Military technology is rapidly adopting gaming tech to take advantage of years of development and experience in creating virtual worlds.
Modern computation has allowed us to become master creators. Virtual worlds are persistent, with complex overlying systems, interacting entities and detailed environments. They are places in their own right, where one can inhabit and thrive in the mini-universe that has been created. The main commercial interest in these worlds has historically been in gaming, where gameworlds have become more immersive and massive than ever; from the snowy peaks of Skyrim to the social experiences of Roblox and Fortnite.
Beyond gaming however, the realism achieved in these endeavours has not gone unnoticed by other industries. By having virtual worlds that substantially act like their real counterparts, there lies huge numbers of opportunities for designing, testing, planning and training. Architects can walk the floors of their visions or engineers can proof test their machines for faults. However, perhaps the one of the fastest adopters of gaming technology was the defence sector, who at an early stage saw the benefits of increasingly realistic synthetic environments.
All the way back in 2007, the UK Chief of Defence Staff at the time, Sir Jock Stirrup said “the crew of a submarine when it is submerged are in many ways already operating in a virtual environment … and we can see emerging the fusing of synthetic and real world environments such that it would make increasingly difficult to distinguish between training carried out in simulation and the real thing.” This example illustrates how defence technology has long had a crossover with gaming in the sense the creation of synthetic environments. For things such as reconnaissance tools to be effective, they need to effectively create a representation of the world that can then be observed by the user.
In the earlier days, however, much military technology was made for specific end use. The hardware and software was usually unique and its design and platform was owned by a particular manufacturer. Moving to a different provider, or improving systems with development was difficult and often required the purchase or rebuild of an entirely new product. Even as it became cheaper to produce, the lack of a robust and persistent core infrastructure reduced the ability to build on top of previous iterations. Much of this led to silos in defence technology and security systems, which is still a large problem today.
Things like high end graphical rendering, physics systems and AI all became foundational features of game engines, where continued game development throughout console generations constantly improved their function. The requirements aligned with defence software rapidly and the drive for innovation in gaming inadvertently pushed in a positive direction for military technology as well. Game engines became sophisticated such that they could create worlds on multiple different platforms and contain different systems. Because of the adaptability and maturity of gaming tech, it became easy to integrate it with specific military technologies. It brought a flexibility and interoperability that previous mil-tech had lacked.
Neighbouring verticals have also seen innovation through gaming, that has had a knock on effect to defence. Virtual and augmented reality, for example, were not much more than simple pipe dreams before their recent explosion. The demand for more immersive gaming experiences pushed their development, inadvertently becoming key for realistic simulations in defence training. Mixed reality has proven to be useful in the planning operations as well as in live action itself. Practicing through a simulator allows for mistakes to be cut out, while similarly controlling operations from a remote location also reduces potential for harm.
Perhaps the most recent challenge that gaming technology has been trying to solve is in providing multi-domain simulations that can be accessed everywhere and run multiple times. Military operations today often happen on a massive scale and involve a number of different sectors within defence organisations. Scenarios can play out in a vast number of ways, where tiny changes can result in far different consequences. Being able play out all of these and analyse each one to find the optimum solution will present a significant advantage.