldest of the group, the big brother type, would joke.

Even more, though, they played military-themed games, thumbing away into the wee hours of the night. "Sometimes we'd be up till 2 or 3 in the morning, and we gotta get up, like, 0900" to head out for a foot patrol through town, says Crippen.

"We're doing this stuff for real and we're playing it on our spare time," adds Swales. "And yeah, it was ironic. But it was so normal, we didn't think nothing about it."

Swales had a PlayStation2 that he brought from home in the portable trailer that he shared with Crippen. They became roommates after their former roommates, Spec. Nick Mason and Spec. David Ruhren, died from a bombing attack. Nearby, Spec. Idrissa Hill, who was rooming with Jones, had an Xbox and a PlayStation 2. (They can be bought online, as well as at the PX.) Everyone kept busy. Crippen, by far the best gamer in the group, got through the last levels of "Call of Duty" and "Full Spectrum Warrior," both military-themed games.

"The very first time I fired my rifle" -- it was an M249 squad automatic weapon, a machine gun -- "I was scared. I had never shot my gun before at an actual person. But once I pulled the trigger, that was it, I never hesitated," says Crippen, 22. He's now a sophomore at Virginia State University, studying computer engineering, trying not to get so distracted by his Xbox. "All I saw was the street where the RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] came from, and I just fired in that direction, maybe 20 rounds at most, and it felt like I was playing 'Ghost Recon' at home," referring to a Tom Clancy game.

"I've always had access to a shooter game. Ever since I could pick up a controller," he goes on. One of the first games he recalls playing as a little kid was "Commando," a shoot-'em-up game where the player's character, Super Joe, is dropped into a jungle and tries to fight his way out. "And over there in Iraq, I think playing those games helped. It kept me on my toes. It taught me what to do and what not to do."

Trevino's weapon was the M16A4 assault rifle.

"You just try to block it out, see what you need to do, fire what you need to fire. Think to yourself, This is a game, just do it, just do it, " says Trevino, 20, the baby of the group, recalling his first shot at a human enemy. He lives in Virginia Beach and works at nearby Bradco Supply, running a forklift. He's a hard-core gamer like Crippen, plays "anything that races," he says, "anything that shoots."

"Of course, it's not a game. The feel of the actual weapon was more of an adrenaline rush than the feel of the controller," he continues. "But you're practically doing the same thing: trying to kill the other person. The goal is the same. That's the similarity. The goal is to survive."

Still, many PlayStation-playing soldiers aren't as battle-ready as they think. Evan Wright, author of "Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America, and the New Face of American War," a stirring account of young Marines in Iraq, spent six weeks in early 2003 with the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion -- nicknamed the "suicide battalion" -- which traveled far ahead of the main invasion force. The soldiers he interviewed were "on more intimate terms with the culture of video games, reality TV shows and Internet porn than with their own families."

However, he says, "What I saw was a lot of them discovered levels of innocence that they probably didn't think they had. When they actually shot people, especially innocent people, and were confronted with this, I saw guys break down. The violence in games hadn't prepared them for this."

Sgt. Michael Stinetorf, one of those 1st Recon Marines, used three weapons in Iraq: a heavy .50-caliber machine gun, an M249 light machine gun, and a suppressed M4, "which is an M4 with a silencer," he says. He had played shoot-'em-up games, mostly James Bond titles and "Grand Theft Auto III" before he left for the war. But since returning home in September 2004, he can't stand watching his friends play those kind of games, much less play them himself.

"It just doesn't appeal to me anymore," says the 23-year-old, now a freshman at Grossmont College in San Diego who hopes someday to study medicine. "I found the easiest way to release all the violence, to walk away from it all, is not surround myself with it."

So he says no to violent games, no to violent movies, no to violent TV shows, and declines to talk about how many people he shot while in Iraq.

"That's one thing I don't get into. Even to my closest friends," he says. "It's kind of a way to separate yourself from it."

Unlike Stinetorf, Swales still can't seem to get enough of shooter games, especially military-themed ones. He got back from Iraq more than a year ago. A banner that reads "Welcome Home Que" still hangs in his cluttered room, upstairs in the two-story, four-bedroom home that he shares with his mom, sister, niece and a 7-year-old Labrador named Kim. Nearby, three commendation medals are collecting dust. Swales, who at 6 feet 3 and 225 pounds could easily pass as a linebacker, until recently worked two jobs -- in the produce section of Wal-Mart, from midnight to 9 a.m., and at Best Buy, from 3:30 to 10:30 p.m., with a sideline gig installing car stereos. He quit Best Buy a few weeks back. Too much work.

In his spare time, he's hunkered on the edge of his futon, or on the off-pink carpeted floor, reliving his days as a soldier in front of his 30-inch TV, playing "SOCOM 3: U.S. Navy SEALS." These days, it's the only thing he plays, three hours at a time. He's showing off the weapons in the game, describing them one by one.

There's the AK-47, the most common insurgent weapon in Iraq, he says. Here's the M4 carbine, the weapon a lot of the American infantry guys are running around with.

"This game takes place in Southeast Asia. I'm the commander of the guys here, in charge of three guys. In this game, you gotta try to be as quiet as possible. You gotta find the informer, the mole, and get intel and find out what's going on. But you gotta be quiet," explains Swales.

In the game he's playing, his character is in Army fatigues, crawling in the rice paddies of the village, gripping an M16A2 with a high scope. And outside of the game, he's sitting in his room, dressed in black sweats and Newport tennis shoes, gripping his controller. He's whispering, though the only person in the room, besides the reporter, is him.

"Can you hear the heartbeat? That's my heart. In the game. When you're trying to get a steady shot, you hear the heart beating. That right there felt like the real thing."

The game, of course, comes with a restart button.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company


Andrés Hax dijo...

Acabo de encontrar en Robot Wisdom este link:


Mustra la evolucion de los gráficos de los videojuegos en los últimos 20 años.

Julián Gallo dijo...

1.- Excelente el concepto de aprendizaje accidental que desarrolla wired!
2.- Excelente la idea ampliar y actualizar en los comentarios!!