Chinese Army Developed Online Wargame

This is a really weird story:

After setting up its own cyber-warfare team, China's military has now developed its first online war game aimed at improving combat skills and battle awareness, state press said Wednesday.

"Glorious Mission" is a first-person shooter game that sends players on solo or team missions armed with high-tech weapons, the China Daily reported.

How is this different from any of the dozens of other first-person shooter games with realistic weapons?

And does "training" on these games really translate into the real world?

EDITED TO ADD (7/13): The original story by China Daily is more detailed and easier to follow.

Posted on June 30, 2011 at 8:15 AM • 45 Comments

Comments

OttoJune 30, 2011 8:37 AM

I dunno about how well the experience translates, but I firmly believe that playing Quake back in college is what made me a crack shot with a real shotgun in real life. First time I ever went clay shooting, I pulled off some ridiculous shots, without even aiming. The point and click instinct just kicked in.

So yeah, I think gaming can improve your reflexes and your twitch-shoot-kill response, certainly. Teamwork skills too, perhaps. Depending on the game.

Mike CurranJune 30, 2011 8:44 AM

It depends, but I'm guessing that their simulator is a lot closer to an Operation Flashpoint "realistic" FPS than to a Counterstrike "Jump to dodge bullets" FPS.

noble_serfJune 30, 2011 8:46 AM

And does "training" on these games really translate into the real world?

I'm sure that was rhetorical, but yes. The US military has used target engagement games since at least 1987 when I was first exposed to them at the U.S. Army Armor Center and School.

I think theory and thought problem games could help the Chinese soldiers learn strategy. That's always been the U.S. "advantage" -- even our youngest troops are encouraged to think.

DerekJune 30, 2011 8:52 AM

I have always been skeptical of video games providing any physical improvement to the human body, but I don't fully discredit the notions that it could increase hand/eye coordination and pattern recognition. Both beneficiary to a solider in a chaotic situation.

There is the team building portion too.

Charles HillJune 30, 2011 8:54 AM

I played a lot of Americas Army in about 2005, which was a pretty great game I received on CD for free from an Army recruiter. The breathing tips from that game helped me reduce my real life rifle shot groupings from all over the target to inside of 1 inch from 75 yards. I also learned some great tactical team assault and zone clearing techniques which translate great to the paintball field. I can only imagine that they save lives in real combat. I was also intrigued to find that teenagers in Germany were playing it too, because the training in the game is good.

http://www.americasarmy.com/

-Charles Hill

tjJune 30, 2011 8:56 AM

The US gov't funded something similar a few years back -- the "America's Army" video game is a freely-downloadable game aimed mostly at recruitment, but there has also been some talk of using it for training. (or perhaps an adapted version of it)

MyCatJune 30, 2011 8:58 AM

Several years ago the now defunct Shift magazine sent one of their gaming writers to take shooting lessons. He seemed to be about one day's training ahead of the other students IIRC.

DavidJune 30, 2011 9:07 AM

As a long time FPS player, it seems obvious to me that these types of FPS games help players identify situations where various strategies and tactics would be useful - and teach them through tiral and error how to implement these effectively. Developing combat team work skills is also another benefit, easily seen in games like "Team Fortress 2" - where the winning side is almost always determened by which team can communicate and work well together. Those who play together as a team will eventually win!

Not sure about how the whole hand-eye-coordination thing would really translate from virtual to real environments, but I bet someone has studied it.

RonJune 30, 2011 9:08 AM

What they need to do is put this in arcade machines, and recruit the people with the highscores a la The Last Starfighter!

EricJune 30, 2011 9:08 AM

So you set-up an elite cyberwarfare unit, and you let them develop a computer game? About regular warfare?

Anyway, because it's mentioned in a newspaper this does remind of America's Army, but that's mainly a US Army recruitment tool and China apparently has no shortage of volunteers.

Like noble_serf says: computerized combat sims are being used by various militaries across the world to reduce the number of costly real-life simulations and train more effectively for specific scenarios. Instructors are able adjust any parameter in real-time, and repeating the simulation (while re-randomizing e.g. mine field placement) is just a matter of pressing the reset button.

MeJune 30, 2011 9:09 AM

@tj at June 30, 2011 8:56 AM

I was about to say the same thing, how is this any different than "America's Army."

Oh, right, America good, China bad, got it.

BF SKinnerJune 30, 2011 9:22 AM

@Bruce "How is this different from any of the dozens of other first-person shooter games with realistic weapons?"

It's in Chinese and the enemy aren't Red Army soliders and sailors but imperialist running dogs?

DuaneJune 30, 2011 9:28 AM

The value may be psychological rather than tactical. Most people have an innate resistance to killing another person and the military has studied how often soldiers may resist pulling the trigger or aim above the target. Simulations are done to help subdue the natural inclination against killing others. An army that reliably aims to kill will be much more effective that one that doesn't.

JohnJune 30, 2011 9:36 AM

Several people have commented that Americas Army is purely or primarily a recruitment tool. I actually happen to know a guy who works purely on the training side of the game, and according to him about half the development resources go to the public version while the other half go to the private training version.

GordonJune 30, 2011 9:38 AM

It's a really badly written story. The original story published by China Daily is more detailed and easier to follow:

http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2011-06/29/...

There are some videos of it on Youtube if you want to see what it looks like. It appears to be a fairly familiar mouse and keyboard driven PC shooter.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLY7GyxDmR4

I found the most significant line in the China Daily story to be:

'The game, described by the China Software Testing Center as the "first large local area network (LAN) military game that has full intellectual property rights in China", was co-developed by Nanjing Military Command and Wuxi Giant Network Technology Inc in Jiangsu province.'

So this is really about China engaging in the patent trolling war.

Dirk PraetJune 30, 2011 9:44 AM

"How is this different from any of the dozens of other first-person shooter games with realistic weapons?"

Well, in this game the Chinese are probably the good guys. And from a military perspective, it can be really good and inexpensive training. I know of more than one FPS that definitely contributed to my tactical laser shooting and paintball skills.

There's other games that made their way out of entertainment and into the real world, the best-known of them probably being Microsoft Flight Simulator. Although the entire development team was laid off in 2009, several of its crew formed a new company called Cascade Game Foundry. Lockheed Martin also acquired the full IP and source code from the commercial ESP version and released its own called "Prepar3D" earlier this year. Perhaps this was one the things our Chinese hacker friends were after when they alledgedly breached Lockheed Martin a while ago.

SephJune 30, 2011 9:52 AM

Hi Steve - love your blog and am an avid reader. I first heard about this game from Danger Room (http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/tag/glorious-mission/) Which seems to have some good detail, reference links, and a comparison to America's Army, the US Military's attempt awhile back.

For the most part, this is not meant to simulate anything more than (perhaps) combat tactics, but it does go a long way on the recruitment side and leadership side. I remember the US Military calling / emailing people when they reached a certain rank to ask if they were interested.

The only thing I think about when I see this kind of thing, however, is Ender's Game.

Matthew WeigelJune 30, 2011 10:25 AM

Examples of playing games and becoming good at the skills in the game abound: good Gran Turismo players (aside from being unused to the actual physical rigors of race car driving) do very well on the track; strategies and plays that work in Madden have begun to be used on the NFL field to good effect; and yes, first-person shooters can make you a better marksman (if the game is a realistic simulation, strategies and tactics can also transfer).

Maybe the easiest transfer to see is the correlation between flight sims and controlling UAVs, but I don't think any of these results are considered novel anymore.

LulzsecJune 30, 2011 12:09 PM

At the 2012 Olympic 100m final, Usain Bolt will run the final in 9.41 seconds, before screaming 'Beware China', and then crumbling into dust.

Michael EdwardsJune 30, 2011 12:11 PM

One of the things I found fascinating about the "America's Army" game was they way it implemented Player vs. Player (PvP). Both sides saw themselves as American soldiers, and saw the opponents as insurgents/terrorists. I thought that was both clever and revealing.

Nick PJune 30, 2011 12:52 PM

America's Army was our version. We also did Full Spectrum Warrior to use effective AI to teach tactics. Full Spectrum Command taught tactics for commander's. An important aspect of America's Army was that you could die very easily and you only had your eyes to find enemies. Friend or foe identification at night or at long distances was difficult, requiring good communication between teammates to avoid friendly fire.

As for real-world training, very realistic FPS games do give the people real skills. Scientific studies have shown an improvement in hand-eye coordination and reflexes. Real-time strategy games improve those plus multi-tasking, real-time planning, and prioritization skills. Anyone doubting that should look up "Boxer" doing 800 actions a minute in Starcraft. That's some coordination, there. ;)

So, these kinds of games do help to a degree.

NemoJune 30, 2011 1:28 PM

Training on FPSes does translate into the real world, but it can be a two-edged sword, as people have a tendency to take away the wrong lessons... alas.

I wrote something relevant about this about three years ago:

http://www.slugsite.com/archives/909

...which is still relevant, though the specific example is... dated.

IasJune 30, 2011 1:32 PM

Did you intend to copy the same paragraph twice when quoting the article?

MapesJune 30, 2011 4:11 PM

I think the largest benefit these games provide is some amount of tactics. Although I don't think it helps too much. the reason is most games maps are static and once the map is learned there is lettle deviation except race at the start of the round to certain choke points. also the game might help with target acquisition however there is more to effectively using a firmarm then just pointing and shooting. There is a certain muscle memory for reloading quickly thats not in the game. I'm also dubious as too trigger control. Although I haven't played AA so I can't attest to it's training potential.

KorayJune 30, 2011 4:35 PM

Driving games use steering wheels and pedals and the driving skill is transferrable to real life as the iRacing folks had demonstrated. However, you don't shoot with a mouse in real life or crouch with a key press.

However, FPS games can teach things like keeping good formation, recognizing chokepoint and ambush spots, etc. Things like this have to become second nature because you don't have time to think. You get better at learning new locations quickly, estimating how long it may take enemy to go from point A to point B and plan accordingly. You learn first hand how quickly things can be fubar by a mistake by one player. Many of these games nowadays involve tanks and helicopters in addition to infantry units.

pointless_hackJune 30, 2011 5:53 PM

Most comments seem to agree that virtual practice translates into realtime events. This agrees with "reports" that Surgeons who matured playing video games did better not only at robo-surgery, but also in ordinary knot tying etc.

I'd like to add that only "perfect practice makes perfect." Mistakes are learned as reliably as success.

Maybe "we" should contrive to pit the Chinese ai engine against the America's army ai engine, to see which one is more sophisticated?

cwJune 30, 2011 11:07 PM

Maybe soon we can buy a monthly subscription to Glorious Mission. And peddle its internal currency on the Internet.

tommyJuly 1, 2011 1:10 AM

@ BRUCE AND MODERATOR:

What Ias said,
"Did you intend to copy the same paragraph twice when quoting the article?"

On topic: For at least twenty years, I've attributed the apparent general superiority of US fighter pilots to the fact that these young men grew up playing video games. Eye-hand coordination is like anything else: a skill whose range may be somewhat genetically determined, but can always be improved with practice. Anything that involves the eye-(brain or reflex)-hand connection works.

I read about a private pilot whose 5-year-old son was fully capable of instruments-only flight. "He has to", said the Dad, "he can't see over the panel." (dashboard, for non-pilots) That young lad could undoubtedly have become an excellent pilot of any type.

For non-pilots, instrument flight, when you can't see out the window ("IFR"), is very much a video game. Keep the plane level in this window, keep the ball centered in this one, keep the altimeter needle steady... etc. The biggest distraction to visual-only (VFR) pilots who stumble into non-visual weather is the confusing sensations from the eyes (clouds glare, dazzle) and the ears, which can be tricky. The self-discipline requires playing the video game while ignoring extraneous senses. This would be easy for the video-game-trained or said 5-year-old, but the inability to do so cost John F. Kennedy, Jr. his life. He had earned his VFR license only recently.

(Basic VFR fight training and license testing includes sufficient IFR skill to be able to turn around and go back to better weather, while maintaining altitude, pitch, and attitude. Also, to recover from dangerous attitudes in which the instructor/tester puts the aircraft, student's eyes closed; then student must recover while wearing a hood that allows only the instrument panel to be seen. But who would want to tell a Kennedy that they flunked?)

Richard Steven HackJuly 1, 2011 2:09 AM

I recall everyone threw a fit when some Islamist extremists modified one of these FPS games to allow them to model terrorist attacks which involved shooting apparent US soldiers. Apparently it was fine to run around shooting "ragheads" but not to shoot US troops.

That was one video game I wanted to get hold of - next to Hitman, of course. :-)

I also downloaded the video clips taken from one of these games that involved a group of terrorists attacking Moscow airport. That was a pretty chilling scenario and showed what a heavily armed team could do - albeit as usual they never seemed to reload, like in the old Western movies. :-) The player character does but not the other characters.

Here it is if you haven't seen it:

Modern Warfare 2 - No Russian
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kq_4czeJ4r8

GreenSquirrelJuly 1, 2011 7:07 AM

I dont think that training on a game translates into the real world skills needed by infantry soldiers.

In a nutshell, FPS (and similar games) can help teach people tactics but the artificial nature is (currently, at least) too significant for it to translate easily into real world skill sets.

They (FPS) can replace the classroom prep work where you explain to people why they duck under windows etc., but it is not the same as teaching your body to do the movement.

There is an element of FPS in some combat simulators (mostly for judgement shooting) but the actual skill required needs people to practice it "for real." Until the person is tired, scared and confused, they dont know exactly what they have to tell their body. Nothing (so far) in any game properly presents that.

Its a bit like thinking you could be a bricklayer because you played tetris.

Jan SchejbalJuly 1, 2011 7:36 AM

I have heared that the US Army has great difficulties "fixing" their new recruits who have been "spoiled" by video games to such a degree that they are nearly useless and much harder to train than recruits who have never played games.

DreamlineJuly 1, 2011 8:52 AM

I wonder if the new motion gaming (Kinect, for example) are going to increase the parallels to real-life combat training and thus up the ante in transferring gaming skills to military skills. Now you really do crouch/lean, can do hand signals for non-vocal communications, etc...
Hmm - wonder if the Army is licensing XBoxes ;-)

DuhObviousJuly 1, 2011 9:25 AM

Perhaps their Cyber Warefare team is developing this game, because a reasonable number of interesting online systems would use similar handshake, and synchronization mechanisms as online games (some of the anti-hacking tools used by online FPS's are pretty sophisticated), and building one is a great way to learn.

Nick PJuly 1, 2011 1:36 PM

@ Richard Steven Hack

That was one of my favorite missions in the game. It's better than most books at graphically illustrating the scenario of an attack on an airport. I always imagined the assault in India a while back probably looked similar. The scene illustrated a few points.

The first is that our security is worthless. We all knew that, but this is even worse. A team of guys with machine guns slaughter everyone in an airport. Our current defenses couldn't stop that & the attack is extremely easy to mount. As a matter of fact, in many Middle Eastern countries, AK's are homemade. What's the odds that some raghead would eventually make a few AK's, buy some ammo, and unload on a TSA checkpoint? (Even a pistol would do a lot of damage with so many people in a small space.)

The other thing is gun control won't stop it. In this scenario, it was a militia illegally obtaining guns. We see the same thing with street gangs and the local rednecks. The muslims could do the same. In the next part, they leave with a hijacked ambulance. That would work too and there's no security in place to stop that. So, the whole scene just illustrates how our multi-billion dollar security can't even stop a few ragheads with some AK's and a stolen ambulance. Pathetic...

I figure I'll add my favorite scene: Second Sun. It's a scene about a nuke being fired at the US and exploded over washington to cause an EMP. The way they observed the nuke exploding and how they depict the effects in washington are both awesome. Check it out.

MW2 Second Sun
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHLJPLyI5Uw

Some DudeJuly 1, 2011 3:43 PM

Judging from Youtube, this looks a lot more like the Battlefield series than America's Army or Flashpoint/ArmA.

RogerJuly 4, 2011 7:16 AM

Call me highly sceptical. There are a few things about these games that are kind-of similar to the real skill-set -- and cheaper to practice this way. But there are thousands of things that are not even close.

To pick the first few that come to mind:
a. Operation of weapons bears no resemblance whatever to reality. Not aiming, not firing, not clearing stoppages (in the few games where this occurs at all), nothing. Heck, my rifle doesn't even *have* a space bar!

b. All games have unrealistic physics. To take one example, until the latest version, in "America's Army" the players could bounce around like kangaroos, and this was faster than running. And that was considered one of the most realistic games! They are getting better, and eventually will be nearly perfect, but today we aren't even close.

c. In America's Army -- the notably "hyper-realistic" game -- battles run in 8 minute rounds. Just like in real life.

d. In no FPS game are wounds remotely realistic. America's Army is said to be one of the closest: hit three times, you get sidelined for one round. Yup.

e. Due to network lag effects, it's often possible to dodge bullets, and it's an important skill to acquire.

f. And really, there are many, many more. Just hop on one of the support forum servers to find dozens.

Some of these are game design decisions that could be fixed if they really cared. Others are technological limitations that may be overcome someday, but we just aren't that close today. Still others are inherent limitations of the medium.

I have seen a few claims of experiments that allegedly showed benefits to real world skills from gaming, but I have not seen one that stands up to scrutiny. For example, there is the oft-cited claim that surgery students' skills were improved by video gaming. However, the claim is a lie; the original paper [1] actually found that students with a natural talent for games also tended to have a natural talent for laparoscopy, but that practicing on games did *not* further improve that skill.


___
1. http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/abs/10.1089/...

SteveJuly 4, 2011 4:07 PM

"And does 'training' on these games really translate into the real world?"

If desensitizing the player to violence and teaching them to see the enemy as "targets" to be zapped with some high tech gizmo rather than human beings, I suspect the answer is veering toward yes.

RichJuly 5, 2011 3:17 PM

I think of the game Uplink which was a great tool to help understand how to use "internic" a WHOIS and attack a site. How to gather intelligence on a site, use tools like anti-tracing, password brute forcing, etc. If they are developing a cyberwar simulation game I bet it will be based on something similar to Uplink.

Michael ParkerJuly 6, 2011 7:52 AM

Call me paranoid, but I'd be more concerned with backdoors than aything else..."hey kids...check out this really cool game - here's the installer". Take it a step further, and say it's only available to the Chinese, and see how long before it starts showing up on teenagers computers in the US...

Yin YangJuly 13, 2011 7:27 AM

dunno how this translates into real world scenario but one thing is clear: China NOW has the most powerful navy in the world! And the largest army.

alJuly 13, 2011 10:08 AM

@Yin Yang
"China NOW has the most powerful navy in the world!"

Based on what data?

amblaJuly 15, 2011 6:40 AM

I see the propaganda value of this project. China is hiring a cyberwarfare team of its expert programmers/hackers to design a computer game that demonstrates the facility and superiority of Chinese high-tech weaponry on the battlefield. A realistic combat simulation serves as a recruitment tool, a source of national pride, and a teamwork training tool (the U.S. military uses A.A. in its training schools to teach small group tactical leadership)
One can very seriously consider (as another commenter mentioned) that the software will have built in infiltration/spying capacity.

Imagine ThatJuly 16, 2011 6:21 AM

You are all forgetting one very real firearms training simulator that also does scenarios.

FATS Simulators.

I've used a non-portable one before that was setup in a building with a very large screen. The weapons were very real but modified to use compressed air for recoil, etc. The M16's jammed, and you had to know how clear a jam. The enemies on the scenario were very real too and could be altered in the way they acted.

Do a search for FATS Simulator on Google. There are quite a few hits that show you what one is.

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