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Virtual Reality: From Gaming to Good

by Dalton Seniff, Gamer News Daily Contributing Author

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Virtual reality has the ability to completely immerse you in a medium, like no other technology before this. When talking about video games, the number one priority for developers is often immersion. If a developer can sweep you up in a game, and get you involved in its world, they’ve won. It only makes sense that a developer looking for immersion into their game would enable the support of virtual reality, and want as many people as possible to utilize it. With upcoming immersive VR-enhanced games such as Star Citizen, it’s easy to see why a developer would want to be involved in the development of VR support for a game. Not only does it present a case for more developer involvement, but it fulfills a fantasy of many gamers. Virtual reality has been touted as the last word in immersion for decades upon decades, and seeing it come to fruition gives us a sense that we’re living in the future. However, its use doesn’t only have its place in gaming.

The immersive properties of virtual reality are not only for games.  In the fields of medicine, and military simulation, virtual reality is an up and coming stable of the industry. Virtual reality has long been a staple of military simulation games such as ARMA, and the TrackIR headset, which tracks head movement and correspond it in-game, has been a vital element of this.

Ernest Hall, pictured left.

I conducted an interview with prior service United States Marine Corp Infantry Squad Leader, and combat marksmanship trainer, Ernest Hall. During his service, he was stationed in Okinawa setting up and conducting training exercises in the Marksmanship Training Unit. During his time there, he had access to Bohemia Interactive’s Virtual Battlespace program, which allows for a wide variety of combat simulations, ranging from convoy simulators, to calling for close air support, to trying to call in a medievac helicopter. All of these simulations were personally conducted by him during his time at the MTU, and allowed for a wide variety of changes to be made, in order to better prepare his soldiers for the real battlefield.

Virtual marksmanship took place with something called a “Blue Fire” rifle. This rifle simulates a real one, with a real magazine capacity, real recoil, real weight, and real noise. When you’re using a blue fire rifle in the simulation, it’s so close to the real thing that you can often forget that you’re firing a simulation rifle. Not only that, but you’re able to have up to four trainees inside of the simulation as well, allowing for advanced coordination of combat scenarios. SSgt. Hall would often put trainees in tense, real world scenarios in order to prepare them for military operations outside of training. Situations in which the trainees would have to display their marksmanship, and be overrun. “While it’s hard to get close to the real thing, if you put enough pressure on them, you can get some real training done. Nothing prepares people for the real world like the actual report of a rifle, and a noisy battlefield.” Said SSgt. Hall. But marksmanship isn’t the only thing that the train inside of these simulations, despite the name of the MTU. “Shooting a rifle isn’t the only thing that an infantryman does. He needs to be able to accurately communicate with air support in order to walk them onto a target. It’s not as simple as calling in a ten digit grid coordinate, and having them hit it. You’re talking to a real human being, and you need to use the things they can see to walk them onto the target.”

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In the simulations, the infantry trainees, and those that are simulating flying close air support, must work together to complete an objective. The men on the ground have a direct visual of the target, and need to communicate with air support in order to give them the direction that either need to land, or deliver ordinance onto. It promotes teamwork, and helps them get real world experience. Without the trainer, they would have to expend fuel, ammunition, and other supplies as well to do it. Instead, they can get almost all of the experience of the real world from the comfort of their base, and do training exercises that would otherwise be dangerous, with little to no risk.

However, virtual reality helps not only those going to the battlefield, but also those returning from it. Phantom limb syndrome is a disorder that affects amputees, it presents as pain in the lost limb, as if it was still there. More than 1,500 Americans have lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan. And sixty to eighty percent of those with missing limbs, are affected by a serious amount of pain from phantom limb syndrome. While it can present as just general tingling and feelings of it still being there, it can also present as genuine pain, and feelings of tightness even though the limb isn’t there. Using virtual reality, a man who had been suffering from phantom limb syndrome for over 48 years overcame his disorder. Electrical signals were sent to his arm, and corresponded with a visual limb on screen, which he could then move as if it was actually there. This allowed him to mentally utilize his arm, and soothe the pain of it by relaxing it. However, clinical trials are yet to be conducted on this method, however it does look promising. While virtual reality has its roots in gaming, it can be so much more than just that. Already, we’ve made a lot of progress in being able to simulate reality, and help turn a technology designed for gaming, into a force for good.

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