Pilots, Soldiers and Surgeons Play Serious Games

Some games are not for entertainment - they are serious games

What do pilots, soldiers and surgeons have in common? Answer: They all work in professions where the cost of failure can be severe. And because of this, they are three professions that make heavy use of interactive simulations and what are known as “serious games”. The situations they deal with are unpredictable so they can’t just use standard responses. As situations unfold they have to think quick, and do the right thing. That takes lots of practice, and lots of learning from failure in order to see what works and what does not. 

Pilots, soldiers and surgeons practice and learn in real-time interactive simulations since it’s better to fail and easier to learn in simulations than in the real world. Because these simulations have real-time feedback systems, they also have the four traits of a game (goals, rules, feedback systems and voluntary participation), but these simulations are not to be confused with entertainment games, or games played just to pass the time. So a term for these kind of games has been created, the term is “serious games”. 

I'm speaking at Strata Conference | Feb 28 - Mar 1, 2012 - my presentation is "Big Data, Serious Games and the Future of Work" ]

Serious Games for Pilot Training 

Have you ever wondered how pilots learn to do those difficult things they do like fly their airplane out of a thunderstorm when the engine on the left wing suddenly conks out, or land their aircraft on an icy runway while contending with a serious cross wind that could blow their plane off the runway or even tip it over. They have to learn these skills in a safer place than the real world because otherwise they might not survive the mistakes they make while learning. 

When manufacturers roll out new airplanes they also roll out flight simulators to go along with the new airplanes. This is especially true for commercial airliners and military aircraft. Pilots log literally hundreds of hours learning to fly new planes in simulators before they ever enter the real plane and take it up for a spin. And when they do take the real plane up, they already know how to operate it in a wide range of conditions and how to fly it out of difficult situations. Figure 1 shows pilots training in the flight simulator for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner airline (short YouTube video of simulator).

Figure 1. Pilots Training in Simulator for Boeing 787

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  (pictures courtesy of Boeing) 

Serious Soldier Games

The military simulation and virtual training market is experiencing rapid growth in the last several years and is expected to continue growing. At a time when weapons technology is advancing rapidly armed forces around the world are turning to military simulation and virtual training tools as a way to deliver increased training and reduce the costs associated with live training that uses real vehicles and real ammunition in the real world. 

Figure 2 shows a soldier and instructor using a simulator to train in the use of a new anit-tank missile system used by the US Army. The scene on the left shows what the soldier sees; it is a night vision view of dessert terrain with an enemy tank shown off in the distance. The instructor can introduce a range of different terrains and targets and the soldier can practice using the weapon to acquire and destroy the targets (video of U.S. Army simulator and training game and video of Chinese Army training game).

Figure 2. Soldier and Instructor using Weapon Simulator for Training

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 (pictures courtesy of U.S. Army) 

Surgery is a Serious Game

Advances in medical technology and techniques have produced a growing body of procedures for minimally invasive surgeries to respond to a wide range of medical conditions. Minimally invasive surgery is both less expensive and also less traumatic for the patient so its use is growing rapidly. And along with the new technologies and techniques there needs to be appropriate training methods for the surgeons who will use them. 

The new advanced surgical simulation devices used to provide training for surgeons are based on jet pilot flight simulators, and they provide trainees with appropriate levels of challenge and instruction. Shown below in Figure 3 is an example of a new surgical simulation device. It is the RoSS™ Robotic Surgical Simulator and it features training for complete surgical procedures. Its hands-on surgical training modules use virtual reality to guide the trainee through the actions of a master surgeon (YouTube video of RoSS). 

Figure 3. Surgical Simulators are used to Train Surgeons in Minimally Invasive Techniques

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 (pictures courtesy of Simulated Surgical Systems)

Tom Chatfield in his book Fun Inc.: Why Gaming Will Dominate the Twenty-First Century points out that a game can, “turn just about any complex and potentially overwhelming system of variables into a manageable simulation that can be played, refined and analyzed as many times as you want.” This is a capability that offers tremendous value for the money. Failing in simulation situations is obviously a better and less costly way to learn. In many cases it is the only way for people to survive their mistakes long enough to learn what they need to know to do their jobs well. 

Do pilots, soldiers or surgeons give you any ideas for using serious games in your organization? For instance in IT, how about learning to configure and operate a datacenter or cloud platform by building a simulated datacenter or a simulated cloud and learning to deal with cyber attacks and equipment failure in a virtual world (there must be vendors working on this...) before trying it in the real world? Where else can we use simulators and serious games in business? 

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