By Dolly Rairigh Glass

At the start of this month, Sept. 3-5, the National Center for Simulation and Team Orlando presented the 2014 Defense GameTech Users’ Conference, which brought together a diverse group of presenters and topics, as well as keynoters from government, academic and industry.

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Lt. Gen. (Ret) Tom Baptiste, NCS President and CEO, thanks GarargeGames Interactive CEO, Eric Preisz, after his keynote at GameTech 2014.

Kicking off the conference’s 7th year was Dr. Manny Dominguez, the Deputy Chief Learning Officer for the Veterans Health Employee Education System, and leader of the effort to build the first VA Virtual Medical Center, a collaborative, 21st century virtual hospital and learning environment for patients, providers and staff.

“The next generation of veterans are very tech savvy,” Dominguez said. “We have to be like online banking and bring the healthcare to them. We need to increase the accessibility to care and patient education, and that’s no longer limited to brick and mortar,” he said.

Following Dominguez’s presentation on the virtual hospital was the founder and President of Engineering & Computer Simulations, Waymon Armstrong. Armstrong told attendees that even today’s highly-educated workforce doesn’t always understand modeling, simulation and training (MS&T) because they haven’t seen it. “As we go into these firms to sell game-based learning technologies, we have to focus on educating, enlightening and evangelizing about MS&T and the diverse opportunities for its use.”

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John Meyers, Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division Technical Director, tests an Oculus Rift Virtual Headset while viewing Virtual Battlespace 3 (VBS3) training system in the Bohemia Interactive Simulations booth.

Eileen Smith, Director of the E2i Creative Studio at UCF’s Institute for Simulation and Training and this year’s program chair, said she was extremely pleased with the conference. “Between our keynotes and concurrent sessions, a wide variety of game development topics applicable to all of our attendees were presented and discussed,” she said.

“GameTech continues to be a great time investment for attendees because they are given the opportunity for one-on-one discussions with both presenters and exhibitors, allowing the government, academic and industry participation to create fruitful networking and partnership cultivation.”

Thursday’s lineup of the games, mobile and virtual worlds speakers began with Eric Preisz, CEO of GarageGames Interactive, and for him, it was somewhat of a homecoming. Preisz spent time working in the central Florida M&S market, as well as teaching at Fail Sail University. He talked about today’s learner and their comfort level with game-based learning, which prompted his question of “How important is fun?” when it comes to learning and that maybe fun isn’t most important.

Members of NAWCTSD visit the Cubic exhibit during GameTech.

Members of NAWCTSD visit the Cubic exhibit during GameTech.

“Does anyone golf here?” he asked the audience, many of them raising their hands. “And how many of you would say that golf is fun?” As the audience chuckled, he said, “I guess that depends on your definition of fun. I’m not a good golfer, but I continue to go, and usually with some pretty good golfers,” Preisz said. “I’ll be honest with you; they seem angry.”

But he noted that when things align and you hit that perfect shot, it’s these peak moments in certain games that really help us. “Think about the games that we play and the things that we do, they are not so much about fun, but more importantly they have meaning and purpose, like raising children,” he chuckled. “Is it fun? Yes, there are fun moments but there’s also anger and frustration like when we play golf. So when we look at our training, we want to look at the big picture and say, fun is important, but what is the meaning and purpose of this training?”

Dr. Sara de Freitas, Murdoch University’s Pro Vice Chancellor and Professor of Learning and Teaching, addressed the audience via Skype from her home in Perth, Australia, and talked about the current trends, the latest research findings and a vision for new learning. “Generation Z is not only interested in doing well and succeeding for themselves, but they also want to make the world a better place,” de Freitas said. “We’re going to see e-learning use increase as a whole. Today, e-learning is about a $56.2 billion industry, but is expected to double by 2015.”

And finally, Dr. Stephen Gilbert, associate director of Iowa State University’s Virtual Reality Application Center, said he believed there would be a lot more human and avatar control, better group dynamics modeling and that physio-bio feedback will be a coming trend.

“The sensors are an interesting way to involve physio-bio feedback,” he said. “They are getting smaller and smaller, and now you can just grab it and use it. We need to think of ways to take advantage of those.”

Lt. Gen. (Ret) Tom Baptiste, President and CEO of the National Center for Simulation, spoke about the high quality and diversity of the keynotes, as well as the more than 40 track speakers and tutorials that contributed to the program.

“I also want to recognize and thank Program Chair, Eileen Smith with UCF’s Institute for Simulation and Training, Conference Chair Scott Hooper with Havok, and the many other committee volunteers for their outstanding work,” Baptiste said.

“This year’s GameTech conference ranks with the best,” he said. “We bring together the best and brightest each year to advance gaming technology, a key enabler in advanced learning technologies.”