Saturday, 31 May 2008

Battlefield 2: A Policing Game?

Note: this entry was originally submitted to the MsC in E-learning 'Game Design' Module in November 2007 to Hamish MacCleod (tutor) as a mid-term paper.

This review will examine the game 'Battlefield 2' with a view towards an educational adaptation for Police training - an adaptation which seeks to create what J. P. Gee calls 'distributed authentic professionalism'.

BF2's strengths lie in its collaborative real-time gaming. Players enter one of twelve maps, choose a 32-member team to play on (usually USA or Middle Eastern Coalition- MEC), join a six-member squad and pick one of six standard 'classes'. These classes are: Special Forces, Assault, Sniper, Engineer, Medic and Anti-tank. Players can also create custom squads, invite other players to that squad, and act as a conduit for communications between squad members and the commander.

Depending on the rank you have achieved, with promotions and weapon-unlocks given based on your performance, you can apply to be commander of the whole team. It's these last two functionalities of command and communication, in addition to the novel usage of vehicles for collaborative transport and combat, that lend themselves most readily to an educational adaptation of BF2.

A brief look at the functional options for squad members, squad leaders and commanders respectively, allows us to discuss potential adaptation to a Policing scenario.Taking a quick look at some standard BF2 gameplay might help visualise some of these ideas. You can do so by watching this video. (Please note that the banging techno was not my choice).

Player classes have a range of weapons and kit - easily accessed either by using the keyboard's 1-5 buttons or the scroll-wheel on the mouse. The basic 'Assault class' soldier, for example, has a knife (1), side-arm (2), machine-gun (3), and grenade launcher (4). The medic or engineer has further options with a medical kit (5) and shock paddles (6) or, in the case of the engineer, a wrench to fix damaged vehicles and artillery guns or radar stations. These could be replaced with the four or five pieces of standard kit which a Police Officer carries - notebook, handcuffs, torch, Airwaves radio set etc. Each one could be activated in the same way as a weapon or piece of kit in BF2.

Such selection could enable simulations of arrest scenarios, interview and statement taking procedures, surveillance operations and radio communications -using VoIP which the BF2 engine exploits wonderfully. Since Police Officers are required to report their movements and to be accountable for their actions (constantly carrying out dynamic risk assessments), VoIP communication provides a rich means to practice communication protocols.

Additionally, as noted by Manninen and Kujappaa, the Battlefield game allows for additional 'perceivable and holistic manifestations of interaction that enable players to fully collaborate and cooperate in networked game settings'.

So, what would a policing-based adaptation of the BF2 engine look and feel like? The game would begin with a clear statement about the value systems of the game, encouraging gamers to behave, think and communicate like a Police Officer. It would offer a fish-tank and sand-box; emphasise the impact of decisions; allow for customisation of kit; elaborate on your role; provide well-ordered problems; be pleasantly frustrating; give cycles of expertise which challenge gamers' evolving skills, within the regime of the gamers' competence; give just-in-time information; and ties sets of skills together into larger contexts of activity. All done within legislative and procedural guidance.

The 'downtown Baghdad' location (perhaps based on the 'Strike at Karkand' map) is replaced with a 'downtown Newcastle' setting and the simulation replicates a busy Saturday night. The map could have three or four pubs, nightspots, take-away food locations (known flash-points for public disorder) and transport systems, such as bus depots and taxi-ranks, which need to be vigilantly policed.

A commander can receive real-time intelligence from his IBO centre (Integrated Borough Operations) on incidents that are breaking out. A challenging, but realistic, game might involve a commander receiving intelligence on two or three incidents of public disorder, a traffic collision, a domestic violence incident, a stolen vehicle, perhaps involved in joy-riding, or a missing persons report.

The commander then dispatches vehicles containing squads of six to each location, with specific orders. At the scene, the squad leaders are required to communicate with the commander - reporting on the scene, requesting resources and back-up - with individual officers expected to interact with avatars at the scene. The avatars themselves (which could be programmed bots, or better still real players acting as inebriates, violent spouses or whatever) allow for real-time, on the scene policing simulations with officers making dynamic decisions - reported via VoIP.

In BF2, squad members access a series of communication short-cuts by pressing the Q key and using the mouse to choose from a menu. Standard requests include 'Need ammo', 'Need medic' and 'Need backup'. In addition, a central menu interface gives an 'Enemy spotted' option which, with a right-click, allows you to specify the threat e.g. 'Enemy tank spotted'. These could be adapted to code-specific Police communications and the 'enemy spotted' option changed to communicate specific incidents such as 'traffic collision', 'domestic violence incident' etc.

Squad leaders gain access to a higher level of functionality in the game's standard map (accessed by pressing the M key) where they are able to request a range of services from the commander. Specifically they can request artillery strikes, vehicle drops, supply drops, reinforcements and unmanned aerial vehicles to act as radar for spotting mobile enemy. The adaptations for a policing scenario are obvious enough: the UAV request easily translates to a request for helicopter assistance, the back-up request to a ambulance or medical services support, and the requests for artillery and supplies to intelligence requests such as a standard Police National Computer (PNC) check.

Commanders receive access to a third level of functionality (from the Caps Lock key) which enables them to meet the requests of squad leaders e.g. 'artillery strike on this location'. Crucially, commanders have the ability to issue specific orders at specific locations on the map. There is the standard 'attack/defend this position' order, but you can also order demolition or repairs at a location. This ability allows a commander to tackle multiple tasks at the same time. This readily maps to the range of choices which a BCU (Basic Command Unit) Commander faces when dealing with a busy Saturday night in a town or village.

BF2 has an array of vehicle options including quad bikes, hummers, tanks, APVs, fighter jets, helicopters and boats. Their value lies in the gamers' ability to enter vehicles with team mates. Each vehicle allows up to eight players to driven to a location. Given that the commander can issue location and situation specific orders, e.g. 'place demolitions at this co-ordinate', a Policing simulation could enable commanders to order mobile response units to proceed to a location and deal with an incident there. In-vehicle time could be used to send field-briefings to officers as well as for officers to speak to and learn from each other.

Given the continued threat of terrorism, and the need for robust police training in dealing with that threat, a similar design solution could simulate management of assets and resources during a terrorist incident, enabling differing ranks of players to learn counter-terrorist, critical incident and emergency procedures collaboratively.


Manninen T. and Kujanpää T. The Hunt for Collaborative War Gaming - CASE: Battlefield 1942 [accessed November 11, 2007]

Gee, J. P. What would a state of the art instructional video game look like?. Innovate 1 (6). [accessed November 11, 2007]

Gee, J. P. (2004). Learning by design: Games as learning machines. Interactive Educational Multimedia, 8, 15 - 23. [pdf - accessed November 11, 2007]

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