VIDEO GAMES: Not just jumping for coins

As another tool for the law enforcement instructor, the simulation can supplement real-life training

     Alternative to the first-person shooter simulation, ICT-USC offers law enforcement training through map-view simulations designed for incident commanders. The ICT-USC simulations focus on tasks of knowledge and soft skills, such as leadership and decision making, as opposed to the physical foundational skills, i.e. shooting. One of the institute's incident command simulations displays a map-view of a situation, providing a computer-generated news feed of happenings and developments. Data can be examined in detailed reports constructed from information found in the game's engine. "The simulation becomes a lot more involving when officers start to see real data and situations," says Richmond. Certain ICT simulation designs look to incorporate a viewable and interactive population. He also comments that ICT raises the realism of the simulation by putting synthetic characters in the game, which allows officers to actually see crowds and watch the police deal with them — creating a sympathetic connection.

     "What the entertainment industry has known for years is that emotional connections are how you hook people," Richmond says. "As the personal involvement increases, it becomes more difficult for trainees to dismiss the whole exercise. If you can get people to care, you can get them to learn because they are tuned into it."

The instructor level

     Incorporating a new technology into a training curriculum or course can be a difficult task for any field. The training instructor can run into many questions integrating a video game.

     "I believe video games are incredibly powerful in teaching … that's not in question. The value proposition comes in determining what you are learning and how you can design the games to teach particular things," Richmond says.

     Van Lent suggests performing a cognitive task analysis to examine the training. This analysis offers a formal way to study what someone does and understand the information they are accessing for the learning objective. This analysis also examine's the internal processes and methods the trainee employs to be successful at the task as well as looks at the decisions the student makes and how they affect the outcome of the task.

     Additionally, in the tactical simulation, with programs such as Canadian Forces: Direct Action or SWAT4, instructors can manipulate certain game aspects to adjust the training realism. For instance, instructors are able to allow only a single "life" to the trainee's character. Without this limitation, most games supply up to an infinite number of lives until the mission is over. This digital reincarnation is commonly known as a "respawn." The single "life" adds to the realism of the simulation and forces the trainee to act much more logically.

     A main aspect of training is knowing what is being taught through the simulation. "The video game is not teaching what the right decision is, but teaching how to make the right decision," Van Lent explains.

     MacDonald's advises law enforcement set goals before beginning simulation training. "We typically integrate simulation as part of a specific course," he says. "But the simulation is just a tool." He says students need to sit down with instructors before the course starts and identify what the learning objective is, then pinpoint how the simulation will be used to achieve that objective.

     He further warns that "in many cases a simulation cannot determine if a student has met a specific learning objective. For example if you want to train students to move in a tactical formation, you will likely need an instructor watching to determine if the movements they use are correct." While the game can hold positive and negative consequences, such as awarding points in achieving a correct outcome, the engine cannot weigh everything. "Some of it could be the game; some of it has to be the instructor watching," he adds.

     Another perspective discusses incorporating the game into a classroom. Sharp would traditionally begin by going over the topic in lecture, in small groups or individually, then going through an exercise and afterward debriefing students on decisions they made. With the simulation, he adds, instead of just coming up with a plan, trainees are able to discuss the plan, then actually fight the battle and record what happens. When they return to class, the replay allows instructors to critique their actions giving the opportunity to discuss the plan and any changes as shown in the "film."

     Sharp calls the simulation a "practical exercise." "The real learning took place in the exercise," he says. "We did exercise after exercise and placed trainees in roles they had never been in before. That's where they really learned and that's what a simulation is. At some point trainees need to be thrown into a situation where they don't know what's going to happen. And you do that with a simulation — a PC simulation, projected on-screen or otherwise.

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