Gamification Lens: US Army Special Forces Qualification Course

Gamification Lens: US Army Special Forces Qualification Course

SFAS class 04-10 participates in log and rifle PT at Camp MacKall on Wednesday, January 13, 2010.

How US Army Special Forces Qualification Course Centers Around Immersive Game-based Training

The United States Army Special Forces Qualification Course is a multi-phase training event that produces the most storied and versatile Soldiers in the world.  The principles of game based training percolate throughout the course, and the end result is irrefutable.

Real-time feedback

During the Small Unit Tactics phase (think Ranger School in one month instead of two) when you as a team member make a technical or tactical mistake, a squadmate may catch an immediate notional bullet in the gut.  Your squad is then responsible for appropriately treating the notional wound and carrying the wounded man and all of his 100+ pounds of equipment to an extraction point before you carry on with the mission.  Conversely, when the team functions in a tactically sound manner, the assigned mission flows quickly and relatively painlessly.  In later phases, asking the right questions of role-players leads directly to dramatically improved living conditions.


At the end of each phase, team members are asked to rank the other members of their assigned team by proficiency and ability to fit into the team.  If he ranks low, he can be considered for repeating the phase.  If a student’s ranking is low enough, he becomes a candidate for a hearing before a board of officers to determine if has what it takes to earn the Green Beret and Special Forces skill badge. Across the arc of the course, these rankings accumulate to form a sort of social hierarchy within the student body which carries on past graduation in a very small community of operators.  There is never any doubt who you want on your team.


After two years of grueling training, a graduate earns three badges as the gamification rubric understands them.  The Green Beret is the first, the only military headgear authorized by Presidential Order, “a badge of distinction.”  The second is the Special Forces skill qualifier badge, called the long tab.  The third is the 18 series Military Occupation Specialty.  These badges immediately tell anyone who sees them what to expect from the man who wears them.

Onboarding and Mastery

During each phase of training, Soldiers have dedicated cadre who teach them the game of unconventional warfare from the ground up, first in the classroom, then in a field environment followed by a culmination exercise.  Not everyone comes to Selection knowing how to do long range land navigation, but the cadre teach candidates by walking them through the process while doing it.  Part of the selection process is finding out who can integrate the given training and instruction effectively enough to pass the land navigation course.  The same concept applies to the multiple small skills that add up to performing an effective combat patrol in a simulated hostile country, complete with native language speaking civilian role-players.

Competition and Teams

Each man on a Special Forces team is intensely competitive with himself and his teammates.  By the same token, no one wants to be the man who blows the mission or gets a teammate killed through missing something.  For that matter, no one wants to be the last one across the line during the morning run.  This attitude is fostered and grown during the SFQC.

In terms of quantifiable results, by the time a student graduates the SFQC and earns his badges, he is considered capable of training, leading, and advising up to 90 indigenous soldiers in long term combat operations with minimal external support or guidance beyond a general mission concept for a given area.  He earns this consideration because he has already performed these duties in the deadly-serious game environment of the Q Course.

Image credit: Wikipedia