Arma 3 – Human Factors and Individual Situational Awareness

Arma 3 – Human Factors and Individual Situational Awareness 1 -
Arma 3 – Human Factors and Individual Situational Awareness 1 -
Implications of human factors on a simplified model of individual situational awareness in Arma 3 operations


Individual Situational Awareness

Arma 3 - Human Factors and Individual Situational Awareness - Individual Situational Awareness
In 1987, Mica Endsley of Texas Tech University proposed a model of situational awareness involving three phases. Situational awareness is defined by:

  1. The perception of the elements in the environment within a volume of time and space
  2. The comprehension of their meaning
  3. The projection of their status in the near future

In a 1995 paper in Human Factors, Endsley used fighter aircraft operations to illustrate the information relevant to each phase of situational awareness:

  1. Perception: Location, altitude, heading of other aircraft
  2. Comprehension: Tactical status of threat aircraft (offensive, defensive, neutral)
  3. Projection: Tactics, maneuvers, firing position and timing

Situational awareness in this model is centred around the completion of goals and tasks. It is the preamble to decision making (recognition-primed decision making).

Individual factors affecting situational awareness include:

  • General cognitive capacity
  • Game intuition
  • Stress

Examples of areas of cognitive capacity that affect situational awareness include memory and attention. Working memory determines performance in the face of distributed attention, for example. Long-term memory determines performance in recognition, and the accuracy and granularity of that recognition. Individual situational awareness is dependent on the capacity for attention, especially distributed attention. The capacity for distributed attention determines the amount of objects in the environment an individual can track.

Game intuition, that is knowledge and understanding of the game, is another important factor in individual situational awareness. The greater the number of situations a player can recognize, the more accurate the player’s mental model of reality will be.

While there is some research suggesting that a low level of stress can induce attention, and thus improve situational awareness. In almost every situation a player will find himself in, stress severely degrades mental performance.

Situational Models

Key to having situational awareness is maintaining an accurate mental model of reality containing the elements of the environment relevant to the mission at hand, goals, and scripts for actions that progress towards the goal. These models are referred to as situational models in this guide. Situational models are instantiated using pre-existing schemata developed internally as the player learns about the game, and further developed using information processed about the environment. The correct selection of schemata based on the state of the environment is vital to situational awareness.

A successful situational model in Arma 3 answers concerns such as:

  • Mission Comprehension
  • Event Assessment
  • Prediction

Mission comprehension includes understanding tasks and goals. What am I here for? What do I need to do? The mission plan or field order contains relevant information to prime the situational model. In American military doctrine, this is represented by the acronyms SMEAC and METT-TC.

Questions within the event assessment concern include: What is happening? What do I do about it?

The prediction concern answers the question of what will happen in the next few seconds.

The situational model informs all three phases of situational awareness. It directs pre-attention processing which affects whether an object in the environment is even perceived by the player. The state of the situational model is the basis of comprehension and projection, and the phases of comprehension and projection in turn modify the situational model.

Errors in situational models can occur as a result of either a very low-level failure to perceive elements of the environment (e.g. not seeing the enemy), or an error in an instantiated situational model schema (an incorrect assumption of default information or an assumption of biased information).

Factors Detrimental to Situational Awareness



Situational awareness is highly dependent on one’s individual capacity for attention. Attention affects the development of the situational model.

Pre-Attentive Processing

The salience of objects in the environment determines whether or not they are perceived by the player. Objects that have sufficiently low salience are filtered from the perception of the player. The situational model, possibly distorted by biases and heuristics, informs the assignment of salience to objects. Players often have situational models that assign inappropriately low salience to threats and other objects of importance.

Conspicuity strongly affects the salience of objects in the environment. Important objects in Arma typically have low sensory conspicuity. Vehicles and infantry are typically cloaked in drab colours or camouflage patterns. Small arms may be equipped with suppressors. Engagements can occur at distances over 100m. Enemies purposefully choose positions where they are inconspicuous. Under stress, tunnel vision and auditory exclusion occur.

Low cognitive conspicuity is effectively as blinding as low sensory conspicuity. A road safety advertisement by Transport for London in the late 2000s illustrates this:

The situational model the viewer is presented with does not include observing a dancing bear as a goal. The effect of this is pre-attentive processing filters the bear from working memory: “It’s easy to miss something you’re not looking for.” Certain stimuli may have very high sensory conspicuity. A conversation one is involved in, even in a noisy room, is very conspicuous (cocktail party effect).

Task Fixation

Once perception is achieved, purposeful inattention in the latter phases of situational awareness can cause the situational model to become distorted. Task fixation is an example of this occurring: a player may see enemy forces approaching his position on a UAV, however, being focused on his task of finding an HVT, he ignores those forces, loses track of them, and is subsequently killed.

Task Saturation

Individual capacity for distributed attention is a factor in situational awareness. Performance on individual tasks decreases as the number of tasks increase. Information overload can cause important information to be discarded in favour of familiar and emotionally impactful information.

Goal Seduction

Given a sufficiently high-priority goal, attention is fixated, and the willingness to accept risk is significantly increased. This is problematic when competing goals are assigned inappropriate priority. Habitualized goals, such as moving to an exfiltration point after completing an objective, may override more important goals such as survival. The result may be failure to perceive enemy contact.


The development of the situational model depends on accurate instantiation of an appropriate mental schema. Misrecognition of reality results in a situational model developed from an incorrect schema and/or with incorrect values.


When sensory input is absent or in conflict, the information that is judged to be correct (or fabricated) is the information that is most expected, most familiar, or most emotionally impactful. Default values from schemata may not reflect reality and can cause distortion in the situational model.

On lower difficulties, player AI spot and mark contacts on the map in real-time. These marks often exceed player performance, spotting contacts great distances away through many obstacles. However, at times these marks are far worse than human performance. Assigning inappropriate certainty to these marks can cause players to develop a distorted situational model.

When weapons are fired, two distinct sounds occur. The first sound is the sound produced at the muzzle as the projectile leaves the muzzle. A muzzle flash occurs at the same time. The second sound is the sonic boom (heard as a snap or crack) near a distant observer as the projectile breaks the sound barrier. Failure to recognize the sounds as distinct can cause incorrect belief in the direction from which the gunfire originates.


Arma 3 players are prone to bias, both in the political sense and the psychological sense. Biases are detrimental to situational awareness as they distort situational models such that they do not accurately reflect reality.

Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University described the mechanisms by which bias can be introduced to decision making. He bifurcates decision making into System 1 thinking and System 2 thinking. System 1 thinking is a style of thinking that is logical and methodical. System 2 thinking is a style of thinking based on biases and heuristics.

Players will typically only use System 2 thinking. System 1 thinking is slow and methodical, while System 2 thinking in contrast is very quick. The time duress and stress players operate under does not frequently allow System 1 thinking. Under fire, strategic and tactical planning competes for attention with shooting at the enemy.

Biases players may operate under include and are not limited to:

  • Availability bias
  • Priming
  • Planning fallacy
  • Sunk cost fallacy
  • What You See Is All There Is

Availability bias is the heuristic in which information that can be easily recalled is given higher value than information that is harder to recall. A player may decide under duress that movement across exposed terrain is more likely to be successful than movement through concealed terrain because he has more recently traversed the former.

Priming is the heuristic where exposure to stimulus unintentionally influences reaction to subsequent stimulus. A player may engage multiple enemy infantry, then upon suddenly observing a friendly unit, immediately fire upon him without identifying his target, believing the unit to be hostile.

Planning fallacy is the bias in which the amount of time and resources required for a planned task completed by oneself is underestimated. A player may decide to capture one position prior to capturing another, more urgent objective, believing that it is possible to capture the former with time to spare.

Sunk cost fallacy is the fallacy where one’s existing expenditure of resources on an undertaking is held out as justification for continued expenditure of resources on that undertaking despite continued expenditure no longer being justified. A player assigned to assassinate an HVT may decide to continue assaulting the AO despite the HVT having already left the area.

What You See Is All There Is is the fallacy where the information one already has is assumed to be the only useful or even extant information, despite there possibly being more information.

Improving Situational Awareness

The strategies used to improve situational awareness suggested in this guide focus on improving recognition and attention, and reducing stress. They are not panaceas, but rather common-sense strategies that should be obvious to the reader.


Players should repeatedly expose themselves to and familiarize themselves with situations they may encounter and their elements. Decision making and situational awareness depends on having a body of knowledge and patterns to derive schemata for situational models (game intuition). Direct exposure to situations can desensitize a player to the situations, thereby reducing stress and increasing performance. Elements of Arma 3 a player should familiarize himself with include:

  • Missions
  • Weapons, equipment, and their capabilities
  • Terrains

It is important that the player exposes himself to a sufficient diversity of these things and situations such that they are not astonished by anything they are likely to encounter.

Adopting TTPs and SOPs

Players should learn and adopt a suite of techniques, tactics, and procedures (TTPs); and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). The origin of these TTP/SOP is not very important. The in-game Field Manual is sufficient. TTP/SOP provide the player with goals, information, scripts, and patterns to use in the comprehension and projection phases of situational awareness. Without this, the player is forced to devise what to do and how to execute it within working memory, under task saturation and stress.

Environmental Scanning

Players should make a deliberate effort to stop and scan their surroundings after:

  • Reaching a planned position
  • Achieving an objective
  • Breaking contact

After doing this, if safe, they may take the opportunity to plan, considering:

  • The original mission plan (SMEAC)
  • How changes in the situation affect the mission (METT-TC)
  • Whether current time and resources permit the mission to continue
  • Whether the current goals are appropriate for the situation
  • How the current goals help achieve the overall mission
  • The impact of friendly element actions on your mission


Avoiding Unnecessary Enemy Contact

Unnecessary enemy contact contributes to task saturation and thus reduces attention capacity. Avoid it.


When possible, efforts should be made to delegate tasks to other members of a player’s element. This reduces task saturation and increases the attention given to any particular task. For example, one member of the element may be assigned to plan on the strategic timeframe, while another may be tasked with planning on the tactical timeframe.

Maintaining Security

At all times, any member not occupied with a task (e.g. navigating, planning, rendering aid to casualties) should provide security for members of the element performing tasks. The occupied members are vulnerable. More detail on this can be found in TTP/SOP documentation such as the Field Manual. There should be full coverage of surroundings, with overlapping but not coinciding fields of fire. Members of the element providing security should “look for work.” This means observing which areas are being covered by other members of the element, then finding an area which is not covered and covering that area.

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This is all about Arma 3 – Human Factors and Individual Situational Awareness; I hope you enjoy reading the Guide! If you feel like we should add more information or we forget/mistake, please let us know via commenting below, and thanks! See you soon!

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