US Military runs first alternate reality game

BBN Technologies to develop ARG for first DoD evaluation as long-term situation management training solution

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Several weeks ago, a tsunami devastated a small island off the southern coast of the US, and now an unexplained illness is spreading among the survivors. The joint task force formed to support the relief effort, originally focused on delivering essential services, now must contend with a medical epidemic as well. Are they prepared for this mission?

This is the scenario behind a new ARG created by BBN Technologies and Dave Szulborski, author of This Is Not a Game and creator of five well-know ARGs. ARGs have been used with great success to promote books, movies and television shows and BBN scientists proposed that the method could be applied to serious training with equal success. Now, the US military is testing that hypothesis with the first evaluation of an ARG as a tool for training military personnel. In a month-long demonstration, a group of 124 participants made up of active duty military, reservists, government staffers, and university students is working together to cope with the tsunami scenario. This is the kind of situation that is most difficult to train for; not an acute, episodic crisis than can be simulated in a short course or in a classroom, but a longer term situation that changes as the circumstances unfold. ARGS offer the benefit of allowing trainees to practice the skills needed for such exceptional situations while they continue to do their regular jobs and to develop real relationships in a virtual scenario that will help them respond effectively when they are required to cope with an unexpected situation such as the tsunami scenario.

Bill Ferguson, division scientist at BBN Technologies, one of the partner organizations for the demonstration, said, “The military needs a training solution for longer term, intermediate intensity situations that involve multiple agencies. Because ARGs are inherently distributed and built on complex, engaging scenarios, they are an effective and cost efficient way to train for the long duration, large-scale problems that require individuals to respond both collectively and individually.”

Jointly funded by the Joint Forces Command and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the demonstration is being executed by BBN Technologies, Dave Szulborski, and Aptima. BBN, which was contracted to develop the tools and pedagogy and administer the demonstration, provides tools to support ARGs under its trademark, Helical Training. BBN engaged Szulborski to develop the ARG’s initial scenario and to build on the rich content as the responses and changing circumstances affect the fictional situation. Aptima will evaluate the demonstration and measure participants’ responses against specific learning goals.

BBN’s Helical Training is a novel application of ideas inspired by ARGs that focuses on information management, distributed coordination, and organizational navigation. A Helical Training event is an immersive, interactive training course that virtually brings together many trainees from different locations to work together to accomplish both individual and group goals in a shared scenario.

About BBN Technologies
BBN Technologies solves real problems through the creation and disciplined application of advanced technology. With expertise spanning information security, speech and language processing, networking, distributed systems, and sensing and control systems, BBN scientists and engineers have amassed a substantial collection of innovations and patented solutions. Today, BBN is managing the planning and design of GENI, an advanced network facility spanning the United States; is saving lives in Iraq and Afghanistan with its Boomerang Shooter Detection System; operates the first metro quantum cryptography network; has deployed the first real-time foreign broadcast monitoring system; and has demonstrated the benefits of the world's first stereoscopic digital mammography system in clinical trials. For more information, visit

BBN Technologies
Joyce Kuzmin, 617-873-8193  

BBN Technologies
Mark Gauthier, 978-325-7048  

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