Students’ Simulation Can Ready Troops for Deployment

Countless video games place players in the middle of war zones, but a new award-winning simulation created by a team from UCF is designed to prepare troops for the psychological effects of deployment and the sometimes rocky return home.

The game won one of four awards presented to UCF researchers at the recent Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference in Orlando.

Marissa Shuffler, a UCF psychology graduate, was presented with a $10,000 scholarship. Shuffler is a doctoral candidate and a graduate research associate at IST. Her areas of expertise include team and leader training and development, intercultural collaboration, multi-team systems, and decision-making/adaptation, with an emphasis on high-risk and complex environments.

Garden Defense, designed by students working in the RETRO Lab at the university’s Institute for Simulation and Training, was chosen as the Best Student Game at the conference’s Serious Games Showcase & Challenge. The game is a component of a more comprehensive simulation, Walk in My Shoes, which provides information about everything troops need to do before they deploy, including conflict management and strategies to cope when they come home. The game tries to prepare troops for the military experience and the possible effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Garden Defense is played as an assessment to determine which information needs to be reviewed by troops about to be deployed. Developers designed a game that requires players to answer questions correctly to generate currency needed to continue playing.
UCF Modeling and Simulation doctoral student Lucas Blair designed the game. Blair, with RETRO Lab teammates Danielle Chelles and Katelyn Procci, managed production. Danielle Chelles provided art assistance and Skyler Goodell, an undergraduate in the university’s computer engineering program, provided programming assistance. The subject-matter expert was clinical psychologist Michael Kofler, and the instructional systems architect was Anya Andrews. RETRO Lab directors are professors Clint Bowers and Jan Cannon-Bowers.

Development of the game was funded by the military’s Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury.

Other UCF awards at the conference:
* Two of six finalists in the Governor’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Modeling and Simulation were from IST. They competed in a field of 58 teams and individuals from academia, government and private industry.
Judges selected IST for developments in practical ways to produce effective training, including the use of digital puppeteers, portable battlefield first-aid training devices and mobile-learning technology.
Also selected as a finalist was a team from IST’s ACTIVE Lab leading a project for the Office of Naval Research. Headed by IST’s Stephanie Lackey, the team developed a system that enables leaders from small military units to harness the power of simulation-based technology to provide training.
The Governor’s Award was presented to a team from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, Human Research and Engineering Directorate, which works in the Simulation & Training Technology Center in the Central Florida Research Park next to the UCF campus.

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