Presented by G7 Training Enhancement, Canadian Forces: Direct Action is a first-person shooter module, based on the SWAT4 game, placing users in an operational mission networked together with personnel from their section or team.
"When you're in a game, you're planning where you're going to go, what weapon you're going to pick up — you're making decisions," says Chris Sharp of the Minnesota-based simulation company, Clandestine Systems, and previous military instructor.
The game removes the physical motions, allowing users to focus on cognitive decision making.
"What we found is that when [officers] are too focused on the physical aspect of the training … they are not necessarily paying attention to things in the cognitive domain," MacDonald says.
However, the amalgamation of foundational skills into a click or keystroke does not teach vital physical skills. Watching the game avatar aim at a paper target will not translate to accuracy on the shooting range. "I don't know anyone who is claiming to teach the more physical aspects of skills [in a video game], it's not the kind of thing that is effective to teach in a video game," says Van Lent.
Many physical skills learned from practice follow the same concept. "In other words, no matter how good a [single] golf game is, it's not going to teach someone how to hit the ball," he adds.
MacDonald agrees, "A simulation is not going to teach you how to put a round through the center of a target. It will let you exercise the decision of whether or not you should fire that round in the first place."
The decision making practiced in a simulation develops into the trainee's situational awareness. When a user sees something in the simulation, he receives visual and audio cues, which come from his interaction in the game space. "That is how you're getting engaged and where learning is being driven — where all your experiences are taking place," says Todd Richmond, project director at the Institute of Creative Technologies of the University of Southern California (ICT-USC).
• Immersive. The immersive qualities of a training effort assist trainees in relating to the situation. The more the trainee feels he is a part of the situation the more successful the training's learning objectives will be.
Van Lent explains the key to what a trainee is learning is largely mental, not physical. Users are learning about the decisions that are required on the job. He offers the following advice to instructors in examining an immersive simulation: "You need to make sure the input the player receives in the game closely matches the input they would receive in real-life." He also offers questions to discern whether or not a simulation is immersive: "Do you get caught up in the game? Do you stop thinking about 'I'm sitting in a classroom' and start thinking about 'I'm in this virtual world?' "
• Engaging. The simulation's immersive qualities play a major role in the training simulation. But if the experience isn't engaging for the user, it is possible that the learning objectives won't be efficiently translated.
The trainee's perspective is vital in training, depending on the lesson's type and intent. Sharp uses the difference between the recreational player versus the professional trainee. Casual players would more likely play very aggressively. However, "somebody who does it for a living — it means something to them," he explains.
He further illustrates a distinction between how a patrol officer plays versus a military or SWAT team member. "For one, he [the officer] shouldn't be in that situation and he knows it. Secondly he doesn't want to be out of the game. It's almost a disgrace when you screw up and get shot or you screw up and you get somebody else shot," he says.