First-person no-shooter

Sandia Labs develops a video game to teach ‘nonkinetic’ interaction skills

Soldiers are trained to fight and use weapons. But on the modern battlefield, in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, knowing how to speak and negotiate with people — such as tribal leaders — could be just as important.

That’s the focus of a new training video game developed for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency by Sandia National Laboratories and BBN Technologies. Named DARWARS Ambush NK! (for nonkinetic), 20,000 warfighters a year could eventually use it to hone their interpersonal skills and improve cross-cultural awareness.

DARWARS is a DARPA-funded program that provides a Web-based infrastructure that can be used to deliver training packages to military forces worldwide. Ambush NK! is a variant of a training game developed by BBN that focuses on the physical things that can go wrong, such as an improvised explosive device detonating or a convoy being ambushed.

Sandia’s major addition to the program was a peer/expert evaluation element that enables warfighters to be the principal in-game observers and assessors and allows for the game’s participants to get real-time feedback on how they performed and what errors they made.

“The goal is to make soldiers better thinkers and communicators under stress,” said Elaine Raybourn, a Sandia scientist and the project’s lead. “When things go wrong, troops have to learn to shift how they think in environments that are potentially dangerous.”

The new video game is conceptually similar to one that Raybourn developed several years ago for Army Special Forces and is used to train soldiers at Fort Bragg, N.C. DARPA asked her to develop the new game once it became aware of the special forces training tool.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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