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Team Contact Training, Virtually?

Military forces around the world are, without exception, in favour of team contact sports. Football, rugby, American football, anything that throws players into melee, and also expects them to work together.

This is because these games tend to teach skills (<sarcasm>yes, games teaching skills, imagine that</sarcasm>) which translate to the world outside the game's boundaries. Teamwork, self sacrifice, leadership, determination, resilience, hand eye co-ordination, attention tracking, and detecting where a moving object will land.

Part of the teaching experience, is getting hurt, being bowled into by another player, knocked sideways, and many bruises. A broken leg or arm is not out of the question either.

Surely there is a way to impart the same skills, without physical contact, physical location, or even, the ability to physically move?

Well, yes, and no.

The physical contact aspect is essential. It is rough, there is a real possibility of losing something (injury). You have to watch out for your own actions, as they affect your team mates. Conversely, your team mates' actions affect you.

There are two ways to replicate this physicality element. Either replace it with something else of value, the participant really does not want to lose, or replicate the physicality.

Creating Physical Oomph in the Virtual

Haptics is the immediate first answer that springs to mind.

Haptics literally are the sense of touch. The ability to feel something when it brushes up against you.

In VR, haptic is most frequently referred to as touch via the hands. This is simply because cyber gloves and data gloves have captured the public imagination. Reaching out into cyberspace and touching something - feeling it push back on your hand - is such a powerful image, it tends to stick with you. Whilst such gloves exist, haptic interfaces can be placed over any area of the body.

Whilst such gloves do exist, haptics can be applied to any part of the body, from gloves to bodysuits, vests, and armbands.


The TN Gaming Vest - Simple Haptics

The above vest, the TN gaming vest, is such a haptic device, ideally suited to contact sports.

Haptic is however, not a full touch replicator. Touch consists of three parts: Pressure, Texture, and Temperature. Haptics are only capable of generating pressure.

There is a related field, Tactile, which replicates pressure and temperature, but it is very immature at the current time.

Telehaptics basically refers to the sense of tactile touch (pressure in the most part), transferred over long distances between physically separated humans or animals, allowing touching, caressing, and other such sensory feedback, without parties being physically present with one another.

Telehaptics sometimes includes other sensory data, repackaged as touch: the breathing rate of a patient, heartbeat, or even a map of brain activity may be transmitted as pressure patterns upon the skin of the health practitioner, or researcher, so they can feel exactly how the patient is coping, in the most literal sense.

However, it is nowhere near sophisticated enough as yet to recreate the full feeling of being tackled onto wet and muddy ground, nor the doubtful pleasure of an elbow in the eye, or fist in the stomach that typically follow team contact sports like plague symptoms.

For that, we rely on other senses.

The Smell of Pain

Our sense of smell operates at the barely-conscious level, and is proven to be intimately tied to memory. A familiar smell almost instantly brings recollection of the situation you were in, the last time you smelt it. Thus, smell is a wonderful tool for training.

Picture a rough and tumble carried out virtually. You take a tumble, and the view tilts up. You hear a splat, and instantly your nostrils fill with the scent of wet mud. Or, you see an elbow swinging to you, and suddenly you can smell the metallic tang of blood. You will not have any physical injuries, but the scent brings the memories back sharp and clear.


The Scent Dome

The Scent Dome (pictured above) was the first serious attempt to create a smell peripheral. First launched in early 2004, and still with us today, the scent dome works by storing a cartridge of twenty base aromas, each of which can be released individually in set amounts, or mixed and matched by the control software in differing amounts to create almost any possible smell.

Other more advanced versions exist, but still function on the same basic premise: delivering the smell of the situation.

Team Building

With the sensory aspects covered as best as is currently possible, its time to look at the team building itself. Throwing players into a situation, then expecting them to work together to get out of it, is something multiplayer online games have been doing successfully for years.

This is no different.

Give each team a goal that requires team effort to achieve, and make the goals mutually exclusive. In other words, a victory for Team A is a defeat for team B. Add in incentives such as the smell of rotting flesh, or haptic prickles that get worse with each defeat, and you have a real incentive to win. That translates to an incentive to work as a team, all too soon.

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