Video Game Training for War Reporters

War reporter gameTony Maniaty, a former foreign corespondent for ABC Australia has come up with a brilliant idea – to train potential war reporters on how to stay a safe as possible… using a video game.

The game is essentially a first-person shooter, but rather than holding a rifle the player is holding a video camera. They are given assignments, such as gathering imagery of rebel soldiers attacking a compound, and must then do so without getting killed in the ensuing battle.

In his BBC interview, Tony points out that the media world has lost an average of two people per week during the last decade. The majority of these losses occurred in live war zones and his aim is to help budding repeaters think a little more carefully about how they should act if they find themselves in such a situation.

As Tony says, video games (could we call them simulations?) are now used to train soldiers, police, and medical professionals, so why not reporters as well? I guess we could include flight simulators in this bracket as well, although these are a little more specialised than just using a laptop! Tony is also at pains to state that his game is not a replacement for proper training of war zone survival skills. It is, instead, an entry-point to get people thinking about the issues before they undertake more intensive training.

What do you think of this? I think the idea is great, and I’m wondering what other professions could do with simulated training. Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

[via BBC News]

The Battle for Web Dominance – Who will Win?

This is a guest post by Neil Jones who is head of marketing for eMobileScan.

The search engine wars, where engines fought for domination over their rivals, were only the warm up act for what is likely to take place this year. The undisputed champions of Search and social are inevitably going to lock horns sometime soon.

The ever increasing need to grow, expand and dominate is what is forcing these to internet behemoths to collide and if you haven’t already guessed, it’s Facebook and Google. Both reign supreme in their respective sectors but both want domination and whoever wins it is going to mean a big shift in how we interact with the web.

Let’s take Google first; A couple of years ago their position of power was unquestioned and barring the occasional uprising from either Yahoo or Bing, and then a combination of the two, Google had everything thing their own way. Google are great at a lot of what they do; their search results are usually pretty good, their email is great and Google maps are all an excellent addition to the internet. What they have not been good at is social media, but it’s not from a lack of trying. Wave and Buzz are all failed attempts to move into the social space. I’d say it’s safe to suggest that Google have failed in their attempts to move into social media.

And now for Facebook; The stats about Facebook are jaw dropping and it’s fair to say that they really have dominated in the social sphere. For instance Facebook is now the largest photo sharing site on the net. Before researching I had assumed Flickr was the dominant force here, but seemingly not and there are plenty of other similar examples in the social space where Facebook has crushed the competition.

The one thing that Facebook hasn’t tried yet is to move into the search engine space, but it’s only a matter of time. I believe that they are drawing the battle lines and here is how they are doing it. Going head to head with Google in the search engines would be a crazy so instead they plan to use social connections made by their members to connect the web, interlinking pages and sites with Facebook as the hub.

By building a set of buttons, widgets and plugins they are essentially letting their members spider the internet for them.  The first goal is to get as many sites as possible to add their set of buttons and the second is to get their members to share the links and click the “likes” button on these sites.

Presently, Facebook members share in excess of 1 million links in just 20 minutes. In that same timeframe nearly 8 million “likes” are generated, and on average 10k sites a day are adding Facebook’s widgets.

Facebook’s whole plan is based around building a semantic web and with those figures I think they are making a pretty decent start.

The first Sideswipes

Both companies have been trying to undermine each other’s power. The first blow came when Google tried to invest in Facebook only to miss out to Microsoft (Google’s oldest enemy). Facebook countered by continually trying to poach some of Google top execs. Google bought a considerable stake in Zynga who develop social games on the Facebook API and are one of the biggest spenders on the Facebook ad network. Google have also been buying stakes in some of the other companies that have risen to prominence through Facebook. Facebook, on the other hand, announced the launch of the Fcommerce platform where webshops can be launched directly on Facebook. Both sides are continually adjusting and adding new features but who will make the first real assault is still a little unclear.

It’s safe to say that there is no love lost between these two and I don’t think it will be long before we start to see the first real all-out assault on each other’s territory.

What do you think? Are Google and Facebook gearing up for an almighty web-war? Is there space for them both on the Internet, or are they intrinsically destined to fight for the same user base? We’d love to know your thoughts, so please tell us in the comments.

Battalion: Vengeance [Friday Fun]

I’ve loved strategy games ever since playing Dune II on the PC more years ago than I care to remember. While Battalion: Vengeance isn’t quite the same (it’s turn-based instead of realtime) it’s a great little strategic wargame.

Lead your troops against an enemy force and try to wipe them out without having the same done to you. This is a pretty good game and one that has kept me coming back time and again to try and complete the next mission.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I am.

–> Click to play (requires Flash and has sound) <–

Games allowing gamers to commit war crimes

The debate about whether violence in video games has a real-world effect is an old one. I can certainly remember the consternation over the original Doom game, and I’d be willing to bet that wasn’t the first time someone had wondered whether games were having a detrimental effect on society.

Two Swiss human rights organisations, Trial and Pro Juventute, have compiled a detailed report on whether twenty popular games allow (or in some cases encourage) players to violate International Human Rights Legislation during the course of play. The tests included whether the player is required to commit a prohibited action, whether non-player characters (NPCs) do, or whether the player is permitted to act illegally without sanction. Prohibited actions include shooting injured soldiers, firing on a protected building (e.g. church or mosque), torture, and firing on non-combatants.

The outcome of the report is summarised on Trial’s introductory page:

The report thus recommends that game developers avoid creating scenarios that easily lead to violations of the rules regulating armed conflicts. More generally, the report underlines that, as certain games illustrate, there are means of incorporating rules that encourage the gamer to respect human rights and international humanitarian law. Such an approach should be further developed, in order to create players with a more accurate perspective of what is lawful and what is not in real armed conflict situations or law enforcement operations.

War is supposed to be fought according to certain rules, and any simulation of war should include those rules if it hopes to be accurate. But therein lies the problem for me, games aren’t necessarily supposed to be simulations, or educational tools, but entertainment. The main thrust of games development isn’t adherence to the law, but entertaining the player… and that’s a difficult tension to resolve.

Is there a moral obligation on games designers to ensure that human rights are upheld in their games? That’s a big debate, and there’s no doubt that some of the actions in games are wrong from a moral standpoint (attacking civillians in an airport, for instance) but then games aren’t meant to be moral teachers any more than movies or novels are.

In the end, this is a debate that’s going to rumble on for a long, long time. I can see the point of the report, and agree with some of it… I’m just not sure that games will ever reach the stage Trial and Pro Juventute want them to because, at a basic level, that’s not what games are for.

I do want to end on a light note, though… One of the reasons a character might commit human rights violations is so that we know how evil they are! It gives the story purpose if your mission is to “stop the bad man”. But are there better ways to distinguish the “goodies” from the “baddies”? Enjoy this clip from Mitchell and Webb about that very subject :)

What do you think of the report? Should games allow players to take morally dubious actions? Should they portray such actions in NPCs? Do you have another point to make? Let us know in the comments!