Wednesday, May 20, 2009

GI Game

CNN reports in "Army hopes interactive videos make smarter soldiers" that military planners continue to invest in serious games designed to teach cultural sensitivity to U.S. soldiers, such as Army 360: Immersive Cultural Simulation from InVisM, based on the expectation that games and simulations designed for the theater of war in Iraq and Afghanistan could minimize the number of offensive acts by soldiers who offend Muslim sensibilities and compound the problems of occupation. A company web page touts the benefits of their product:

Fusing together a combination of 360ยบ video with HD live-action supported by eight channels of dimensional binaural audio, users are placed inside the scene. When supported by a Head Mounted Display (HMD) and motion tracker, users maintain intuitive control of the environmental perspective as they turn their head providing various points of view of their surroundings. Additionally, the scenarios use character actors and is based on documented real-world scenarios. At the end of each scenario learning point, the video pauses and the user must make limited time-allotted decisions. Depending on their answers, ICS branches to a consequence-based outcome related to the decision made and maintains a score of the player's performance. Additionally, the culmination of decisions made throughout the training results in multiple endings

The company also takes a dig at those who use videogame engines on their website: "Unlike conventional serious game technology, the training methodology effectively reveals the micro expressions and subtle body language of the scenario's characters." CNN also helps the company make their argument against the competition as a government contractor in the actual article:

Robinson believes the simulator program is more effective then a traditional video game because soldiers relate more to human characters than virtual avatars.

"Nobody cares about an avatar that gets killed. You just get another avatar," he said.

Although the use of computational media may be different from the military videogames that I describe in the Virtualpolitik book, CNN indulges in the same uncritical reporting that I describe coming from other news outlets when it comes to stories about the military's use of proprietary technologies.

It is also worth noting that the CNN story opens with a "staff sergeant in Iraq" who "decided to practice his shooting skills" by taking aim at "the Quran, Islam's holiest book."

In the 21st century, the Army was sending younger soldiers into an arena they had little cultural experience in, and at the same time, new social networking sites were poised to broadcast their mistakes to the world.

Although the original incident is no longer accessible on YouTube, there have been scores of imitators, including a person firing pork bullets into a Koran, a Koran being riddled with bullets to the tune of "God Save the Queen" while photographs of terrorist violence are intercut with the video, and a "Christian Apology" in which the Bible gets similar treatment.

One wonders about the efficacy of a few sessions with a computer game, given the hardened ideological stances and groupthink described in "Jesus Killed Mohammed: The Crusade for a Christian Military" by Jeff Sharlet in a recent issue of Harper's. In other words, what if cultural insensitivity is intentional and part of a larger geopolitical theological strategy?

Thanks to Michael Zyda for the link to the CNN story.

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