A 3-D cultural training simulation, sponsored by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), won first place in the Serious Games Challenge (government category) at the nation's premier modeling, simulation and training event, the InterService/Industry Training, Simulation, and Education Conference in Orlando, Fla., Dec. 1.

The First Person Cultural Trainer, or FPCT, was developed in partnership with the University of Texas, Dallas, Arts and Technology Program, and it's what the modeling and simulation world considers a "serious game," meaning it's designed for purposes other than pure entertainment.

Just as the Army trains Soldiers on weapons systems and tactics, it also has recognized the need to ensure Soldiers and leaders are familiar with the values, norms and cultural contexts of where they deploy. This "first-of-its-kind" game combines training for intelligence gathering and cultural immersion at the tactical level. Its immersive gaming environment provides a key leader interactive engagement with indigenous community leaders under varied cultural contexts and conditions. Currently focused on Iraq and Afghanistan, FPCT has applications in many other cultural and geographic situations.

"People today spend much of their time in simulation, for example, in Second Life or World of Warcraft," said Gary Phillips, director of TRADOC's G2 Intelligence Support Activity (TRISA). "It only makes sense for the Army to capture this fascination with avatars and the digital world of 'what could be' to make Soldiers and leaders better in what they do."

Playing as avatars, or 3-D graphical representations of the user, Soldiers enter a community from the first-person point of view. They don't know much about the community, how the people feel about them, or who the key figures are in the village. The goal is to move through the community, learn the social structures and issues, then address those issues and work with the community to affect missions. Ultimately, players need to gain intelligence on improvised explosive device, or IED, networks.

The nonplayer characters, such as shopkeepers or village elders, display emotions, form opinions, and change moods and cooperation levels based upon unscripted cultural interactions. During the simulation, a Soldier's cultural gaffe hinders information exchange, while culturally amenable actions lead to the collection of IED intelligence.

"FPCT challenges the Army's junior leaders to understand the consequences, good and bad, of their speech, body language, posture, temperament, and action," said Ben Jordan, recipient of the 2011 Army Modeling and Simulation Award (Individual, Intelligence) and director of TRISA's Operational Environment Lab, which is the Army's lead for the project. "It even replicates physical micro-expressions, which users learn to identify as possible cues for threatening or on-threatening behaviors."

Building upon their success, the TRISA team is working with the TRADOC's Training Brain Operations Center to integrate FPCT as the cultural driver for the Army's massively multiplayer online trainer, EDGE.