Village Survey, a new game on cultural awareness

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“Village Survey”, a new Serious Game committed by NATO to promote civil-military understanding

“When we work operations now, which is a military and civilian mix in many circumstances, there tends to be friction between the military and civilian sides,” said Wayne Buck, a modeling and simulation analyst for NATO Allied Command Transformation (ACT), which focuses on long-range improvements to the organization’s capabilities.

“ACT has been doing a lot of work on the civilian-military interaction,” said Buck. “We built a beta version of a virtual world where you, as a soldier, go into a village and survey it. You ask what’s happening, complete your checklist, and so on. When you are in there and in the military mode, every animate and inanimate object you interact with treats you as if you were military.”

But a military player can click a button so that the villagers treat him as a civilian (and vice versa for civilians who want to see how villagers treat a NATO soldier) and offer different responses.

Role-playing

Players can assume the role of a NATO soldier or a civilian from a nongovernmental organization (NGO), private voluntary organization, or the United Nations. They are part of a NATO joint military-civilian assessment team sent to an Afghan village.

The background situation is as follows: There has been an earthquake in a neighboring region, there is a horde of refugees on their way to the village, and it is up to the joint assessment team to determine how well the village can absorb them and complete an assessment form.

The background briefings make clear that the soldiers and civilians may be on the same team, but they don’t have the same goals. Civilian players are told that they must determine if there is sufficient food, water, transportation and electricity for the refugees, and the impact of a flood of newcomers on the village.

The briefing for military players tasks them with determining the current threat level at the village, and whether the refugees pose a threat to village security.

The Afghan village comes completely furnished with a mosque, NGO camp, market, main road, police headquarters, water wells, and the obligatory checkpoint and village guards.

The game begins with the player in the street of an Afghan village. The player (who could be a he or a she — an important feature in an Afghanistan simulation) clicks on a villager and picks from a menu of questions, which for a military character include, “What can you tell me about the crime and security here?” and “other than the two gates, are there any other ways to get into the village?” In the alpha version, the villagers offer answers such as, “I feel very safe in this village. We protect our gates and allow only good people to come in.”

As the player’s avatar walks through the village streets, pop-up screens offer information, such as one stating that the village is a sanctuary that cannot be entered, but has been known to hide weapons in the past.

“Village Survey” currently can accommodate 14 or more military and civilian players. It uses the Nexus virtual world also found in the PC version of “Boarders Ahoy!” though it might be ported to VBSWorlds.

Player assessment and scoring will be added later, and “Village Survey” can be linked to a learning management system. Other features to be added include non-player characters who walk around for extra realism.

“Village Survey” was built as a proof of concept to test whether it is possible to have a civilian view a situation through a soldier’s eyes, and vice versa.

The goal was “to determine if there was value in the idea of gaining insights while the objects around you responded as if you were someone else,” Buck said. “While the accuracy of those responses is important, in this version, they are not as critical as testing the hypothesis. If the idea is accepted, the answers will be refined through working with subject matter experts.”

Buck estimated the cost of developing “Village Survey” at about $100,000.

More details can be found at: http://www.defensenews.com/article/20120619/TSJ01/306190003/NATO-Uses-Games-Promote-Civil-Military-Understanding

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