While spy satellites and thermal sensors may be marvels of snooping
technology, they are no substitute for human observers on the ground,
according to Army commanders.
In combating an insurgency, each small clue—new graffiti on
a wall, an unfamiliar vehicle or uncharacteristic neighborhood activity—could
be a piece of lifesaving intelligence.
Many soldiers on the ground in Iraq who are being asked to collect
this intelligence are not trained for the task. The information
they encounter on patrol is useless if it is not given to the intelligence
officers in the rear. Of a hundred thousand patrols in Iraq, intelligence
officials lament that only a few thousand reports come back.
To fill this gap, the Army has developed a video game called “Every
Soldier a Sensor.” Maj. Dan Ray, a simulations expert who
developed the game, said it could teach soldiers an untraditional
combat skill: using their observations and judgment to bring the
right details back to base.
“Every Soldier a Sensor” is specifically aimed at the
ranks of private through corporal. “It’s something the
young soldiers relate to,’” Ray said. “March them
into a theater and they’ll fall asleep. Give them this, and
they’ll play and interact with it. They’ll get something
out of it.’”
Running on an ordinary laptop, the game resembles a standard first-person-shooter
entertainment simulation. The difference is that players don’t
win by eliminating terrorists. Instead, they gain points by collecting
information and spotting improvised explosive devices.
To emphasize the intelligence focus of the game, players receive
an “information operations” score. As they accrue points,
a big human brain symbol glows more brightly.
“Every Soldier a Sensor” is based on building judgment.
The game clock ticks down second-by-second, challenging the player
to do the right thing quickly. Each action that a player takes consumes
additional time. Check out everything and everybody, and time will
run out. “That’s another game technique,” Ray
said. “You have to create tension. You have to make them sweat.”
At least one front-line operator, introduced to the game for the
first time during an interview with Ray, had a favorable review.
“If I’d had this tool when I was doing the train-up
for all the guys before we headed out to Mosul, it would have been
great,” enthused Lt. Col. Yvette Hopkins, former intelligence
officer with the Stryker Brigade in Iraq. “It’s getting
people into the mindset. I can get that from this game, and trust
me, I’m not a game person.”
Hopkins, who is now division chief for the Army’s actionable
intelligence task force, conceded it could be an uphill battle to
teach soldiers to spot vital clues.
“It’s not always naturally intuitive for soldiers to
report information. They haven’t been trained to it,”
she said. “They may go into the village and they may see subtle
changes, but maybe they’re not going to report it. What this
game does is train a soldier to notice subtle changes.”
She cited a real incident in Iraq where failure to pass on information
had consequences. “We had done a couple of raids, and gotten
some munitions and other bad guy stuff. There was also soap there.
The first time it wasn’t really reported. What we later discovered
was that soap is used to make ‘fugas’ [a crude napalm-like
bomb.] That’s a subtle thing, but it’s very important.”
“Every Soldier a Sensor” took six months and $450,000
to create. The Army Research, Development and Engineering Command,
the Institute for Creative Technology and Warner Brothers On-line
developed the software.
The 1st Combat Training Brigade at Fort Jackson, S.C., is planning
to use it in basic training.
The potential benefits from playing the computer game are not limited
to enlisted ranks, said Hopkins. “When you first get there
[Iraq], you have to get into that battle rhythm. When you first
get there, everybody’s rusty.”
The graphics show a cityscape in Iraqi, with small knots of men,
groups of black-clad women, vehicles, and graffiti on walls. In
one scenario, the player approached a group of old men on a street
corner. A menu flashed on the screen with a range of options, including
“listen,” “detain the civilians” or “ignore
In this case, the elderly locals said the neighborhood needed to
be cleared up. Later on, the patrol sees a group of young men by
a soccer field, who ask the Americans to clean up the field.
When two isolated groups try to direct soldiers to a specific area,
it arouses suspicion. If the player put the clues together and checked
the soccer field, a hidden explosive would be found. “EOD
(explosive ordinance disposal) is heading to your location,”
announces a radio voice.
The program only runs off 43 megabytes, so it can easily be played
on laptops. However, that small operating requirement sacrifices
graphics and environmental complexity. Hopkins said she would like
more immersive effects added to the game.
A soldier on patrol in an Iraqi city has to distill the sensory
wheat from the chaff to determine what clues are important, she
“I would like to see 500 other things happening at once in
the game. There’s a car honking, there’s a kid pulling
on you, there’s someone on a rooftop,” she said. “It’s
like lifting weights. The more stuff you can throw at a soldier,