VIDEO GAMES: Not just jumping for coins

As another tool for the law enforcement instructor, the simulation can supplement real-life training


     While the video game has been, and probably will be for years to come, synonymous with entertainment, the time spent in front of the screen can transcend from recreation to training. Pulling from the situational awareness an officer's already learned from classroom lectures and real-life exercises, computer-based training can become a training 'result' instead of wasted hours saving a pink-dressed damsel in distress.

     The switch is in how the player, officer or otherwise, handles the simulation. The "game" or "entertainment" aspect is removed once the player begins to take the scenario seriously, beginning to sympathize or care about the virtual situation at hand.

     It is possible for a video game to teach usable skills when you consider that according to national news sources, 28-year-old gamer, Paxton Galvanek, rescued two victims from an overturned SUV, on the shoulder of a North Carolina interstate, using skills he had gained by playing the video game, America's Army. His character choice for game play: the medic class. While his wasn't formal training, the concepts Galvanek learned while sitting at his computer seemed real enough to the two individuals he rescued.

     In Galvanek's case, he chose America's Army for its entertainment value — he and countless others. In 2007, video game sales generated a monstrous $17.94 billion. In comparison, United States movie ticket sales added up to $9.7 billion. Judging from those dollar amounts, this technology is no longer a "future-tech" concept, it is here today, and it isn't going away anytime soon.

Boots on the ground

     Physical training is what officers typically encounter in their training experience. They strengthen their foundational skills by practicing the physical actions required by their jobs, such as pulling the trigger of their duty gun or kicking down a door. Each action has its own skill set with each set reinforcing itself upon correct completion.

     While the goal may be to instill the correct foundational skills as second nature, officers are also inundated with decision making — the cognitive aspect of their training. Officers must react to a situation and make critical decisions in a split second, while performing practiced physical foundational skills. The decisions they make can mean the difference between the innocent victim and the injured partner.

     Simulated training can help officers hone their decision making skills. In a simulated training scenario, learning objectives should be the focus of the training mission, not foundational skills that should be second nature. Participants' learning objectives should change to focus on one particular aspect of training, requiring them to make the rest of their decisions correctly to defend against negative training. These skills ultimately gather to form situational awareness, an education that assists everyone in potential situations in the future. To reiterate, Galvenek's virtually based situational awareness helped him in a real-world situation.

Boots in the game

     Michael van Lent, chief scientist at Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Soar Technology, where he's part of game development for training/teaching purposes, offers three points to show how a video game becomes a teaching tool: interactive, immersive and engaging.

     • Interactive. The simulation's interactivity comes from the user's decisions. The game's effectiveness is in coaxing these decisions, and the effectiveness of a simulation's interactivity directly correlates to the game's success or failure as a teaching tool.

     Simulation does not attempt to replace field training, but rather exercises a different domain of the brain, explains Capt. Jeremy MacDonald, who heads the research and development team of new training technology for the Canadian Army and produces Canadian Forces: Direct Action.

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