Ripley: How many drops is this for you, Lieutenant?
Lieutenant Gorman: Thirty eight… simulated.
Private Vasquez: How many combat drops?
Lieutenant Gorman: Uh, two. Including this one.
Poor Lieutenant Gorman, still a pendjo at the end, but at least he wasn’t bug food. In this little exchange from Aliens, the Colonial Marines have the moment of truth about their very green commanding officer the bulk of whose chops came from a simulator.
The thing is though, sometimes you have to pretend and, well, simulate for the purposes of training and practice. In the context of defensive gun use, where you’re ultimately applying deadly force, figuring things out in the “real world” is a terrible idea. I think it might have been Thunder Ranch’s chief curmudgeon, Clint Smith, who said something along the lines of (and I’m paraphrasing in a family-friendly way): you don’t want to be learning new stuff in the middle of a firefight.
And even once you’ve been trained on the core fundamentals of marksmanship, your typical “bowling alley lane” range visit isn’t going to do much to prepare you for the chaos of a self-defense encounter involving guns where you’ll have to make split second and literal life or death decisions.
MILO/FAAC virtual simulation suites are available to military and well-funded law enforcement organizations, but for us muggles access to such high-end training is pretty limited.
A Holodeck for the Muggles
Threat Dynamics is a firearms training facility in Sherwood, Oregon which is a hop (or two) down the road from us, and they offer an immersive simulator training experience that is quite accessible. Since I haven’t tried a MILO/FAAC, I can’t offer more than an observation of passing resemblance in so far as there’s life size video projections, computers, and dummy guns involved, but I think the end result is similar.
The immersive trainer at Threat Dynamics consists of a floor-to-ceiling video screen on which a gun use scenario is presented from a first person angle. It is quite analogous to a FPS video game, but instead of running and gunning in a free-fire zone full of zombies or aliens, you’re hanging out at a light rail stop next to a vendor selling raffle tickets when an individual approaches, flashes his gun, and demands the contents of the cash box.
And unlike an FPS game, you’re pretty much along for the ride in this pre-recorded video. You get to decide if, when, and whom you’re going to shoot, and that’s about it. While that may not seem like a lot of latitude (and would make for a crappy video game), this is simulating the “real world,” not Phobos Base overrun by minions of hell.
Not Shooting Is Sometimes As Important As Shooting
Returning to that aforementioned scenario, the robber takes note of the armed citizen (that’s you, chummer) intervening, pauses for a few seconds, then suddenly takes the money and runs. His gun remains tucked in his trousers, and is not presenting a threat to life. Which means that it’d be a bad idea to shoot. And guess what? I shot the guy. And not that well either, as the bullet (or more like the laser from the CO2-powered Glock 17 replica) grazed the fleeing robber and ended up in a house across down the way. Nice shot, Deadeye Dick.
What Would Bob Ross Do
Fortunately this unfortunate outcome happened before a video projector and not among actual, live humans. Even though one is “playing along” with a scripted scene, you’re having to make the observations and decisions that ultimately lead to shots being fired (or not). Also fortunately the simulator exercise is administered by a Threat Dynamics instructor who reviews everything you did (or didn’t do) in that scenario.
Every mistake made in this simulator would have deadly consequences in the “real world,” and while these mistakes are hardly the happy accidents of fluffy clouds, they’re immeasurably valuable learning moments. Simply running through the scenarios would be meaningless without the instructor feedback, and it does require one to leave that ego in the parking lot and go beyond the self-flagellation of “I messed up, I suck” and to question how and why that happened.
You Are Not Prepared (As You Thought You Were)
In the hour that I’d booked for the simulator, I went through a half-dozen scenarios and ended up shooting a lot of things and people I shouldn’t have, and those I was supposed to shoot I didn’t do a great job of shooting accurately. The thing is that I went in with the full expectation of making many mistakes and to learn from those mistakes. It’s definitely reinforced the need to practice the basics as well as to be more aware of everything around you.
In a self-defense context I think of a firearm as that last resort, something that one hopefully never has to use, but that one has the skills and the wisdom to use correctly at the appropriate time.
And while I walked away from my stint in the simulator feeling more than a little overwhelmed - I’ll freely admit that life-size videos of a make-believe active shooter situation is quite stressful - and less prepared for the “real world” than I initially thought, I recognize my failing and will be sure to correct it.