Can video games help to train professionals? The U.S. government seems to think so. On Tuesday, Epic Games announced it has entered into a long-term agreement for licensing its Unreal Engine 3 technology to the governments of the U.S. and its allies.

The deal is actually with the Virtual Heroes division of Applied Research Associates, an international research and engineering company. Virtual Heroes will create UGN, the Unreal Government Network, for governmental training on iOS, Android, Flash, PC, Mac, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, and Wii U platforms, as well as for browser-based content.

Practice Before Live Training

The Unreal Engine technology is behind such commercial video-game titles as Batman: Arkham City, Mass Effect 3, and Infinity Blade. Financial details of the deal were not disclosed.

Earlier this week, Col. Robert "Pat" White, deputy commander of the Combined Arms Center-Training, told an Army conference that "gaming has a significant role" in the military's future. Every leader knows that "it's better to practice something first before you do it for real in live training," White said.

White noted that gaming has shown that the Army can rapidly adopt new technology, that situational and decision-making training can be brought to an individual soldier, and that soldiers and leaders can learn by completing scenaria multiple times.

UGN current and future projects include a multiyear contract with the U.S. government's Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity program, in excess of $10 million, to develop "serious games that result in better decision-making" by showing participants how to adjust for their biases when analyzing decision-making information.

In collaboration with the Duke University Human Simulation and Patient Safety Center, the Virtual Heroes division is creating an anesthesiology training application for Army physicians. Also under development is a HumanSim platform for medical education and training, and a multiplayer crime scene training simulation for the FBI Academy.

Moonbase Alpha, Zero Hour

An unnamed "Top Five" defense Relevant Products/Services contractor and a national laboratory have also licensed the Unreal Engine 3 and UGN for use in creating custom model integrations and visualization.

Virtual Heroes has already developed several projects using the Unreal Engine, in some cases employing earlier versions of the technology.

These include a collaboration with NASA called Moonbase Alpha, a full-featured, space-exploration game released in the summer of 2010. Players work cooperatively on a fictional, 3D lunar outpost in 2025, in order to repair damage to the base following a meteor strike.

A game called Pamoja Mtaani, developed in partnership with the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, was designed to influence HIV risk perceptions and behaviors among young people in Nairobi, Kenya. In it, up to five players throughout Nairobi work together on a quest that involves a collection of "twitch mini-games."

Another simulation game, Zero Hour, was created with the George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute to train players in national planning scenaria involving first responders.