April 19th, 2006

Game Trains Soldiers to Interact With Iraqi Civilians

A game developed for the military that doesn't simulate tanks, stealth fighters, nuclear submarines or even any type of combat? What's the world of warfare coming to?

Widespread cultural tolerance and understanding. At least that's the goal.

As seen in games like America's Army, Full Spectrum Warrior, and the CROWS, weapon system, exploiting the technical and gaming savvy of young adults seems to be the order of the day for the American military.

Now, Wired News reports that the University of California's Information Sciences Institute has developed Tactical Iraqi, a video game used to teach soldiers how to interact with Iraqis without making a costly cultural faux pas.

"Misunderstanding nonverbal cues such as proximity while speaking, handshakes and subtle gestures like bowing the head or placing one's hand over the heart can create or destroy trust," says Hannes Vilhjalmsson, the project's technical director.

"There is a whole sequence of things that has to happen in connection with what you are saying, and it's that kind of rich context of interaction that we are trying to re-create in the virtual environment."

Tactical Iraqi plays in two parts. First, the player is taught a handful Arabic words and phrases in addition to some common Iraqi gestures. Then, the game mimics a civil affairs mission where players can practice what they learned. Computer contolled non-player characters (NPC's) are guided by an artificial intelligence and voice recognition system that animates them according to how polite or rude the soldier/player is (in speech or gesture) and how intelligible the the soldier's Arabic is. If the NPC's can understand what the soldier is saying and the soldier doesn't make any rude gestures, a rapport is developed with the civilian and the player is rewarded with an advancement to the next level.

Thus far, 300 soldiers have been trained using the system with several thousand expected to use it by year's end.

"I don't think people realize what they're missing when they just learn from books," said Vilhjalmsson. "Most of the young troops out there are computer and video-game geniuses. This is something they can relate to."

GamePolitics readers can see Tactical Iraqi in action here.

-Reporting from San Diego, GP Correspondent Andrew Eisen, who may unconsciously be making an obscene gesture... right now

Hitman Ad: Sexy or Misogynist?

You can't help but notice this ad - especially if you're a guy.

With Hitman: Blood Money set for May release across several platforms, Eidos is throwing major marketing bucks at a controversial, full-page spread of an alluring, lingerie-clad woman. The words "Beautifully Executed" appear atop the ad.

The woman lies on a bed of gold satin sheets; her come-hither pose is deliberately eroticized - until you realize there is a small bullet hole in the middle of her forehead. Only then do you notice a carmine pool of blood spreading around her pillow. It's easy to see why you missed it initially. At at first glance the blood seems to be just more accessorizing; it's color-coordinated with the woman's lingerie and high heels.

The violent, erotic nature of the ad has spawned controversy; A-list game blog Joystiq recently asked their readers to analyze the ad and offer their views. Some, like Kate, found the ad unacceptable:

"Whether or not it's the intention, it is yet another drop in the bucket of cases of violence against a sexualized woman. Thus, it contributes to a culture of acceptance of those messages." Similar arguments centered around whether a non-gamer would be able to look at the picture and understand what the ad is all about. Still others wondered whether or not Hitman: Blood Money would be tagged with the usual "murder simulator," label, perhaps even inspiring criminals to copycat violent acts committed in the game.

One of the more controversial issues among the Joystiq crowd was whether or not the ad promotes rape. Joystiq editor Vladimir Cole writes, "It's clear that a semi-naked woman carefully arranged on a bed has clear and prominent sexual connotations and that if rape isn't explicitly evoked, it's implicit in the situation."

Several readers asserted that the ad does not come close to promoting rape. They cite the fact that the "victim" is not visually bruised or harmed in any way (well, except for the bullet in her head). One asked, "Why in the world would any sane ad agency risk making an advertisement that glorifies rape?"

On the flip side, some gamers found the ad brilliant marketing, primarily because targeted buyers for Hitman: Blood Money are men. Folks in this camp argued that those offended by the ad were simply reading too much into it. benhc911, for example, remarked, "It fits their campaign perfectly, and is nothing new or shocking."

GP: ...not to jump in on Monica's piece, but as a guy I'm highly offended by any insinuation that guys in general are turned on by violence against women...

MV: Amidst all of the controversy and speculation surrounding the ad, there is one thing that both sides can agree on: from a marketing standpoint, this ad was successful in the sense that it has drawn widespread attention to the game. Whether there is longer-term fallout remains to be seen. We'll probably hear more about this controversy as Hitman: Blood Money gets closer to retail release.

-Reporting from Wisconsin, GP correspondent Monica Valentinelli

Video Game Industry Preparing For War?

Is the game business arming itself for a lengthy siege on the political front?

That's the conclusion of Paul Sweeting, editor-at-large of Video Business, a trade publication. Sweeting sees the recent merger of the IEMA (game retailers) and the VSDA (video stores) as a clear signal that "retail groups are girding for battle." Sweeting also takes into account last month's launch of the Video Game Voters Network by the ESA as sign that video game publishers too are "preparing for the worst."

Such preparations are probably a good idea, since, in Sweeting's view, "a confluence of technological and electoral factors is likely to bring unprecedented political heat on videogames over the next few years, while dragging retailers squarely into the line of fire."

Sweeting blames next-gen systems, in part, saying, "they're also likely to bring a new level of realism to the beheadings and disembowelments that saturate one slice of the game business... As a practical and political matter, however, the near-filmic quality of the mayhem - not to mention any nudity or sex - will only further inflame those already inclined to feel censorious toward videogames."

With the PS3 and Nintendo Revolution arriving just as the critical mid-term election season ramps up, Sweeting sees plenty of opportunities for politicians to make political hay out of game content issues.

GP: Gloomy news for the game industry, perhaps, but job security for everyone here at GamePolitics...

What Would Jesus Play?

We get a fair amount of chatter about religion here on GamePolitics. Sometimes, it even gets a little heated.

So we found Ryan Stone's piece in the student paper at North Greenville College an interesting read. NGC is a Southern Baptist liberal arts school in Tigerville, South Carolina.

In his column, Ryan (seen at left) mentions that last year his church's Halo tournament fund-raiser was scrubbed when someone complained about the violence in the M-game.

As Ryan explains it, "The church member cited many articles from Focus on the Family and other highly conservative publications, to basically say that playing Halo was unhealthy and not a Christian thing to do."

But later, Ryan began thinking about whether Jesus would indulge in some Halo multiplayer action.

"I think there is a line that is sometimes crossed in the making of video games," he writes, "but for the most part the violence doesn't bother me. I looked at Jesus and the many things he did that fought the conservative and religious people of the day, how he bucked the system and I wondered if I met Jesus would he come over and play a game that involved shooting people?"

Ryan concludes that the Son of Man would be up for it.

"...There is a feeling that video games bring up in males that make them feel like they could be the hero and actually save the world. Jesus, my Creator that gave me that urge to want to be the hero that saves the day, would most likely partake in a friendly game of Halo. He'd probably even beat me terribly and make me look like I'd never played. I'd even hope for a little humorous religious smack talking."

Not fair though, to use God mode...