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Monday, April 28, 2008

Even Spies Play Video Games

One more high-stakes government agency has joined the growing ranks of organizations that are using video games to teach life and death concepts. In the Wired article U.S. Spies Use Custom Videogames to Learn How to Think the author explains how the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency has taken delivery of three PC-based games under a $2.6 million contract. The goal is to quickly train the next generation of spies to analyze and respond to real-life complex issues that face them on the job.

As the article states:
Given a choice between a droning classroom lecture or a videogame, the best method for teaching Generation Y was obvious. "It is clear that our new workforce is very comfortable with this approach," says Bruce Bennett, chief of the analysis-training branch at the DIA's Joint Military Intelligence Training Center...

The games themselves are actually a surprisingly clever and occasionally surreal blend of education, humor and intellectual challenge, aimed at teaching the player how to think....

The games put the player into the shoes of a young, eager but sometimes hapless DIA analyst...

Intelligence videogames are an example of the way in which the government's training methods are changing. Traditional decision-making exercises have been done through the classroom BOGSAT (Bunch of Guys Sitting Around a Table). But videogame technology offers the possibility of running long-distance exercises with human- and computer-controlled avatars.

The article also does a good job of explaining that video games are not a panacea, they have limitations like other forms of training.
...Videogames won't fix what some analyts see as systemic flaws in American intelligence, where conclusions by analysts are distorted as they work their way up the chain of command. "A lot of problems are stated as analytical when they're management problems," Rossmiller says.

And games as teaching tools are only as effective as the assumptions behind them, says John Prados, a designer of hobby war games as well as an historian who has studied U.S. intelligence. For example, prescripted events in a game will tend to reflect the biases of the game's designers as they steer the player toward certain decisions.

These are two excellent points. Video game-based training, or any training for that matter cannot overcome management issues. If an organization has management problems, training is not the answer.

Second, if a video game is not programmed carefully with the proper assumptions and parameters, it will not be as effective as you need it to be. Game design elements are critically important for any effective use of a video game as a training platform. Spend as much time and effort (if not more) on the design of the game as you do on its programming.

Finally, if you do not work for an intelligence agency, you may want to consider some commercial, off-the-shelf spy games that put you into the role of a super spy. My all time favorite is James Bond 007: Nightfire by Electronic Arts because it casts you in a first person spy mode. You are James Bond for the game. Very fun.

Thanks Jay for pointing me to this article.

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1 comment:

Nicole said...

I dont remember where I heard it or if it's really true, but havent' they used video simulation for the army or some military group, besides the spys, for shooting training?
Anyway, I'm not sure I think it's a completely good idea. For one, there are several kids out there that are playing the shooting and killing games so does that mean if they play them enough they can be trained almost as well as the government spys? Another aspect that doesn't seem like the games would be enough training for spys is the reality of actually shooting and killing someone. A video game has people fall over and die, but that isn't the reality of seeing someone die or seeing someone get shot with real blood.
Trying to train killings through video games is not the same as NASA training their astronauts in simulations and devices on the ground before going up. The machines that are used for them give a sense of reality and likeliness to what they will actually feel in space.
So people as intelligent as the governement and so on should think of some more realistic way to train their spys beyond that of video games that other people out there could possibly be playing as well.