Steve Jarvis, VEGA Group & Paolo Proietti, Elsag Datamat
AFCEA, Chapter of Roma, jointly with MIMOS – the Italian Modeling & Simulation Association, has organised a successful international conference called SeriGamEX 2008 at the Italian Army Modeling & Simulation Center (Centro di Simulazione e Validazione) in Civitavecchia on 11-12 November 2008. The host for the event was General Giovanni Di Federico, Commander of Centro di Simulazione e Validazione.
As the title of the event suggests the conference focussed on the subject of serious games. A serious game is defined as a video game developed for a serious or non-leisure purpose such as training.
This training method is gaining more and more interest in the military M&S community at an international level because of the following perceived benefits:
Current and future Army recruits will have grown up with video games technology and will expect to learn in highly engaging ways. They may be turned off by more traditional, less interactive, instructor-led training methods
The high levels of engagement and immersion implicit in a game should increase learning retention compared to other training methods
The ability to practice in a realistic and safe environment for scenarios that are difficult to reproduce in the real world
The ability to support team training and collaborative learning
Potential cost savings through reuse and repurposing of existing content in the game engine
The aim of the conference therefore was to give the Italian military Modelling and Simulation (M&S) community increased awareness of the potential benefits of serious games to enhance training.
The delegates included major stakeholders and decision makers in the Italian Armed Forces and some international guests. There were also representatives from Italian Defence Industries involved with simulation, including Finmeccanica companies such as Selex Communications and Selex Sistemi Integrati. More than 150 people attended the first day and over 80 attended for the shorter second day.
In the plenary breaks, a number of high profile exhibitors were kept busy in the foyer of the auditorium engaged with delegates, showing demonstrations of applications of game-based technology. These included Tess-Com, which hosted Bohemia Interactive, the producers of the VBS2 games engine, Antycip Simulation, and the IBM Innovation Lab.
General Pietro Finocchio, as President AFCEA Rome Chapter, welcomed everyone and gave a clear introduction, describing the aim of the conference and its main themes. He stressed the importance of sharing information, both within the conference and more generally, which became a key message of the conference.
The first keynote speaker was Rear Admiral LH Osvaldo Brogi from the Italian Defense General Staff, who presented the Italian Defense vision on M&S and a transformational framework approach to a more integrated and capable M&S architecture. He concluded by mentioning the important cultural change that will be needed to realise the future vision for M&S.
The second keynote speaker was Col. Jack Millar from the US Army National Simulation Center. He outlined the US Army’s strategy towards implementing serious games initiatives with examples, and stressed the need for a carefully thought out and structured approach dictated by the requirement to effectively address the identified training gap.
Col. Giovanni Cantice, Chief of the M&S Research and Study Office of the Italian Army Modeling & Simulation Center described a significant experimentation programme involving the design and use of a federated synthetic environment for various battle scenarios, and how the use of game-based technology is supporting this research. A demonstration of this research was given in the period after lunch.
Agostino Bruzzone from the University of Genoa described interesting research on the modelling of human behaviour in serious games, and the development of a serious game called SIBILLA aimed at the Security and Intelligence sector to provide training in handling various terrorist threat scenarios in a multi-agency environment.
Steve Jarvis from the VEGA Group, a UK company recently acquired by Finmeccanica, explained the potential benefits of serious games for military training, and then went on to describe research using an immersive simulation for practising medical triage that was providing evidence for improved performance for the serious game over the current training method.
Jeffrey Leser, Chief of the Simulation Division of the US Army Command and General Staff College, described the challenges of integrating serious games into an academic curriculum. He described the reasons for considering the use of video games in military training and how game-playing supports the experiential learning model, an effective model for how we learn.
Paolo Proietti took over from General Pietro Finocchio as the chairman for the afternoon sessions and also for the second day of the conference.
Peter Morrison, CEO of Bohemia Interactive Australia, described the evolution of the Virtual Battlespace (VBS) game engine as a powerful training tool for the military with case studies from the US and UK military. Peter emphasised how VBS had been developed to satisfy the priority user requirements of the military, And in particular the US Marine Corp, US Army and UK Ministry of Defence.
James Sterrett from the Simulation Support Team at the US Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC) described how the serious game called Decisive Action was being used in Division exercises at the CGSC with a demonstration. Decisive Action is a serious game that simulates modern tactical warfare at the division and corps levels. Decisive Action is currently being used by the U.S. Army Command and Staff College (CGSC) to facilitate multiple student exercises during the course. No detailed evaluation results have been published yet.
The last presentation of the day was given by James Lunsford, who is the president of Decisive-Point and the creator of the Decisive Action serious game. James described his extensive experience of producing serious games, mainly related to the development of leadership skills. He explained how he conceived of the design for Decisive Action and also shared his thoughts on why serious games are beneficial. He stressed the point made by several speakers that it is not the game outcome that is important for learning, but rather the decisions and actions made by learners as they interact with the game.
The speakers were invited to a lavish dinner at the Officer's Club in the evening of the first day of the conference. This was a good opportunity for convivial conversation with the host and organisers of the conference and other VIPs.
Paolo Proietti welcomed everyone to the second day of the conference.
Peter Marion from PEO STRI in the US stressed the key point that serious games need to be used only when they are appropriate. He described the advantages and disadvantages of the four methods of acquiring a serious game from direct use of a commercial off-the-shelf game to building a game from scratch.
Olivier Pujol from Autodesk described the game technologies that support the simulation requirements for real world physics, modelling of human behaviour, animation, and artificial intelligence.
Sara Giordano from the IBM Innovation Lab in Bari described her team’s approach to the use of serious games and virtual worlds for the development of soft skills and hard skills with the focus on using a sound instructional method in the game design. Sara went on to describe the concept for a multiplayer game that supported scenarios where several roles in the organisation performed tasks with the learning objective to assess the level of innovative behaviour. A concept demonstrator has been developed.
Leonardo Montecamozzo, CEO of Testaluna, described the use of video games in different contexts through several case studies of real products.
Michele Tiragallo from Alenia SIA described the latest developments on a maintenance simulation using a 3D graphical environment, illustrating this with a demonstration from a solution for the C-27J air platform.
The conference provided an excellent opportunity for delegates to meet each other and to share information, and to discuss serious games in the context of how this technology might be relevant to their area. Some of the people within the Finmeccanica community were meeting each other for the first time and this was very helpful to initiate new working relationships.
The delegates left the conference venue much more informed about the potential of serious games to enhance military training and support M&S, and with valuable new contacts. The feedback received from delegates was very positive with talk of a future conference to continue the process of sharing information, and communicating progress in the application of game-based technology to current and future M&S initiatives.