Late last week, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA, it’s like DARPA for spies) announced a new contract of $10.5 million to develop “serious games” that include training for US intelligence officers. Along side projects designing the future of silicon chips and predicting the future by analyzing public information, the new program, dubbed the Sirius Project will use game mechanics to train and evaluate intelligence officers on their ability to accurately analyze key information.
The contract was awarded to Raytheon, a major defense contractor and the world’s largest producer of guided missiles. According to the agency announcement, the new program will create serious games to train participants and measure their ability to recognize various types of cognitive biases that commonly affect intelligence gathering and analysis.
The report specifically sites serious games rather than gamification, defining the term as follows,
Serious Games can be categorized by their purpose, such as: education, training, therapy, policy, or strategy. Although Serious Games may employ entertainment gameplay to achieve their purpose, reward systems and gameplay are structured and internally constrained to focus the user on the concepts or material to be internalized and learned.
From my own definition, serious games are constrained systems that often include inputs from the real world but do not result in substantive output beyond education or training, which may be their fatal flaw. The Sirius Project similarly sets out to define the original variables in order to test intelligence analysts and train them to identify biases. After establishing a constrained system where the designers define the variables and find patterns with machine learning, it would be a short jump to using data gathered in the field and generating actionable analysis with a clear indication of cognitive biases, thus crossing the line into gamification and real world output.
Alongside other federally supported projects such as Challenge.gov and MMOWGLI, the new project is a vote of confidence that game mechanics can be used outside of entertainment to catalyze change and train otherwise difficult to learn lessons.
Story via Network World