Since antiquity, game-based learning has been an integral part of military training with colored stones on a game board (McLeroy, 2008). Military gaming has persisted through the milennia with war games consisting of teams from 5 to thousands of soldiers engaging in simulated wartime environments to the present day (Erwin, 2012). Digital game-based learning (DGBL) has deep roots in the government as the military approaches its 80th year of digital simulation. The history of DGBL started in 1934, when Edwin Link approached the Army Air Corps with his “Blue Box” flight simulator, which he originally designed as an entertainment technology (Prensky, 2001). DGBL has gained favor with military leaders, for its lower risk and favorable economic profiles compared to more traditional live gaming. Indeed, in the present era of budget consciousness, DGBL has gained increased favor with increased costs of fuel and personnel transport to facilitate live games. As a result, military leaders are rethinking the role of live war games in favor of virtual games for personnel learning and training (Erwin, 2012).
At present, the U.S. Military is estimated to spend $5 billion annually on virtual training and simulation technologies, and an additional $6 billion annually on training services apart from technology (Erwin, 2012). In the context of the $10.5 billion video gaming industry in the US, the military is the most significant user of digital gaming, and thus DGBL (Video Game Industry Statistics, 2013).
Indeed, the US military has cultivated a close relationship with the digital gaming industry. In 1996, a joint military-civilian conference was convened in Irvine, California, home of World of Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment). The conference, Modeling and Simulation: Linking Entertainment and Defense, established an explicit link between the government and the civilian gaming world (Committee on Modeling and Simulation, 1997). As the digital gaming market has grown, extensive collaboration between the military and civilian continues to lead developments in DGBL technology.
Currently, the military branches maintain a collaborative system, Games for Training, establishing an inter-branch learning system. This inter-service effort makes explicit the military’s commitment to game-based learning as a critical collaborative learning tool.
In addition to the $5 billion annual military investment in DGBL technologies, private industry contributes $10.5 million annually to the digital gaming market with significant collaboration via public-private partnerships. As the private video gaming industry grew through the 1970s and 1980s with the advent of the personal computer and digital gaming consoles, the civilian population grew a new generation of video gamers and programmers to develop new games for civilian and military learning.
As digital gaming grew in experience, the military drew on educational research suggesting the value of experiential fidelity through digital gaming applications to provide applied learning opportunities (Clark, 2004). In this way, the military and civilian communities provided mutual growth opportunities, that have been particularly reinforced as youth gamers have aged into military service. Indeed, present American drone-based military strategy draws deeply on video gaming technology and youth gamers who have matured into military service (Clark, 2004). In addition, remote gaming approaches have led to the development of military robots currently in testing (Weiss, 2011). These learning-to-service applications of digital gaming technologies have continued to reduce human risk, furthering the legacy of game-based learning.
Military contributions have, in turn, advanced the civilian gaming industry with commercial blockbusters like Worlds of Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment). The military influence on civilian gaming has also been leveraged through civilian games designed to recruit young people to military service. The Virtual Army Experience (U.S. Army) represents a $9 million development investment over 8 years from 1999-2008 by the U.S. Army to boost recruiting efforts in an era of reduced military enlistment (De Avila, 2008). Similar efforts targeting young “gamers” for military service have been undertaken by the Israeli Air Force in its pilot recruiting programs (Clark, 2004).
As remote technologies continue to develop in military applications and educational environments, it is likely that the military and civilian gaming environments will continue to be mutually reinforcing with strong American roots and expanding international experiences.
Erwin, S. I. (2012, December). Budget Cuts, Fuels Costs Could Spur Military Spending on Virtual Training. National Defense: NDIA’s Business and Technology Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/archive/2012/December/Pages/BudgetCuts,FuelsCostsCouldSpurMilitarySpendingonVirtualTraining.aspx