Monday, June 7, 2010

Keeping it (un) real: Serious Games

Mike Shaugnessy of Washington & Jefferson College, Pennsylvania, is currently guest-blogging on BoingBoing. He recently posted about "Tactical Iraqi", a language and culture simulation/training application, developed at the University of Southern Califormia using Unreal Technology and funded by the US military's Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Shaugnessy also notes that the Americans have built facsimile Iraqi villages in the California desert "so soldiers can practice their interactions with [pretend] locals and [cod] insurgents and get the authentic feel for life in Iraq as an occupying force". Similar facsimiles have been created in the UK in a forest in Norfolk and in Somerset, but as of yet there is no film version (Full Battle Rattle is set in an American training facsimile of an Afghan village).

What's interesting is the use of FPS gaming technology to recreate real locations to provide simulation and training that *doesn't* have any shooting in (that's right: the interactions are verbal and gestural and don't include rocket launchers!). "Tactical Iraqi" has been around for a while, as this BBC story shows, and has picked up several awards, including a DARPA award in 2005. It was first built using UT2003. Shaugnessy's BongBoing post refers to the latest release (October 2009), but doesn't note if the developers have updated to a newer Unreal engine. There are now several "Tactical Language" spin-offs, including "Tactical Pashto", "Tactical Dari", "Tactical French" and "Tactical Indonesian". While "Tactical Levantine" seems to have been dropped (see that BBC story) a "Tactical Jive" or "Tactical Urban Street Argot" might be useful for facilitating some local integration.

There is some interesting discussion of the development and play testing here:

Unfortunately, there's no downloadable demo available (athough anyone with access to a .mil email address can download the software for free) but a video and a brochure can be found on the Alelo website.

Other video clips can be found in all the usual places. This one's from DailyMotion:

The American military has a long history of using games technology for training, as this article by Roger Smith Simulation and Gaming 41.1 (February 2010) shows.

Acclaim for the "Tactical Language" simulations is not universal, as shown by this post on Watercooler Games by academic cum games designer Ian Bogost.

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