GREAT LAKES (NNS) -- Video computer gaming is coming to the Navy as a training tool adapting to a new generation of gaming Sailors.
"This has the look-and-feel of a first-person role-playing game, but it would be better to call it a training simulation designed to enhance a Sailor's critical thinking, problem solving, decision-making and ultimately 'on-the-job' performance," said Rodney Chapman, director of Learning Strategies (N9) at Naval Service Training Command (NSTC).
"But because a recruit comes into the Navy growing up with gaming technologies it's hard to get away from calling this a game."
The new Navy video computer training tool is called VESSEL and stands for Virtual Environments for Ship and Shore Experiential Learning. VESSEL is a computer-based game that combines and resembles first person role-playing, educational and real-time strategy games.
"This is uncharted waters," Chapman said. "We are using game based technology to supplement instructor led training. This strategy should lead to improved Sailor readiness and performance where the Navy can introduce real time fleet concepts to Sailors at various stages of their career. We happen to be starting this effort in Great Lakes, however, the strength of this technology is applicable and will help improve all Sailors no matter how senior or experienced."
Although there are flight simulators for Navy pilots and Navy surface officers to learn navigation in large bridge simulators, VESSEL can be accessed by popping a disc into a Sailor's computer in a workspace or office, like inserting a disk into a PlayStation or Xbox.
Through partnerships with BBN Technologies, Intelligent Decisions Systems Inc., (IDSI), University of California Los Angeles, University of Central Florida, the Office of Naval Research, Recruit Training Command (RTC) and NSTC's N9 Department have designed a computer-based video "game" training tool built to be an adaptive product to enhance learning and build confidence in handling shipboard scenarios and casualties such as flooding and firefighting.
Dr. Clint Bowers, a psychology professor and evaluator with UCF, said the computer "game" and gaming in general that many Sailors are familiar with "has a certain intrinsic quality that motivates young people today.
"If we can tap that motivation so that a Sailor wants to go back to their room or compartment and play and learn and not feel they are in a classroom, we think that will be a great thing."
Bowers also said his team has seen Sailors who have participated in the evaluation since October 2008. He said they have demonstrated a high level of interest when exposed to the software and that it does have an appeal for today's generation of gamers. "It's one thing to build a game, but we need to make sure it works and we are seeing that it is."
The current "game" or first simulation is designed to have a Sailor investigate a space aboard a ship for flooding from a cracked fire main. A Sailor is introduced with a short story of how he or she has transferred from Naval Station Great Lakes to their first ship in Norfolk, Va. After boarding the ship, the Sailor enters the "game" in a first-person role-playing scenario and must report to his or her repair locker after the general quarters alarm has sounded. From the repair locker, the Sailor is sent out as an investigator and directed to look for a possible flood in a certain space.
A Sailor will need to find the space by locating the correct "bulls-eye" (numbered identification outside the space on the bulkhead, or wall) and, once found, go into the space where they will find there is flooding from a crack on the fire main. The Sailor then has to call Damage Control (DC) Central and report the situation.
"A more senior enlisted Sailor might want to shut down the fire main and cut off the water, but that would be wrong in this simulation," Chapman said.
"We want the Sailor to report the flooding to DC Central using the shipboard phone IVCS (Integrated Voice Communications System) in the space, then go back to the repair locker and pick up the equipment they might need (Jubilee Patch), bring the equipment back to the space and properly patch the pipe."
In the simulation, there is only one way to seat the Jubilee Patch, by putting it on the pipe and sliding it from the top down over the crack. If the Sailor doesn't seat the patch correctly, the video will force it off.
A Sailor is also graded on time from reporting to the repair locker, finding the space with the flooding, reporting to DC Central, returning to the repair locker and patching the pipe.
If a Sailor does all this properly (using the certain buttons on the computer keyboard to move around and grab things) he or she then needs to call back to DC Central and make a final report of what they did and how they accomplished the task. An example of what the Sailor might report would be, "flooding was secured by properly applying Jubilee Patch over crack on fire main in space 1-109-2-L, Admin Berthing. There are two inches of water on deck, or there is no water coming up through the grates. Request dewatering team sent to compartment."
After a Sailor has made a final report and has been told that a dewatering team has been sent to the space, objectives for the evolution show up on the left side of the computer monitor with a green, yellow or red mark. If an objective lights up green, the Sailor has successfully met that objective. If yellow lights up, the recruit completed the objective but was marginal and could have been faster making reports, getting the right equipment or took too long patching the fire main. A red means a failure for that particular objective and the things performed incorrectly will be identified and the Sailor will need to go through the task again.
When the objectives have been graded, the Sailor will then be directed to an Individual Development Plan (IDP). The plan is based on how well they did and what areas may need. The Sailor is then told where to go to receive more instruction on the areas that need work.
"This was a great experience," Seaman Apprentice Melvin Cooks, 18, from East St. Louis, Ill., said. "I think this will help Sailors in here at Great Lakes and in the fleet to strengthen and refresh what they learned at boot camp and in school."
Cooks, a student at Boatswain's Mate "A" School was an early test-subject of the "game" adding that with tools like Battle Stations and VESSEL Sailors will be more prepared to handle situations and emergencies aboard ships and in the fleet.
Chapman called the IDP the most important thing for each Sailor.
"Ultimately, besides the usability of the 'game', we've put in enhancements with the Individual Development Plan. If I believed they were going to walk away from the test and remember what they were supposed to work on, I'd be sadly mistaken. We are going to deliver an Individual Development Plan with further instruction and training to make them better Sailors," he said.
Early indications of improved Sailor performance are encouraging and impressive, according to Chapman. Two groups of Sailors were selected to participate in a study that required them to secure flooding in a main space aboard USS Trayer (BST 21), a 210-foot long Arleigh Burke-class destroyer at RTC, the Navy's largest training simulator. Both groups had basic damage control training but had no previous exposure to the Trayer's internal compartments or design. Only one of the two groups played VESSEL. The Sailors who played VESSEL found the flooding compartment using a bull's-eye, learned from the "game," in half the time of the Sailors who didn't play the game (two versus four minutes). Sailors had less than half (eight versus 17) of the communications errors when making reports to DC Central. Twice as many (50 percent versus 25 percent) non-VESSEL participants repaired the leak without permission and 50 percent of the non-VESSEL participants secured the fire main without permission. No one from the group exposed to VESSEL secured the fire main.
Even though N-9 and ONR have been testing the "game" on recruits from RTC since October 2008, the VESSEL is not geared toward passing Battle Stations 21, the final test for a recruit before graduating from the Navy's only bootcamp. Battle Stations 21 is conducted aboard Trayer a week prior to graduation.
"We didn't specifically build this for Battle Stations 21, because we knew there would be a far reaching benefit to the rest of the Navy enterprise. We purposely built this so it could be used at RTC or delivered to TSC (Training Support Center) and other training or shipboard commands fleetwide. The educational outcome and benefits will be consistent if you are in recruit training or out in the fleet. Whether you are a recruit, a bluejacket, chief or officer; this will benefit all Sailors."
The NSTC N-9 team is working with ONR to build more scenarios to accompany the flooding evolution. They are exploring adding oil on top of the flooded water, placing "hot" electric wires in the space, and there will be personnel casualties in the space.
"We are going to add firefighting to it as another training opportunity and continue to build out to be an enterprise-wide learning tool," Chapman said.
Chapman hopes both delayed-entry personnel as well as Sailors out in the fleet will be able sit down at a computer, put in VESSEL and use it as another training tool.
"We are entering an era where we are demanding more from our Sailors and they have to master things in a shorter period of time. We no longer have the luxury to put Sailors through long periods of training," Chapman said.
"The nice thing [about the 'game'] is technology will help us supplement today's training in a well defined strategy. "Hopefully, in the future this will be just another tool in a Sailor's toolbox that will help a Sailor identify a situation and react in a positive way to save the ship and save a shipmate."
For more news from Naval Service Training Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/greatlakes/.