Howard Rheingold, who is on my “shadow dissertation committee”, recently flagged this very neat training simulator called Virtual Peace for students interested in humanitarian response. The platform brings together digital learning technologies and serious gaming for humanitarian aid education.
Students and educators enter an immersive, multi-sensory game-based environment that simulates real disaster relief and conflict resolution conditions in order to learn first-hand the necessary tools for sensitive and timely crisis response. [...] The simulation developed by these partners takes as its model the real-life events following a major natural disaster: Hurricane Mitch, which devastated much of Central America in 1998.
When playing the game, students who represent governments, the United Nations (UN) and nongovernmental organizations, meet in the Virtual Peace simulation. As part of the simulation, students are responsible for providing and coordinating aid to the two countries hardest hit by Hurricane Mitch: Honduras and Nicaragua. Students carry out background research on the scenario in order to represent one of 16 different humanitarian organizations such as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the Office of Foreign of Affairs of Nicaragua, USAID and the World Health Organization (WHO).
By playing the game together, the students are responsible for navigating the challenges and pathways to effective response. Each student assumes her or his role as an avatar designed to look like actual persons in the international aid community. They converse via voice and text channels in the game space which is designed to look like the real venues where these representatives might convene. Students present their views to the group at large and then (within the virtual space) break out into smaller groups for planning and negotiation.
In addition to allowing students to use real life diplomatic and conflict resolution skills, students and teachers can bookmark specific instances in the game that can be referred back to for learning purposes when debriefing the simulation. This allows them to assess whether certain goals were met, if students properly represented the values and views of their government or organization and how they can work more effectively in the future.
By extending to educators the multi-sensory nature of the digital media, Virtual Peace becomes much more than just an extension of a role-playing exercise. Ultimately, it is a cutting edge interdisciplinary platform for creative learning, uniting the technologies of the future and the experiences of the past. For more on virtual training for humanitarian response, see my blog post on 3D Crisis Mapping for Disaster Simulation Training.
I like the fact that Virtual Peace has “transformed video game technology previously used for army training simulations into an innovative tool for international humanitarian aid education.” In addition, I like the combination of the serious game with the social networking platform, Ning. This would be a neat addition to the Humanitarian Studies Initiative (HSI) seminar co-taught by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI).
Indeed, I wish Virtual Peace had been around in 2006 when I taught an undergraduate course on “Disaster and Conflict Early Warning Systems” because Duke University actually offers a seminar on “Policy Anlaysis for Development” that uses Virtual Peace as a pedagogical tool.
The pictures and accompanying text above were taken from this Virtual Peace video demo: