Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 21/08/2009

US Video game offers cultural-awareness training

An article today in the Army Times offers a look at how technological developments in virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and user interface are leading to the develop of more immersive training simulations in the military–simulations aimed not simply at honing “kinetic” combat skills, but also developing cultural awareness and similar social skills (emphasis added):

Video game offers cultural-awareness training

By Michelle Tan – Staff writer

Army Times, Friday Aug 21, 2009 6:07:15 EDT

The newest tool in the Army’s cultural awareness training kit doesn’t exactly hark back to “Space Invaders,” “Missile Command,” or even “Doom,” the wildly popular first-person shooter video game of the 1990s. But it is targeted squarely at today’s “gaming generation.”

“Army 360” is a Hollywood-style, live-action training series that commanders hope will appeal to the Army’s game-loving foot soldiers.

“Soldiers, especially this generation, take on information in different ways than my generation,” said Maj. Gen. John Custer, commanding general of the Army Intelligence Center and Fort Huachuca, Ariz. “[People in] my generation are digital immigrants or digital illegal immigrants. They don’t capture information the same way this generation does.”

And it was that realization that led Custer and his team, who are responsible for providing cultural training to an Army that deploys around the globe, to push for the development of Army 360.

“The biggest challenge for a [Training and Doctrine Command] schoolhouse is to remain relevant, because we face the most incredibly adaptive enemy we’ve ever faced,” Custer said. “We have to evolve with commercial technology.“

Cultural awareness is critical to soldiers preparing to deploy overseas, especially to hostile areas such as Iraq and Afghanistan, Custer said.

“It’s more about the handshake than the hand grenade,” he said. “We want to put soldiers through the most intense training we possibly can. We want people to understand that seemingly simple decisions build and build and may come back to haunt them.”

You’ll find the full article at the link here. You’ll also find some comments on the development of VR simulations at the blog, and some words of caution from anthropologist Marc Tyrrell on this issue in a blog post at Small Wars Journal. As I comment on Marc’s piece at SWJ, such technological developments pose potential problems as well as new opportunities, since they place a beguiling interface on possibly debatable assumptions and issues embedded in the software itself:

The risk, of course, is that participants buy into the sugar-coating and immersive, attention-grabbing environment while giving less attention than they should do to where the simulation (invariably) departs from reality.

In classroom settings, of course, you can always use a debrief discussion of simulation shortcomings as “teachable moments” in which to force greater critical engagement by students. In use-by-yourself software, however, there are little or no opportunities for doing so.

This is not to say that such simulations are a bad idea. On the contrary, I think they hold out very considerable promise. On the other hand, I do think it is important to also think about the potential problems that can be associated with the development of increasingly sophisticated machine-based simulation of social phenomena, much as Sherry Turkle has done with regard to simulation in the scientific and design fields in her book Simulation and its Discontents.

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