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Peacekeeping: Virtual Culture Shock Saves Lives
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November 12, 2009: The U.S. Army is expanding its library of video-game-based cultural training simulations to include areas where U.S. troops are not fighting, and never expect to be fighting. The one exception is Somalia. But most of these new four hour simulations concentrate on countries where American troops are training their local counterparts. While the main reason for this is to create better counter-terror forces, the training also upgrades the professionalism of these forces. In Africa, the military is one of the few large, disciplined organizations. This is what often leads to the army taking over the government and creating oppressive police states. The U.S. trainers try to instill the idea that the military serves the country, and a democratic government. Having greater cultural knowledge of the country they are working in, makes the U.S. troops more effective, and better aware of what their students are learning.

A related series of cultural simulations are web based, and thus available 24/7. These simulations also teach useful phrases for the troops. For effective training, a small number of key phrases goes a long way to making the students understand, and learn.

The army has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in these highly realistic video training simulations, using video game and movie special effects technology to make it real enough to teach the troops life-saving lessons. This is nothing new. For the last decade, the U.S. Army has been pioneering the use of video game technology for combat and command training, especially for unusual situations. Since the late 1990s, the U.S. Army PEOSTRI organization (which is in charge of developing simulations and wargames) has taken the lead in using commercial video game technology for military training systems. Noting that the civilian action and adventure games now possess very life-like graphics, and have no trouble holding the attention of military age males, PEOSTRI set up an operation in Los Angeles (the Institute for Creative Technologies, ICT) to help adapt these technologies for military training.

After September 11, 2001, the army got a lot more money for this sort of thing. After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the video game technology enabled the army to quickly develop training simulations to help troops learn how to deal with roadside bombs and all manner of new dangers they encountered while fighting against al Qaeda and Iraqi Sunni terrorists. The army went onto develop realistic video game type simulations to aid recruiting ("America's Army") and infantry combat.

Now, as the army amps up operations in Afghanistan, a new bunch of simulations are being developed to help deal with the complex tribal relationships, drug gangs and religious fanaticism. As with the earlier video game training simulations, the new ones do not replace actual training, but complement it. Troops can play these sims on their own time, and be better prepared for training exercises using real people playing civilians and Taliban gunmen. The troops have found that these video game sims are very useful, especially because of the growing trend of including scenario building tools in video games. This allows for rapidly upgrading these military simulations. The army uses the Internet to get feedback from the troops, especially those who have gone from simulated to actual combat. This made it possible to constantly tweak the video games to keep the realism as compelling, intense and accurate as possible.

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