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War (Video) Games

Video game hardware and software makers raked in an estimated $24 billion in revenue in 2004, and analysts expect the industry to continue to grow. An unlikely player has enjoyed surprising success in the online gaming market: the United States Army.

Colonel Casey Wardynski is a prime example of never knowing where your career might lead you. An economist by training and the director of the U.S. Army’s Office of Economic and Manpower Analysis (OEMA) at West Point, Wardynski also doubles as the director and project originator of the “America’s Army” video game, the official game of the U.S. Army.

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The idea for an Army-endorsed video game started in 1999 as a way for the Army to improve its recruiting effort, which had fallen short of targets the prior three years, according to Wardynski. “The Army hadn’t changed the way it communicated with the public since maybe George Washington,” he says. “It was us telling you about things rather than you discovering them.”

Wardynski’s office came up with the concept of the video game, which initially served as a way to introduce 13-to-16-year-old boys to the Army. Today, the game serves as an introduction and incorporates training aspects to familiarize teens with what really goes on in the Army.

The game takes users through basic training and allows them to experience specific military careers, whether it’s a weapons specialist, intelligence officer, engineer, or combat medic. Users go through a shooting range and even medical training. It’s an effective tool for recruiting because it breeds familiarity and confidence in the users’ ability to succeed at something like basic training, Wardynski says. As of January 2005, more than 4.4 million registered users had logged on to play.

Besides the millions of users, the game has attracted the attention of other branches of the federal government including the Secret Service, which was among the first to see the software’s potential for training exercises. Other government offices have seen the advantages, too, as training is expensive and the conditions are ever changing. “A lot of the places they might be going are places you can’t run an actual exercise,” says Wardynski. “So they do it in the virtual world.”

The software is used to train explosives ordinance disposal soldiers on how to work a robot and other soldiers on how to operate missile systems. It’s even been used to help Green Berets in cultural sensitivity training. There are plans to use it to train doctors, firefighters, and supply chain managers, as well. Wardynski believes the possibilities are limitless.

“Games work really well because it’s fun to progress,” he observes. “People will do it on their own time and repeat it until they get it down to the point where they’re comfortable and know it.”

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