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DARPA Thinks Military Strategists Could Learn a Lot from Video Games

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jeff Ebert wears a virtual-reality headset and holds a video-game controller as he demonstrates an experimental virtual-reality computer simulation.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jeff Ebert wears a virtual-reality headset and holds a video-game controller as he demonstrates an experimental virtual-reality computer simulation. // Ted S. Warren/AP File Photo

The Defense Department’s moonshot tech agency is on the lookout for video games that can help military leaders think strategically about conflicts.

The goal is to improve DOD’s war-gaming activities—essentially, playing "what if they did this and we did that?" national security scenarios out to their second, third and fourth order consequences—by integrating the complexity and drama of video games.

DOD already employs video game-like training systems, but those are mostly separate from the Pentagon’s war-gaming operations, according to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency request for information released earlier this month.

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DARPA is looking for industry feedback on three main areas of video games: architecture, game construction and how games incorporate artificial intelligence, for example, to learn from old scenarios and create new ones, the RFI states.

The agency is interested in games that represent the full range of military decision-making: big-picture strategy typically done by the president and his Cabinet, operational decisions made by top military leaders and tactical decisions made by troops in the field.

DARPA suggests the "Civilization" video game series as an example of strategy-focused video games, while first-person shooter games represent tactical decision-making.

The agency is also interested in games that can play out how strategic, operational and tactical decisions are affected by a variety of different players and by new technologies.

“For example, developing networked swarms of unmanned aircraft in an operational-level game to attack an adversary, provision military forces, or provide communications may have both strategic and tactical implications,” the contracting document states.

The DARPA contracting document is essentially a call for proposals and doesn’t obligate the government to purchase any specific technology.

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