Thursday, October 4, 2018

Representation of Cultural Role-Play for Training

Author: Thomas Santarelli, Aaron Pepe, Ph.D., Larry Rosenzweig, John Paulus, Ahn Na Yi
Date: 2010

The Department of Defense (DoD) has utilized many methods for cultural training, one being role-playing. The DoD has shifted its conflict preparation, applying technology like virtual reality or Artificial Intelligence (AI), due to the importance of cultural and negotiations training. Role-playing exercises and focused training classes are implemented into these game-based practices. These methods have been employed at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) and the National Training Center (NTC).

The authors discuss two computer-based interactions. The first, role-play through AI with cultural avatars. This gives the trainees a sense of cultural familiarization. The downside to this is that the characters are limited to adjust in different situations. The second involves multiplayer-enabled environments. This is a simulation where multiple human players are engaged, and each have their own avatar to represent in the role-play. The downfall to the game is its ineffectiveness in the use of live face-to-face training.

To address the game’s deficiencies, the authors give four ways to increase the effectiveness of the game-based training method.

1.       Conduct a literature review on potential risks and limitations to role-play in cross-cultural issues
2.       Develop effective role-play strategies to alleviate the challenges faced in the training
3.       Develop training materials to improve and modify both live and virtual role-play
4.       Conduct a pilot study to examine in contrast the trainee’s comfort in both role-play and live interactions.

The authors then give a summary of the literature. They begin by establishing four sections to focus their research on. Three of the areas cover issues regarding general issues in role-playing and the forth concerning game-based usage of role-playing. The research factored in “use of role-play to elicit cross-cultural behaviors, sociological and cultural issues related to group interactions” as well as “interactions involving verbal and non-verbal forms of communication” and finally the “use of game-environment as a mediating form of interaction.”

Table 1: Issues related to role-play in general
  • ·         Role-play between cross-cultural users may require more preparation or practice than a culturally homogeneous group.
  • ·         Lack of anonymity in face-to-face role-play may prevent engagement.
  • ·         Large group size may cause social inhibition during role-play.
  • ·         Role-play may represent a threatening context for some players to explore cultural issues.
  • ·         Role-play can produce "high cognitive load," particularly for novices.

Table 2: Issues related to game-mediated role-play
  • ·         Conveyance and interpretation of emotional disposition may not be intuitive.
  • ·         Nonverbal behaviors may be difficult to map to physical and graphical control inputs.
  • ·         Fidelity of visual avatars may not be adequate to convey required nonverbal communication in a game-mediated environment.
  • ·         Cross-cultural user populations have culture-specific interpretation for use of color, user preferences, and icons.

The authors then provide the process in which they conducted a pilot, and present the results.  For each scenario a twenty-minute session was created that involved four participants, each having a role in both the live and game-mediated simulation. Both simulations involved “proper Mosque etiquette” where a U.S. Lieutenant was required to obtain information on a person of interest from a Sheikh and his nephew while respecting the environment. Three of the four participants spoke Arabic, while one did not. The live role-play was administered at a mosque, and the other virtually. Another role-player, who acted as a “director,” facilitated the scenario in case more dialogue needed to be added.

Results from the live role-play concluded that proper preparation is important for successful role-playing. Although it has some limitations, feedback from the game-based role-play resulted in positive reactions, including, engaging, realistic, and appropriate for training in this type of environment.

The scenario created as an experiment was an interesting representation of a real-world situation. I do not have experience with role-playing for military scenarios, but I feel that virtual role-play is a useful method when trying to create a realistic environment for trainees. The authors did address how game-based simulations do lack the intuitiveness of a real situation. This is concerning because unexpected emotions that may arise in a real-world situation are not detected through game-based role-playing. However, the application of the AI seems to be a practical method since you are placed in a somewhat accurate setting. Although it allows for face-to-face interaction, an issue with live role-playing may make trainees uncomfortable which will result in the simulation not being taken seriously.


  1. I think you bring up an interesting point with face-to-face, live role-playing interactions potentially making trainees uncomfortable. I think we can mitigate that discomfort by the way we introduce the method. For example, if the group of trainees observes a group of trained individuals executing the exercise first, they are likely to see how effective the method can be when done properly. Then the trainees can try it on their own in a "rehearsal" setting. There is value in having a practice run to acclimate to the situation, your fellow "actors", and how you interact with each variable.

  2. Chelsie,
    The use of VR and AI technologies to assist in role-playing activities shows a lot of promise for alleviating these concerns. As jillian mentioned, using VR can reduce participant discomfort with the activity and removes the audience (given that the large group size could be a concern). However, as these technologies improve they will also be more expensive, which poses a problem for governments under strict budgets. Consequently, I would not be surprised to see the use of live role-play emerge as a more feasible alternative. Would you agree?

    1. Tom - I'd argue that, like any technology (e.g. computers, cell phones), as VR and AI technologies improve, they will become a part of our everyday lives. I think VR & AR particularly will be heavily utilized in the National Security community.

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  4. It is interesting that you brought up intuition in your critique about what AI lacks by not having real emotions. Do you think the lack of emotion in AI role playing is a draw back? It could be argued that the lack of emotions let the person make a more accurate decision.