Friday, February 24, 2006

“Unreal Tournament” Goes to War


DARPA has apparently funded a peaceful use for Unreal Tournament, an exceptionally violent first-person shooter video game that I’ve enjoyed for years. The research agency has harnessed UT’s game engine, which dictates player movement and game physics, for Tactical Iraqi, a program that teaches culturally appropriate body language and a bit of Arabic to U.S. troops in Mesopotamia; see the BBC article here. It sounds like the UT-based tool will be a big help for soldiers in connecting with Iraqi civilians:

The program teaches military personnel some key gestures such as an up-down movement with the right hand to ask someone to slow down and gives them tips such as removing mirror sunglasses when approaching local people.

"In Iraq, to show sincerity you have to put more effort into your gestures," said [USC researcher Dr. Hannes] Vilhjalmsson.

"In Western countries, we control our body language more. In Arabic culture, it is important you show how open you are."

He added that reserved body language in exchanges with local people could be interpreted as having something to hide in Iraq, potentially escalating a tense situation.

Military personnel also learn that people can approach each other more closely than one normally might in the West.

Dr Vilhjalmsson said it was important troops should not automatically interpret close proximity in an exchange as a threat.

And the game teaches them that pointing the finger at a person can be considered aggressive in Arab cultures.

There are also Afghanistan-specific and Levant-specific versions of Tactical Iraqi in development, turning more virtual swords into actual plowshares.

(Thanks as always to John Brown's Public Diplomacy Review for the initial item.)

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