By Gary Sheftick | Army News Service Posted Sep. 18, 2014 @ 2:02 pmFORT MEADE, Md. -- The idea began with six-foot avatars interacting with students in a classroom, and matured into computer-based simulations to help soldiers with counseling.Emergent Leader Immersive Training Environment software, known as ELITE Lite, can now be downloaded by soldiers with a Common Access card from the Army MilGaming portal at https://milgaming.army.mil/.Soldiers can select whether they want to be a virtual officer or noncommissioned officer. Then they interact with uniformed avatars that have problems ranging from disagreements with their platoon sergeant to driving under the influence and sexual harassment. Responses provided to the avatars determine the direction of the counseling sessions.Five ELITE Lite training modules are now being used as part of cadet leadership classes at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. And the virtual scenarios may soon be part of the curriculum for junior NCOs in the Warrior Leader Course.This new type of interactive training is the wave of the future, said Marco Conners, chief of the Army Games for Training program at the National Simulation Center at Fort Leavenworth.Today's training tools need to have an element of "captivation and entertainment," he said."Soldiers today have grown up in a digital age," Conners said. "Students tend to learn faster and more if you place it into an interactive game environment instead of standing up there with a butcher board."Simulations fill a vital need, he added."It's critical that our young leaders learn how to counsel soldiers," Conners said. "Counseling skills help these leaders prepare soldiers for any mission. Just as important, ELITE helps Army leaders develop to their full potential."Requests to develop counseling simulations came to Conners, in 2011, first from the Maneuver Training Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Ga. Then about a week later, the same request came from the Fires Center of Excellence at Fort Sill, Okla. Only a few weeks after that, a request came from West Point.For a solution, Conners turned to the Army Research Laboratory's Human Research and Engineering Directorate, Simulation and Training Technology Center, or STTC, in Orlando, Fla., and the Institute for Creative Technologies, or ICT, at the University of Southern California.The ICT had been working on a similar effort for a number of years. The ICT was a natural fit as it is a combination of computer scientists and researchers, and "there's some Hollywood state-of-the-art stuff that they do," he said.ICT's first idea was to have life-like avatars interact with students in a classroom setting. They put together a demonstration at Fort Benning's Clark Simulation Center. The technology "floored" him, Conners said.