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How can Army keep soldiers fighting fit after Afghanistan? Avatars

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"We were honestly quite shocked at the difference" between how soldiers would perform in the virtual world versus in real life, Krogh says. "We had kind of an 'aha' moment that we really needed to dig into this more."

It turns out that the virtual training was rewarding gaming skills more than soldierly discipline.

"If your thumb-eye dexterity as an X-box player is better than mine, you're going to appear to be a better soldier than I am," Krogh says. This is particularly true if a soldier is overweight, for example.

And so Krogh approached the entertainment industry with a plan: From now on, the Army wanted avatars to mirror the actual abilities of the soldiers.

"The beauty of the Army is that we test our soldiers on a regular basis – how they run, how they use their weapons. We now have a digital system that manages that," Krogh says. Today, game designers are linking digitally stored physical fitness and shooting range scores into the avatars and the games themselves, "so that if you're really heavy or shorter than the soldier next to you, [you'll] be able to tell."

Krogh uses the example of a soldier who is an expert marksman and a skilled gamer. But the marksman is also overweight.

"If he went and ran 1,000 yards and came back, he'll go from being the best to the worst marksman," he says. The heavy breathing that exercise and altitude induce wreck his shooting ability under stress.

In this case, he will not be the best "point man," because "he's going to be dragging behind," Krogh notes.

The video games with more realistic avatars will drive this point home, allowing commanders to better mix and match soldiers in their squads, he says. "It opens up opportunities we've never even considered to give us a chance to figure out the best combination of soldiers" in a unit.

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