The following report was contributed by Major Tom Mouat, Directing Staff officer responsible for Modelling and Simulation at the Defence Academy of the UK.
Recently in the Defence Academy of the UK, the Defence Culture and Language Centre approached the Simulation Department for some help and advice about the possibility of assisting them with some activities that could provide help with language training.
Initially they were thinking of a high-tech virtual-reality simulation based offering, something like the excellent capability offered by companies such as Alelo. We were able to advise them on that (the problem isn’t in the software, which really is very good, but in the support and maintenance of the computer suite necessary to run the system), but also to let them know that there are a number of alternate possibilities offered by simulation that could help.
One simple example was to take the first-person shooter game, VBS2, by BISim, and set up a simple two player game. One players would be the UAV operator flying over a town and guiding the other player, driving a vehicle through the town to a defined rendezvous, over the radio. The route would have different obstacles and even obvious IEDs to avoid, and the two players would communicate to each other in order to direct the vehicle to its target. Simple and fun.
The other possibility was to use the matrix game system to run a game. Matrix games are run with the players taking it in turns to use verbal “arguments” to advance their position in the game and, if the arguments were made in the language being trained in, it could provide a fun alternative to conventional classroom training and give context to the use of the language in a mildly competitive setting.
The scenario chosen for the trial was a deliberately “cartoon” fictitious setting of a south American republic, complete with a Drug Baron, Army Commander, Village Elder and corrupt Police. One of the young men from a local village had been kidnapped after being a little too vocal in his criticism of the local Drug Baron, and the Army and Police had been tasked to ensure his safe return.
The game was simplified from the normal matrix game format in that, providing the players could make themselves understood, their argument would automatically succeed, unless there were obvious reasons why they might not.
- It took much longer for each player to make their argument than I expected. They were trying in a foreign language and I wildly over-estimated their capability. This means that the game would probably not really be suitable for large classes and the other players might have become disengaged, were it not for the fact that the instructor chose one of the other players at random to translate the argument back into English for me each turn. This really worked and helped to bring out all the misunderstandings in syntax and grammar by the students themselves.
- The players enjoyed the occasional use of the dice to resolve arguments and keep the game moving. It made it more of a fun game and less of a serious chore.
- The instructor did some preparatory work with the students, getting them to look at the construction of possible arguments and the names for the counters in the rule booklet. This worked very well and allowed the students to check with their notes if they forgot something.
- As has been mentioned numerous times with regard to matrix games – the counters available effect the direction that play is taken. While we had a good number of counters that covered many possibilities, after the playtest I would like to add additional counters for emotions, money/wealth and support for one faction or another (Happy, Sad, Fear, Anger, Trust, Police Support, etc.).
- It proved useful to force the players to describe locations on the map, either descriptively or using the grid system which made the players have to use numbers.
In the event the game went very well and came to a natural conclusion within the 90 minutes allocated. The trial will be extended in the future with more realistic settings (which sadly I shall not be able to share with PAXsims readers).
All the files and the large scale map are available here.