Support: Avatars You Can Identify With


January 31, 2012:  After years of agitating for this sort of thing U.S. Army troops have finally convinced the brass to create a realistic wargame where each game character (or "avatar") would not just represent the soldier playing the game but would portray that players' actual physical characteristics (speed, strength, accuracy with weapons, and so on) and appearance (shape and face). This suggestion has been coming from a generation that grew up with video games where you could design your own avatar. But more importantly, the senior officers and officials approving this project also grew up with this sort of thing. They understand what the troops are asking for and appreciate the benefits.

Character based wargames (where players can define the characteristics of the individual warrior character they play) have been around for over four decades. These RPGs (Role Playing Games) evolved into computerized FPSs (First Person Shooters). The military (army and marines) were quick to adopt the computerized versions for training. This quickly led to contracts for the game publishers to modify the games for military use. That meant making the games more realistic by downgrading the avatars and their weapons. In the military versions guns sometimes jammed and always ran out of ammo when the magazine was empty. Accuracy was much less than for the commercial versions of the games and it was easier for a player's avatar to be injured (from jumping around and falling down), wounded or killed (by enemy fire).

Video games also led to more research into just what physical attributes and abilities counted most in combat. This has changed training, equipment design, and tactics. The avatars in realistic FPS games would enable squads, fire teams, and platoons to train more often and more effectively.

Most civilians found the military versions of these games less fun. But that was the point. Actual combat was more nerve-wracking and frustrating than entertaining. The troops who played video games were quick to see the potential of a professional video game for infantry, or ground troops in general, that accurately portrayed the physical characteristics and capabilities of the players. Some troops have used game editors (often the unofficial, and technically illegal, ones) to do this sort of thing. But now commanders have accepted there would be considerable training value for realistically personalized avatars. The troops are joking that, from now on, when you join the army you will now be issued an avatar, along with dog tags, email address, and uniforms.


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