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April 19, 2011: It was a decade ago that tank crews the world over became aware of a computer tank simulator, Steel Beasts, that was different. Steel Beasts was created by a single programmer, but with input from several professional tank troops. The graphics weren't the greatest, but it was very accurate, so much so that the professionals were starting to use it as a training device. The publisher and creator of Steel Beasts seized the opportunity, and by 2006 there was a version for military use (Steel Beasts Professional) only that allowed for the use of a LAN, an instructor watching over how all the players were doing, scenario and terrain building and AAR (after action report) functions so that everything that happened in a game was captured. This allowed the instructor to point out errors, and what should have been done.

So far, ten countries (Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Chile, Canada, Australia, Spain and the U.S.) have bought Steel Beast Professional (at $125 a copy) for training their armor vehicle crews. The troops find the vehicle controls, and tactical situations to be realistic, and compelling. The game really gets the pucker factor going, and even before the pro version came along, troops were buying the commercial version and playing it for the professional, and entertainment, value.

Steel Beasts was not unusual in how it was adapted by the troops. In the last decade there have been several computer games that were created by soldiers, sailors or airmen, and caught on as training devices. Meanwhile, the armed forces noted what was happening and began using the PC and console gaming technology for a growing number of training devices. Over the last eight years, billions of dollars has been spent on creating several generations of increasingly accurate combat simulators for training troops to deal with roadside bombs, hostile civilians, flying UAVs and new enemy tactics. These sims are taken for granted inside the army and marines, but still seem out of place to ill informed outsiders.

The troops, and their commanders, now take these games, and their usefulness, for granted. But it actually took several decades for the army and air force to accept the fact that "games", especially ones you could buy in a store, had training value. But they did. The troops and their commanders picked up on it first, and eventually the brass caught on and followed.

 


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