United States teaches spies how to think using video games

April 25, 2008

Possibly giving new legs to the old knee jerk press chestnut that “video games are the root of all evil” due to violence, it has come to light that the United States plans to use custom video games to train its spies and soldiers how to think. In the wake of bungles like the Iraq war and questionable treatment of prisoners, the hope is that video games will reach the young generation of new soldiers and spies in ways a traditional classroom can’t.

The spy training is centered around three games custom created for the military. With names like Rapid Onset, Vital Passage and Sudden Thrust they sound more like porn titles than video games, and in fact they “play” much differently than games like Call of Duty 4 for Playstation 3 or Halo 3 for the XBox 360.

Instead of random, haphazard killing and shooting, the games place the young DIA agent character in various situations designed to teach them how to think under pressure, how to reason, and how to use violence only as a last resort. Described by people who have played the games as a mix of the mundane and surreal, the DIA agent does everything from meet gurus and learn enlightenment to avoiding conjecture in combat situations.

The DIA isn’t the only agency using video games. The military is using them for its soldiers as well. The military is using them to teach its interrogators (or as they are more creepily called by the Army “human collectors”) how to interrogate with a variety of techniques that are more effective and humane than traditional tactics, at least in theory. In typical Army fashion, their video game has an unnecessarily long title: Intelligence and Electronic Warfare Tactical Proficiency Trainer Human Intelligence Control Cell. It is based on first person shooter Far Cry.

At first glance, I was not happy to hear that the government was using something as frivolous as a video game to teach soldiers and spies how to be better at handling the human aspect of their jobs. The more I think about it, and the more I read the full analysis of the plans for their use, the more I realize that current methods just aren’t working. Maybe video games are the answer that will help us avoid the current situation, violence overkill.

3 Responses to “United States teaches spies how to think using video games”

  1. kevin:

    the military has been using “video games” for a long time now. FATS is one system that comes to mind.

  2. Spideydog:

    What is wrong with this….Military use training aids for everthing, why not use the best means availble today to deliver training in a simulated world… Yes it doesn’t have the “human Factor” And the only answer I can think of to that is, within their training have them as the “interagatee” so they can see fro themselves what it is like to be on the other side, to keep the “human factor” in mind.

  3. MSgt B USMC:

    This is a very loose definition of “video game”.
    More appropriate is the term simulator; as you could call real flight simulators video games if you wanted, though it wouldn’t be very accurate.

    The Marine Corps has had them since I’ve been in ’91, and long before that. I’ve used simulators for everything from firing a TOW, Dragon, M16, and simulating situations similar to those described above before I went to Embassy Duty and served with the DoS, SS, and FBI.

    For Embassy Duty we used the FATS kevin mentioned, with a .38 snubnose and hollowpoint nyclad rounds. We would walk into a van with display screens simulating an Embassy or Consulate environment situation. Pass or Fail was determined by whether or not you used the right or wrong level of force.

    The human factor is not ignored as you are closely monitored during the simulation. If you kill civilians indiscriminately or act carelessly, you will quickly lose credibility and any chances of getting the position you were competing for.

    Marine Doom was the last “video game” I heard the Marine Corps officially sanction sometime over a decade ago. Looking it up on Wikipedia I found: “In the game, a fireteam, comprising four Marines, is supposed to accomplish a specific mission, the default being the destruction of an enemy bunker, although other scenarios such as a hostage rescue in a foreign embassy can be designed. In order to allow coordination of their movements, these soldiers play on separated computers in the same room. The fireteam consists of a Team Leader, two riflemen and one machine-gunner.


    In 1996, General Charles C. Krulak, Commandant of the US Marine Corps issued a directive to use wargames for improving “Military Thinking and Decision Making Exercises”.

    Moreover, he entrusted the Marine Combat Development Command with the task to develop, exploit and approve computer-based wargames to train U.S. Marines for “decision making skills, particularly when live training time and opportunities were limited.”

    A group of U.S. Marine simulations experts, including Lieutenant Scott Barnett as the project officer, in Quantico, Virginia of the Marine Corps Modeling and Simulation Management Office (MCMSMO) obtained a copy of the commercial Doom, released in 1993 by id Software, and started altering to develop a fireteam simulation, which focused on mutual fire team support, protection of the automatic rifleman, proper sequencing of an attack, ammunition discipline and succession of command.”

    Call of Duty 4 (usually on XBox 360) is unofficially the current game we use in the barracks and sometimes on ship or in the field to practice or just have a good time.

    Recently I’ve read the XBox 360 achievement system is being cloned for civilian workplaces, and I can easily imagine something similar for the future in the military.

    “Games” such as “Word Coach” on DS are current examples of applications that have been and will continue to be refined and expanded upon for useful military/government knowledge such as: language skills training (Rosetta Stone is a good example, although they don’t have the Iraqi Arabic down quite yet), weapons systems specifications, orders, regulations, history, geography (like Seterra geography), culture, etc.

    The key with these “games”, simulators, or education software, is that they heighten chances of actual learning taking place if done right. This is because they can not only (potentially) utilize all of the senses simultaneously, but also track statistics and space repetitions for optimal learning (like Super Memo).

    Military simulations and software applications as those described above can potentially save lives in the field because you have a more fully trained individual putting more rounds on target and making the right decisions.

    Though no training scenario can fully simulate live combat or real life situations, these apps do a better job than pen and paper.

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