Navy Using Video Game ‘Avatars’ to Combat Sexual Assault; Sailors to Act Out ‘Scripted Scenarios’

July 25, 2013 - 5:54 AM
sailors

Sailors aboard the USS Monterey (AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The Navy plans to use video games in its effort to curb sexual assault among its ranks. Sailors will soon act out “scripted scenarios” with holograms.

The Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP) is giving $83,000 to a game and animation company to develop “Avatar Based Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Training.”

The company, Organic Motion, Inc., already produces video games for the military, mostly to develop combat readiness.

Organic Motion’s Live Interactive Virtual Environment (LIVE) software creates holograms for role-play actors.  “It works by using advanced motion capture technology to transform the actor’s performance into a live projected character animation within a training environment,” the website explains.

A demo of LIVE shows two soldiers acting out a war scenario involving the killing of an armed terrorist. “Organic Motion LIVE has forever changed live training for warfighters,” the company says.  “Now they can interact with digitally animated characters in live training scenarios in a natural and intuitive way.”

Organic Motion will develop similar software to train Navy recruits about preventing sexual assault, according to a contract obtained by CNSNews.com.

Over a three-month period, the company will create an “avatar based pilot program,” which will be used to act out scenarios at the Navy’s boot camp, the Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Illinois.

Recruit Division Commanders (RDCs), who oversee Navy recruits, will be trained with the game.

“Recruit division commanders are the single most important factor in preparing new enlisted personnel for a successful Navy career,” the Navy says. They are charged with molding civilians into sailors.

Three avatars – which represent the person playing the game -- will be created for the training, and each will be assigned a script written by Organic Motion and the Naval Service Training Command (NSTC).

“Government Subject Matter Experts” (SME) will also be available for the company to consult.

“Scripted scenarios shall be developed with Navy SME’s to meet the training needs of the designated target audience,” the contract says.

“The system shall allow a subject matter expert to determine the appropriate response to both verbal and non-verbal cues so that the student receives improved feedback regarding their actions,” the document reads.  “It shall also provide the ability to change characters (gender, race) and environments facilitating greater student engagement.”

“Avatars will be uniform in their ability to convey emotion through verbal and nonverbal (facial and body gestures) cues, possessing the level of realism required to create engaging interactive learning sessions,” it says.

The first avatar must be developed within 25 days of the contract, which was awarded on July 19.  The third avatar and script must be delivered online within 90 days.

Organic Motion will be paid a total of $83,000; including $23,000 for computer hardware, $16,000 for each avatar and script and $4,500 each for two training sessions.

The Navy issued the award quickly, first soliciting the program on June 26 with a response deadline of July 9, less than two weeks later.  Then the contract was issued 10 days later.

The avatar training is an extension of the military’s recent efforts to stop sexual assault, which has included searches of all troops’ workspaces for “degrading” images of women.  The Navy even ordered its bathrooms searched for offensive “contraband” in inspections last month.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has placed a high priority on the issue, after a Pentagon survey found that approximately 26,000 Service members experienced “some form” of sexual assault in 2012.

Hagel is now holding weekly meetings “focused solely on sexual assault prevention and response efforts.”

On June 27, at his first in-person session with the DOD’s independent review panel on sexual assault, Hagel said he was open to new ideas.

“Secretary Hagel made clear that his goal is to eradicate the crime of sexual assault from the military, and that he is open to all their ideas on how to accomplish this objective,” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said of the meeting.

“He believes the panel's findings and recommendations will play a critical role in ensuring that the department, working closely with Congress, makes well-informed decisions to improve sexual assault response and prevention -- considering all the options on the table.”

In a statement to CNSNews.com, Rear Adm. Dee Mewbourne, commander, Naval Training Command, said: ""I believe that an avatar-based system will dramatically improve the overall quality of training provided to our instructors and students. In concept, an avatar-based system can be created with such remarkable realism that it suspends the disbelief of the participant, thus enabling more realistic role-play scenarios that are commonly used to instruct interpersonal skills."

"The pilot is intended to show that avatar technology can help leaders recognize emotional distress and build mentorship and counseling skills when dealing with sensitive topics, like sexual assault. Because our people are the foundation of our success in the Navy, strong interpersonal skills are fundamental to our profession," said Mewbourne.