The Buzz

Game Time

Used to be, the Army was out there alone on the edge with its recruiting video game "America's Army." Now it seems like every agency wants to play, seriously. Latest entrant to the game: the Transportation Security Administration. In late April, TSA posted a request for information about its statement of objectives for a serious games initiative to train luggage screeners. TSA wants to make sure it has the right concepts and wording before opening bidding on a contract to develop a training video game.

"Serious games make it possible to 'learn by doing,' in that trainees can learn as much from their failures as they do their successes," according to the draft statement. "In contrast to a real-world situation, these failures do not result in increased costs. For example, an explosion due to a [transportation security officer] failing to properly identify an improvised explosive device would not cause real-world casualties."

TSA envisions a game in which computer-animated virtual characters, avatars, would play the roles of screeners, staff law enforcement officers and passengers "to include friendly, aggressive, elderly, young and even terrorists."

Meanwhile, the Army is still at it, this time on the hunt for a small business to develop a driving game. Between 110 and 130 soldiers die annually when they crash their own cars, the Army has found. To reduce the number, the service is using its Small Business Technology Transfer program to seek a developer of "Driving Wisdom," Web-based training to improve young drivers' judgment.

The Army expects the developer will find a robust market for the driving game among the other military services, colleges and universities and the insurance industry. Possibly, but renaming the game "Grand Theft Auto-Army" might help.

Perhaps to prepare GIs for their driving training, the Army also recently deployed about 300 online gaming systems to bases worldwide. The $7,000 consoles combine a 26-inch flat-screen monitor, high-speed gaming computer and Internet access. They play dozens of games, including "Halo," "Special Forces," "Day of Defeat" and "Unreal Tournament." Users buy time on the consoles and can play against others connected to the Internet, no matter where they are in the world.

Terrorism Toll

Judging strictly by the numbers, you might conclude that in the war on terror, the bad guys are winning.

In 2006, terror attacks were up 25 percent, and deaths caused by them rose 40 percent over 2005, according to the National Counterterrorism Center's report on 2006 terrorist incidents. Released April 30, the report cites 14,000 attacks causing more than 20,000 deaths, increases of 3,000 and 5,800 respectively over 2005. The number of people injured in terrorist attacks grew notably, by 54 percent-most of the increase came in Iraq, where the number doubled. Not surprisingly, terrorists took their greatest toll in the Near East and South Asia- 45 percent of attacks and 65 percent of fatalities occurred in Iraq. Sunni terrorists claimed responsibility in more attacks than did any other group; though Sunni groups claimed about the same number of attacks in 2006 as in 2005, they caused more fatalities and injuries last year.

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