If you've ever wondered whether or not the Army is just like World of Warcraft, the answer is: kinda. It turns out that all branches of the military are experimenting with some special form of virtual technology -- most of it still in the developmental stage -- with ever-increasing complexity and capabilities. Here are just a few examples:
With battlefield visualization technology, users can put on a special pair of goggles and look at a 3D map of a particular field, while at the same time being able to track mileage and enemy movements. Multiple users, if wearing the same pair of goggles, can "plug" into the same battlefield.
The Air Force has MyBase; the National Guard has U.S. Nexus; the Navy has another brand of "Second Life." MyBase began in December 2008, and uses Second Life, a popular virtual reality game, as its main platform. While currently open to the public, the Air Force is planning two more secure phases in its development: the second one will offer virtual education and training, and the third will have purely operational tactical environments for users to work with.
U.S. Nexus is a centralized server that supports training and education across different sects of government (it's mainly a preparedness program, for both service members and civilian emergency managers.) And the Navy's Undersea Warfare Center, which also uses the Second Life platform, is on the very cutting edge of technology: it intends on adopting features from as many "virtual world" technologies as possible, and plans on focusing on product development, design, and operational testing.
America's Army -- "the official U.S. Army game" -- is a free online game with more than 6.5 million registered users (there are three online versions -- with the latest having been released in 2009, as well as a mobile app, arcade game, and two XBOX games). The army readily admits that that game is one big, huge propagandistic recruiting effort aimed at young people -- albeit it's one that works. A March New York Times blog post on "Virtual Reality War" notes that soldiers' biggest hobbies are playing so-called "militainment" games like Call of Duty and Medal of Honor -- and one sergeant even encourages the gameplay, believing the play improves “abilities to shoot, move, and communicate.”
DARWARS Ambush! is a PC-based, multiplayer training game that is also free, but limited to U.S. Military and Government personnel. It creates environments based on the experiences of those in the field, and was originally meant to hone skills needed to react to, and predict, ambushes and situations with explosive devices. It has since expanded to include leadership training, rules of engagement, and various infantry-level tactical training.
A 2008 Wired.com article reports that the military is aiming to create a first-person massive multiplayer online game -- in the vein of World of Warcraft -- wherein generals all over the world could log in, create an avatar, and participate in various exercises.
Flight simulators are probably the most well-known and popular military virtual-reality tech, and are used in all three branches. Simulators use sophisticated technology to mimic a plane's movements and interior capabilities within a stationary compartment. Pilots complete "missions" -- be they battle or emergency related -- and act and react to their virtual environment using joysticks, steers, and other devices. Some are completely enclosed, while others are just a series of monitors in a open space.
Ground simulators work similarly, and can replicate the environment of a Stryker, reconnaissance, mortar, or infantry carrier vehicle, among others.
The DarWars Tactical Language Project and Tactical Iraqi are some examples of virtual reality projects that emphasize cultural exchange and language learning. Darpa has French, Pashto, Dari, and Arabic language courses available to service members for free download, as well as interactive gaming simulations; Tactical Iraqi also uses the gaming simulations, along with speech recognition, robotics; it teaches both spoken Arabic and cultural hand gestures/movements, and was developed in conjunction with the University of Southern California.