Games & Simulations 2013: 3-D in Action

A look at how three organizations—the U.S. Army, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and IBM— are successfully using 3-D simulations in training.

By Gail Dutton


U.S. Army: Teaching Peacekeepers to ID Social Networks

When young peacekeepers enter a village in any of today’s war zones, the societal norms they grew up with often are no longer relevant. Despite the culture shock, they need to quickly build relationships with locals and identify potential friends and foes accurately.

This autumn, the U.S. Army will deploy the Military Open Simulator Enterprise Strategy (MOSES) 3-D virtual simulations to help soldiers accurately identify the social networks and norms in an area of operation. The simulations augment classroom training and hone soldiers’ critical thinking and cultural awareness skills by helping them identify the actual leaders and assess the area for such criminal activities as smuggling and human trafficking. The virtual simulation also addresses local and cultural norms, such as the presence of teens with AK47 assault rifles, or a local perception of people outside their ethnic or religious group as inferior.

Experiencing the environment virtually reduces the cultural shock and helps soldiers perform more effectively when they are exposed to the real thing. “Training in a virtual environment gives people a heads-up. Here, you can make mistakes safely,” emphasizes Douglas Maxwell, Science and Technology manager, Virtual World Strategic Applications, Army Research Laboratory, U.S. Army Simulation & Training Technology Center.

In the MOSES simulation, Maxwell says, “a group of soldiers enters a virtual village for a true mission. By interacting with the virtual villagers, they draw a map of family, friends, and work relationships and identify the likely sympathies of individual villagers.” Training success is based on participants’ degree of accuracy in identifying the networks, friends, and foes. “Virtual environments show a lot of promise in improving critical thinking and cultural awareness, as well as for mission rehearsals, so participants know the prominent features of an area of operations,” Maxwell says.

“My focus is on getting more people and better physics into a virtual environment,” he says. He currently is automating and streamlining the process of populating the virtual world to reduce the expense and to enable a confrontational, steerable virtual environment. In such an environment, “if someone isn’t sufficiently challenged, the environment can be changed while it’s running.” Obstacles and variables can be altered without players’ awareness and, therefore, without disrupting their thought processes. That aspect of the program will be included in version 2 and will help ensure that participants are using their skills rather than clues from a previous virtual experience.

Maxwell also is addressing scalability and flexibility. “In terms of scalability, we look at three facets: the number of people in the environment, the complexity of the theme and the extent of the area of operations.” Right now, MOSES can handle approximately six square kilometers and 30 players. By year’s end, Maxwell says he expects to expand to 300 simultaneous players, with a 2:1 ratio of neutral or criminal elements per player. To put this in perspective, the popular World of Warcraft commercial game has fewer than 100 people in any arena at a time.


Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago: Helping Employees Navigate a New Facility

When the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago moved to new facilities in June 2012, it used a 3-D virtual simulation of the new hospital to help its staff and physicians learn their way around the multi-story building before they had to care for patients. The 288-bed hospital moved three miles, from a 600,000-square-foot facility to a 1.25-million-square-foot, 23-story high rise. “It is the tallest children’s hospital in the world,” says Diana Halfer, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, administrator.

Locations of equipment and supplies, safety systems, services, processes, and procedures all changed because of the move, Halfer explains. “There was a whole learning curve around the use of the elevators. There are 22 different elevators, so that was a big adjustment.” Locating people in the larger facility was another challenge.

From talking with other hospitals, Children’s Hospital knew the importance of multiple physical tours of the new facility, “but we knew we couldn’t get as many as we wanted. With 5,000 employees and physicians, it was impossible, and there would have been a significant productivity drop,” Halfer says. Therefore, the hospital opted for a virtual model.

The virtual hospital offers a guided tour from the hospital intranet, and also lets users explore their own specific floors and public areas using one of several basic avatars. “It’s easy to use for those without PC expertise,” Halfer says. For example, to go to the second floor, users navigate to the elevator, click to open the door, then click the floor.

Employees toured the actual hospital twice before the move, but could access it many times virtually. “The time savings between enabling virtual tours at their convenience and arranging on-site tours for a group is huge because of the transportation time required,” Halfer says.

Planning for the virtual model began in 2007 and took four years to implement. The virtual model was designed while the hospital was being built, with designers “walking” through the blueprints floor by floor, says Julia Hooper, director of Hospital Education. To minimize costs, “we didn’t build out offices or mechanical spaces,” she notes. The development team included representatives from the education, nursing, IT, and construction teams.

The virtual tour was rolled out to leadership first. “The chiefs of the labs were invited to tour their actual labs and then their virtual labs,” Hooper says. “Because we emphasized way-finding, they were able to find landmarks virtually. We also took the 3-D tour cinematic (machinima) to staff meetings. This was most effective when leaders had their own floor plans on hand, so we could tailor the tour for their floors or for special concerns such as evacuations.”

The cost of developing the virtual hospital was approximately $90,000, and laptop upgrades cost an additional $30,000. So for $24 per employee, hospital staff could tour the virtual hospital as often as they needed without reducing clinical care. When the move occurred, personnel already knew their way around the building, thus saving time, improving productivity, and decreasing move-related stress and conflicts.


IBM: Helping Growth Markets Hone Business Process Management Skills

IBM developed its first 3-D virtual games about five years ago to teach non-technical executives the value proposition of business process management (BPM). “We developed a game, called INNOV8, in which the player was a consultant in a call center and had to walk around the space, interview employees, and make BPM decisions,” recounts Phaedra Boinodiris, Global Serious Games Program manager. The game helps learners visualize the effect BPM has on a business, and thereby develop more effective customer service responses.

To test the value of this approach for systems thinking, IBM distributed the game to colleges and universities for free through the IBM Academic Initiative. Within six months, more than 1,000 universities incorporated it into their core curricula, where the virtual world often augmented or replaced the practice of reading case studies. The benefit, Boinodiris explains, is that, “with a game, players can tweak the business rules to improve customer satisfaction or carbon emissions or other outcomes. This allows players to test ‘what if’ scenarios using real data.”

Consequently, such serious games help professionals comprehend system interactions and model potential business outcomes more accurately. By understanding the challenges faced by many different industries, businesses can explore a variety of potential solutions and their business impacts before committing resources to any particular approach.

When the supply chain version scenario for INNOV8 was rolled out, IBM’s suppliers and its own logistics personnel played together, exploring various scenarios and, eventually, using that learning to enhance the effectiveness of IBM’s own supply chain.

INNOV8 launched first in high-growth markets such as China and India, and then to IBM employees around the world. Now a series of serious games are used for employee onboarding and development. They include programs focusing on information technology architecture and infrastructure, finance, and project management in addition to business process management. As Boinodiris says, “for each serious game, we create a social wrapper—a chat room, library, help videos, leader boards, etc.” That provides a tremendous amount of help to players and supports the social and competitive aspects of the game.

IBM develops these games and simulations using the Unity 3-D gaming engine. “Unity is good—it ports to the Web, is mobile, and is inexpensive. People love it,” Boinodiris says.

IBM has expanded its simulations through the Smart Planet initiative. Now simulations, such as CityOne, integrate data to provide a snapshot of what’s happening on the ground as players guide the city through a series of situations that involve the energy, water, banking, and retail industries. “These simulations are used to vet processes for public policy and for disasters,” she says. The game layer sits atop a scientific model of how the city works and uses real data from sensors. A tool kit to pull and push data is underneath that layer.

“We see opportunity in games. Virtual games are very sophisticated and can be adept at explaining complex systems,” Boinodiris says. “Executives deluged by data are looking for a better way to visualize it and collectively solve problems. Serious games provide one additional option.”


Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.