Sailors To “Shoot Magical Spells” In Navy-Funded Video Game Training

Anders Hagstrom | Justice Reporter

The Office of Naval Research announced in a Tuesday press release that it helped fund the development and research of a “non-violent” training video game in which sailors and Marines will “shoot magical spells at otherworldly creatures.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) wrote that goal is to isolate the factors in first-person-shooters such as ‘Halo’ and ‘Call of Duty’ that improve cognitive functions like reaction time, multitasking, and attention span. The ONR plans to develop the game that best trains people for jobs requiring large amounts of screen time, such as sonar and radar technicians and pilots.

“We know people will spend hours playing a video game,” said Dr. Ray Perez, a program manager in ONR’s Warfighter Performance Department. “Is there a way to use some of those entertainment elements to design training that will keep warfighters engaged, help them learn faster and perform their jobs better? What is the secret sauce?” (RELATED: Are Video Games Good For You?)

Supported by the ONR, Dr. Shawn Green, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, partnered with video game developer E-Line Media to create a beta product, known as ‘Elemental,’ which he says is more like a ‘Harry Potter’ game than a traditional shooter.

“The spells look like colored projectiles,” said Dr. Shawn Green. “There are different spells for certain types of enemies, including rock and water monsters. We kept the game non-violent because we may want to design a kids’ version one day.”

Green is now conducting experiments with student volunteers to determine the game’s effectiveness. Each participant will play 20 one-hour sessions of the game over the course of six weeks, taking brain scans both before and after the experiment to test for “visual sharpness and clarity, multitasking ability, and skill tracking moving objects on a screen.”

Green says he hopes to have a product fit for the military within two years, after refining the game to “magnify elements that enhance human learning, and scale back or even eliminate those that don’t.”

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