Immediately following this year’s Land Forces was PAX Australia, an annual three-day event in Melbourne all about gaming. Not only video gaming, but card gaming, board gaming, tabletop war gaming, etc. Cosplay is also a big part of the event, and people even complimented my “cosplay”, i.e. the uniform!

I was there for two reasons primarily:

  1. I was a panel member representing Army for the ‘Games in Defence’ panel discussion.
  2. As Staff Officer Grade One Synthetic Training Capability, I had been watching the video game industry closely and seeing potential.

The figures aren’t available yet, but they expected 80,000 people over the three days. The panel discussion was well attended, with just over 200 audience members. It was a great opportunity to show off to the interested audience what Army had been doing using video game technologies, like our use of commercial game engines. What I enjoyed the most was meeting our people there. This was not surprising, as they say over 70% of the Australian population play video games of some form, and then there are card, board, and tabletop war gamers.

In my uniform, to the ‘non-Defence’ people, I was just another cosplayer, but our own people recognised me and said hello. And just about every one of them asked me what I was doing there, obviously not expecting to see anyone in uniform at PAX Australia. We talked about all sorts of games/gaming and using games for training, with all wondered why we weren’t doing it more. One reservist asked me how reserve units could try the VR training system I was talking about. I found out which unit he belonged to and advised him to check out the demo setup already at his unit’s main depot, which surprised him.

The most memorable encounter with our people was with two teenage Royal Australian Air Force cadets. They got so excited (really couldn’t contain it) when I told them about the VR training system they could experience near where they were. Although the cadets can use the Weapon Training Simulation System under the Defence Act, the two cadets and their mates couldn’t because none of their cadet staff had the weapon qualifications.

I also met other Government agency folks from Australian Border Force, Biosecurity Australia, and Services Australia. They’re all doing what we’re doing, i.e. seeing the potential and exploring ideas and technologies from video gaming – including VR – and the three agencies mentioned have similarities with us. For example, just like us, their people are spread across the country, some in very remote areas, and their situations can be challenging and unpredictable. Just imagine any possible airport emergency situation, an angry Centrelink customer, or a dangerous biosecurity situation. We intend to keep in touch and share experiences and more.

I was only there Friday and Saturday. Initially, I thought Friday was busy enough, but I was totally wrong, as I had to fight the horde on Saturday. What a place to positively interact with the public and our people, ALL HAVING FUN! And I saw a massive pool for future Defence personnel, both uniformed and APS. Yes, some would NOT pass the fitness test now and perhaps ever, but someone told me once a StarCraft player carried out 300 actions per minute. In StarCraft, a player is in control of up to 200 units of a combined arms force, including artillery and aviation, plus the player has to control all resources for the production of those units. Just one person required to C2 a combat team in the future?

Even if we’re not interested in the people in video gaming, Defence should pay attention to the video game industry as it has a lot to offer. ‘eXtended Reality’ (XR including VR, AR, and MR) is getting a lot of attention in Defence at the moment, and we constantly discuss with Defence industry on the use of XR for training and other purposes. Yes, there is hardware/software designed and developed specifically for the military market, but it’s the video game industry making many of the advances being leveraged by the defence industry. Every day, more and more XR hardware options become available, including ones even teenagers (or their parents) can afford.

Hand tracking, body tracking, etc., are also advancing. Even eye tracking, which was once a premium feature only found in high-end headsets, is becoming standard for consumer headsets. Feedback, both force and haptic, gives us more realism, perhaps too much in some cases. Research in AI is happening to make games more fun, challenging, and realistic; e.g. smarter, learning enemy non-player characters in photorealistic terrain in a first-person shooter.

I sometimes hear games are not simulations, and we want simulations, not games. In my humble opinion, ‘simulations vs games’ is not a valid discussion. In many games, I see simulations, humans walk like humans, and even some aliens walk like humans. Could we all be Star Wars Storm Troopers and train our convoy drills? Why not? In fact, one day, we may wear armour like that. Australia has a very healthy video game industry, and working with them and the defence industry together could be amazing and offer ‘funtastic’ possibilities and opportunities.

Even though I am posting out at the end of the year, I plan to stay involved with Army’s synthetic training capability and I am also setting myself the challenge to see a Defence booth at next year’s PAX Australia. Another reason for staying involved is Virtualis Exercitus. Virtualis Exercitus is a Defence social video gaming group on ForceNet, and it exists to connect people. Many militaries worldwide have serious eSports teams, and no doubt we will too someday (soon?).

But Virtualis Exercitus isn’t just for those competitive people. It’s for everyone – serious, casual or newcomers – no matter your preference, PC, console or phone/tablet. You can play on your own, find people to play together, form clans/teams if you like, while talking about video gaming, share the fun, or just chew the fat. If you’re in any way interested in video gaming and can get a ForceNet login, please join – search for ‘Virtualis Exercitus’.

Some other groups worth mentioning are Veteran Gaming Australia and Invictus Australia:

  • Veteran Gaming Australia is a group open to anyone, ex-serving, current and even the public. They promote veterans’ welfare through all sorts of gaming, not just video gaming. They hold events both online and face-to-face, do visits and attend transition seminars where they can. They are always welcoming, so please check them out on the Internet.
  • Invictus Australia is fairly well known, but did you know Esports were coming as part of the Invictus games?

If you have any questions, thoughts to share or just want to chew the fat, my door is always open to anyone, any rank, any Service/Group (though I don’t actually have a door). Or catch me in a game, Steam Friend Code: 1230497236. Cheers!