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Serious Video Game Readies US Army for Iraq Deployment

by Rainier on Jan. 23, 2007 @ 5:19 a.m. PST

In preparation for their potential deployment to Iraq, the U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade and other units of the Army's Southern European Task Force based at the U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza in Caserma Ederle (Italy) are learning Iraqi Arabic with the Tactical Iraqi Language & Culture Training System game, developed by Alelo, Inc.

The battalions of the 173rd Airborne stationed at the U.S. Army Garrisons in Grafenwoehr and Schweinfurt (Germany) will start their training soon.

This deployment of the Tactical Iraqi course follows its use by thousands of US Marines and US Army personnel who have learned how to communicate in Iraq safely, effectively, and with cultural sensitivity.

The novel PC-based "serious game" originally conceived at the University of Southern California teaches not only what to say in Iraqi Arabic, but just as importantly how to say it and when to say it. Lessons focus on skills relevant to common, everyday situations and tasks. Cultural awareness covers Iraq's non-verbal gestures and norms of politeness and etiquette that are most critical to communicate successfully.

Trainees learn while having fun by playing immersive, interactive, non-scripted, 3D videogames that simulate real-life social interactions involving spoken dialogs and cultural protocols. Trainees "win" the game by correctly speaking to and behaving with computer-generated Iraqi animated characters. If the Iraqis trust the trainee, they cooperate and provide the answers needed to advance in the game. Otherwise, they become uncooperative and prevent the trainee from advancing. The game has no shooting; trainees must communicate -- not shoot -- their way to "winning" the game.

The course is not a simple entertainment videogame nor a "repeat after me" training program. It is a "serious game" that combines several patent-pending, breakthrough technologies, including computational models of language, culture and learning that guide the behavior of the game's autonomous, animated characters; and a contextual, speaker-independent speech recognizer for non-native speakers.

Trainees start learning functional communications skills within a few hours of play. From the very first lesson, they listen to and speak in Arabic using a headset microphone, getting immediate feedback and guidance. Many rate the course better than instructor-led classes.

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