[content note: military sexual assault]
There’s a decent chance that you’ve seen some of the increasingly depressing news about sexual assault in the United States military. Marine Major Mark Thompson was sentenced to sixty days in jail and a large fine for an incident involving accusations of aggravated sexual assault in June.
In May of this year, Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski, head of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office was arrested for sexual assault, specifically groping. That same month, USA Today reported that an Army sergeant at Fort Hood in charge of sexual assault prevention was under investigation for a number of charges, included: being investigated for abusive sexual contact, pandering, assault and maltreatment of subordinates.
These incidents serve as backdrop for an endemic sexual assault problem in our armed forces. “Unwanted sexual contact” is reportedly up 35% versus 2010, as measures to address the glossing over of sexual assault by unit commanders are repeatedly rebuffed by the legislative branch of our government.
This is disheartening news, but it’s worth nothing that in some ways the problem is being addressed both seriously and creatively. Organic Motion, Inc. has been contracted to develop a video game for the Navy for the “Avatar Based Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Training.” Organic Motion specializes in motion capture and already supports the US Armed Forces with similar interactive training technology, mostly to assess combat readiness. The sexual assault prevention program appears to be Kinect-based and rather in-depth, with a few cool moving parts.
“The system shall allow a subject matter expert to determine the appropriate response to both verbal and non-verbal cues so that the student receives improved feedback regarding their actions,” the contract reads. “It shall also provide the ability to change characters (gender, race) and environments facilitating greater student engagement.”
The premise is this: the video game will use Organic Motion’s LIVE technology to train sailors to be more empathetic, and to be better able to process positive and negative feedback from people with whom they interact. Should it receive approval after a three month trial run at Navy boot camp, “recruit Division Commanders (RDCs), who oversee Navy recruits, will be trained with the game.”
Navy officials believe that this technology will improve the effectiveness of their sexual assault prevention programs, increasing understanding and hopefully changing attitudes toward sexual assault in the Armed Forces. This is key, as top brass acknowledges that merely holding offenders accountable for their crimes, which is obviously a necessary step, will not do enough to end sexual assault in the military. Army Major General Gary Patton is quoted as saying that “sexism and harassment in the military have created a “permissive environment” in which sexual assaults can occur.” Truer words, my friends.
It’s nice to know that technologies which we typically understanding as being for fun and games can be re-purposed to prevent sexual assault. It’s nice to know that these problems are being taken something like seriously by people other than the 26,000 servicepersons who reported unwanted sexual contact last year.
Video games are an important teaching tool in our society. They can simulate human interaction and they can be sites of critical discussion on race and other topics. They have great potential because they can provide rewards and consequences separate from the real world. While this is usually seen as a liability of video games, or an indicator of their dangerous escapism, with a push in the right directions, those same qualities can be used to improve human interaction, develop and reward forward thinking, and encourage sensitivity to the lives and feelings of others. This empathy-teaching video game designed to prevent sexual assault is a good step, but it’s not enough. I look forward to seeing more video game technology used as a tool for something challenging, like a critical feminist pedagogy, or a deep engagement with POC issues. I’m convinced that a game could be entertaining and accomplish those goals at the same time.