God moves in mysterious ways

War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.
— Ambrose Bierce

In addition to employing anthropologists in order to understand their Middle-Eastern nemesis, the US Army has now embraced adventure game genre to train their soldiers and prepare them for encounters with strange denizens of distant lands.

In BoingBoing, Michael Shaughnessy reports, not without some pride, that the most powerful military in the world has taken a big step forward: instead of relying on old school plastic coated flash cards with some stock clip-art on them, they have now gone high tech and revamped the Cultural Training Program for their new recruits to include a kind of computer game that relies on “virtual engagement with locals”.

The article makes a comparison with FPS (first-person shooter) but this is a definite misnomer. First of all, it is not a “shooter”, as pulling one’s gun is apparently not an option at any point. But perhaps even more importantly, neither is it “first-person”. In many ways this is a fundamental difference in terms of player’s perception of and interaction with the game-world — which I am not going to get into right now.

For what I can tell from looking at the couple of screenshots, it clearly appears to be an adventure game akin to Leisure Suit Larry — or better still, the legendary Monkey Island series by LucasArts, where the famous 19-year-old wannabe swashbuckler Guybrush Ulysses Threepwood has to make his way through cannibals, pirates, voodoo magic and thieving monkeys, in his quest for hidden treasure, never-dying love and ultimate piratehood. For anyone who has played the Curse of Monkey Island, the interface looks immediately familiar — from the choices of dialogue to the checkboxes for wearing and removing hat and glasses (one would hope that the mosque part of the game also has an option of removing boots).

There was another interesting link in the post – a pre-deployment reading list for soldiers assigned to Afghanistan. The list is separated into three distinct parts, according to the expected level of responsibility and ability — evidenced by differing expectations on the nominal reading speed, starting from 75pp per week for cannon fodder and going up to 200pp per week for top brass. I was somewhat surprised to find Khaled Hosseini’s both bestsellers featured there alongside with lots of tactical directives and field guides of clearly military origin.

It is, however, important not to lose track of what we are talking about here. It is not simply an adventure game or a list of literature — it is a war, which nowadays seems to be teaching Americans quite a few things in addition to geography.

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