Earth the (Army) MMOG

Not Earth, but merely a representation of EarthAs I think most readers know, There.com has a contract with the US Army to build a virtual world. Thanks to Simon Carless for pointing out this interview with There exec (and Prodigy and SOE vet) Robert Gehorsam posted on Homelan Fed. Apparently, they expect to go live in September 2004. It is not clear whether there will be any commercial implementation planned, along the lines of America's Army, or if this is just for in-house use.

"[The] world is fully Earth-sized, with a real-world terrain database. So if you were to view it from orbit (which we can do) you'd see...the Earth. And if your avatar were to walk from San Francisco to New York, it would take a very, very long time.

Interesting to see the good old Earth done as a VW. Currently, it would probably be a pretty boring (as well as long) walk across the US, because so far, it seems they've only modeled Kuwait City.

We've built a portion of the downtown area of a large Middle Eastern capital city where we have a significant presence today. And we can put pretty large numbers of people into that now, and even some synthetic characters (there are a group of women in abayas walking down the street talking and gesturing with each other.)

Where will the recreation of Earth end? Well, if you see someone is walking around your town with a tape measure and a laptop, this might be the explanation...

Gehorsam provides some interesting explanations re why There was chosen for the contract. He notes at one point that choosing an existing game company makes sense because: "think about the demographics of our military, and you'll quickly realize that they are gamers."


Comments on Earth the (Army) MMOG:

Walter says:

"Where will the recreation of Earth end? Well, if you see someone is walking around your town with a tape measure and a laptop, this might be the explanation..."

Indeed! By all rights we shall have a recreation of Earth so good, that everyone will want to do everything in the recreation instead. Soon we will have to hire people to make the real Earth resemble the virtual one, for when people want to do a bit of recreation. They'll have the 'real' Earth to play around with.

Posted Feb 18, 2004 9:04:51 PM | link

shaver says:

Rekonstruction is also using USGS data and likely other DEM-like sources to create the basis of its terrain, last I checked. That realism sword cuts both ways, but it's certainly a lot of "latent content" just lying out there, begging to be exploited.

Posted Feb 18, 2004 9:35:48 PM | link

weasel says:

As if 'America's Army' (VG) wasn't already invoking Ender Wiggin.

Posted Feb 19, 2004 8:54:16 AM | link

Bart says:

I've been following this closely as an Instructional designer and elearning course developer. The military is always on the cutting edge, and an early indicator on where the training field is going. We've been trying to work with there and Second Life for a little while now on what we're calling Virtual Learning Worlds (VLWs). If the military can use something like this as a metaphor for reality and to train its personnel, why couldn't this model be transplanted to EDU? Sure, the skills you are training are a bit different, but with some good design and creativity, it could be done. I'd love to take There's database, flush the data, and retro-fit EDU data from Penn State University's LCMS and other systems into it. Could liead to some very, very interesting opportunities for teaching and learning (especially with an EDU demographic).

Posted Feb 19, 2004 12:36:48 PM | link

the hanged man says:

Walter: "Indeed! By all rights we shall have a recreation of Earth so good, that everyone will want to do everything in the recreation instead."

At this point, I feel like I should invoke Baudrillard, and that gives me the willies.

Posted Feb 19, 2004 12:45:10 PM | link

Ian Bogost says:

Bart -- I don't really buy it. The military has always been interested in USGS and satellite data for terrain mapping, but for command-and-control purposes. What kind of non-military training are you thinking about?

Posted Feb 19, 2004 1:26:52 PM | link

Euphrosyne says:

I suspect that the Army Earthsim's emphasis will be on geography, and there will be little emphasis on detailed social interactions. An EDU version might care less about the precision of the terrain and focus on modeling the social and political interactions. Of course, educational benefit could be had from a non-social sim: geologists, ecosystem research, all sorts of engineering, demographics, meteorology...

Posted Feb 19, 2004 2:05:05 PM | link

Jeff Lotton says:

I guess WWIIOL lost this one then.....too bad.

JHL

Posted Feb 19, 2004 2:47:59 PM | link

Bart says:

The thing that intrigues me about using a There-type engine is that they already have a fairly good synchronous model that could be geared towareds facilitating learning, and the database behind the scenes could be used to store, submit, and retrieve media drivn content/learning objects on demand.

Example: Let's assume we have virtual PSU built with the There engine/framework. At 9:00am, 15 students login, and teleport to a specific classroom location. Once at the location, the teacher can converse with the students about...lets say Project Management concepts and processes. After 15 minutes the teacher can then auto-launch a 10 minute video clip of a well respected IT project manager talking to a specific concept that is the topic of focus for the week where all the students can view it. Once this is done, the teacher can present a varieity of learning artifacts -- 3D models that, when clicked, launch Flash or simulation based learning opportunities on top of the There interface (like windows pop-up now on top the interface when you want to check something out in more detail). Students can still communicate with one another as they explore the learning objects, discuss opinions, share thoughts and ideas etc. Some of these learning objects may even be small, multi-player simulations or flash-based learning games. Once the students are done, they simply close the window on top the There interface, returning to the virtual classroom where the instructor can then debrief (a crucial part of any learning). Once the instructor leaves, the learning objects still remain and can be utilized at any time (replayability - also crucial to learning). It would be similar to having an LCMS behind the There interface for instant, streamlined access to learning objects, as well as synchronous tools for interaction (+interaction = better learning gains). The engine would be the *medium* for instruction, not the method.

For anyone who has sat through an elearning course (or several), most are poorly designed, students learn very little, and you have little interaction with the instructor, and even less with your fellow students. Something like the above could drastically change all that for the better IMO.

I'm working on a paper right now along the lines of this topic, and hope to twist my dissertation to research relating to these ideas. If anyone wants to discuss this type of idea further, feel free to drop me an email.

Posted Feb 19, 2004 3:39:27 PM | link

Edward Castronova says:

Bart> I'm working on a paper right now along the lines of this topic, and hope to twist my dissertation to research relating to these ideas.

Go Bart go! It's not easy to write one of first theses on a topic, but I'm sure I can speak for this community in saying that we're behind you 100 percent. PhDs are the future. Onward! And if you want comments on a paper or chapter, send it along.

Posted Feb 19, 2004 3:59:18 PM | link

Fred Hapgood says:

Imagine two elearning platforms: one with avatars, in which the students and the teacher, your classmates and yourself, are represented by There-like cartoons sitting in a classroom, and one without. In both cases you and your classmates can communicate in real-time, either through telephony or IM or both, share every other sort of data object, and engage in the rull range of collaboration, including real-time
whiteboarding.

Does it matter? Does the avatar experience add something important? If so, what and how??

Posted Feb 19, 2004 7:35:28 PM | link

Cory Ondrejka says:

Fred> Does it matter? Does the avatar experience add something important? If so, what and how??

I think that discovering the answers to these questions is a the heart of the research that Barton and others are doing. We currently have four classes using Second Life that are studying various topics including game design and community development. We've previously had classes studying architecture and urban planning as well. These classes are using Second Life because of the its unique technologies which enable groups of students to act together to truly create in a shared online space. This kind of real-time, online collaborative creation with 3D geometry, texture, audio, physics, avatars and scripting combined with a large world, economy and other users is a completely new experience for most of the students and educators, so we've been learning a tremendous amount from every one of the classes so far.

To Fred's point, I don't think that this means that online worlds are the perfect answer to distance learning. Ian is also dead-on with his observation that most large scale simulations are used for C3I training, so it is still an open question about how exactly to apply online world technologies to military training. However, SL's experience with universities has been that online worlds do have many uses as educational tools and often give teachers options that they didn't have previously.

Posted Feb 19, 2004 9:32:24 PM | link

Bart says:

Fred Wrote>Imagine two elearning platforms: one with avatars, in which the students and the teacher, your classmates and yourself, are represented by There-like cartoons sitting in a classroom, and one without. In both cases you and your classmates can communicate in real-time, either through telephony or IM or both, share every other sort of data object, and engage in the rull range of collaboration, including real-time
whiteboarding.

I agree with you that both of these platforms have the required elements for elearning. But in a basic L/CMS, from the time you login, it may take you 5-10 clicks to get to the IM tool which is usually poorly designed (at least in my experience with ANGEL/Blackboard/WebCT) and downright not intuitive. Or you can opt for a mainstream IM. Then to get to get real-time communication, you need to dial-in to a conference number or run something like Centra/Roger Wilco. Now you have two different applications to manage:CMS or IM and phone/Centra. Now let's say its time to access the various learning objects. That's another 3-5 clicks to either back out of the IM into the whiteboard area, or opening an additional window to access the whiteboard. Now the user is managing 2 browser windows, toggling between IM and whiteboads, as well as Centra or conference call. See where I'm going with this? Something like There, with a solid front-end, can eliminate this type of clutter that takes place in a lot of elearning applications and/or platforms. You have constant voice/IM capabilities one-click (or no click) away, one-click access to learning objects, etc. It becomes somewhat of an HCI issue at this point.

And what you mentioned about avatars could have an impact. Some psychology research is starting to say 'yes', that the user is more engaged when they actually have the representation of self on screen. I'm not sure I buy it yet, but people are doing research in the area.

Posted Feb 20, 2004 9:25:08 AM | link

Ramius says:

I'm very much interested in the VW's ability to simulate things that wouldn't be cost effective in an RL teaching environment. In the same way that the Discovery Channel's CG programs make subjects more entertaining, the addition of interactivity and collaboration can only serve to enhance the learning experience.

Historical times and places... What better way to understand Alexander the Great's strategy regarding the order of battle and topography, than to traverse the Granicus yourself and see how and why he ordered a seemingly suicidal attack to draw the Persians down to the river in order to take away their momentum.

Hypothetical situations... I'd really be interested in hearing about how that urban planning class went. Studying archaeology? Go on a virtual dig with your classmates. Studying medicine? Have the students role-play and practice triage within a simulated ER.

Lectures are reinforced by field experience and trial and error. In a VW, you can have both at a lower cost than in the RL.

Posted Feb 20, 2004 11:15:12 AM | link

greglas says:

Fwiw, BBC has picked up the story.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3507531.stm.

Posted Feb 23, 2004 8:34:15 PM | link

greglas says:

Fwiw, National Geographic has picked up the story.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/04/0413_040413_armyearth.html

Posted Apr 14, 2004 9:08:28 AM | link