How Video Games Are Improving the FBI

We spoke to Randy Pargman from the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, about how video games help agents better understand tactical arrest planning and crime scene investigation.

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Inside a well-lit classroom overlooking the leafy campus of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Training Academy in Quantico, Virginia, a group of new recruits are about to use an Xbox 360 controller for the first time.

The man at the front of the classroom, Randy Pargman, will first explain what each button on the controller does, before encouraging the recruits to turn the controller in their hands and get a feel for its size and weight. He will then turn toward the large PC sitting on his desk and begin to play a video game.

The game is designed to teach budding FBI agents how to successfully plan and carry out a nonviolent arrest. In this particular demonstration, Pargman will control the onscreen FBI agent and direct him to a small area resembling a nondescript motel. The gameplay itself is simple enough: Pargman will begin by interacting with a small number of non-player characters--the motel's receptionist, a member of the cleaning staff, a passer-by--with the aim of discovering more information about the suspect before the arrest is carried out: who he is, where he's hiding, and why he's wanted for arrest. Only then can Pargman begin to execute the arrest strategy, surveying possible escape routes, picking the right weapons, and directing backup to seal off the exits.

Finally, when everything is ready, Pargman will carry out the arrest simulation. This, the class understands, is the good bit.

Why Games Are Useful Learning Tools

Pargman has been working at the FBI Training Academy since September 2004, swapping his background in computer science for a mentor role in training new recruits to navigate a set of interactive animations and video games. The games are designed to teach FBI agents to safely navigate crime scenes, clear stairwells and hallways during a siege, carry out nonviolent arrests, and properly preserve and package evidence for forensic analysis, and they have proved to be one of the most crucial parts of the FBI's training program.

Currently, interactive simulations and games make up two hours of the FBI's 20-week training program; following positive agent feedback, the organization is planning to increase that number to eight solid hours of video game training per student.

"I have a sneaking suspicion some of the new recruits bring their consoles with them when they enroll in the academy," Pargman says. "Surprisingly, quite a few of them have never touched a video game controller before, and I have to spend quite a bit of time in class teaching them how to use the thumbsticks. What we've started doing is giving them the chance to play around with the games after hours, and it's no surprise that they love it."

The FBI uses interactive simulations like this one to teach trainee recruits how to carry out arrests in different situations. Image credit: FBI.

What Pargman has learned from watching his students interact with games is that there is a real benefit to putting into practice the concepts and values taught through visual demonstrations. So much so that a large number of new recruits have already expressed the wish to be introduced to the video game training part of the program at a much earlier stage in their training.

Currently, the gaming component of the course takes place somewhere in between theory and practice. The latter, which is carried out in Hogan's Alley, is a physical training environment inside the FBI campus. The so-called "alley" is actually a mock town: houses, buildings, and structures that can accommodate almost any type of real-life scenario. But it's only so big, and it's not long before the new recruits have seen everything there is to see. That's when Pargman brings out the Xbox 360 controllers.

"In our interactive simulations, we can instantly go from one city to another and present the recruits with far more interesting tactical environments. After one of our multiplayer first-person shooter simulations, we've heard people say quite a few times that the environments we presented them were more interesting and challenging than anything we could ever physically build."

It's Not All About the Guns

The games themselves are either developed in house by Pargman or outsourced when greater skill and manpower are required. The trainee agents begin by first learning how to use the system and its controls--all Windows-operated PCs attached to Xbox 360 controllers--and are then given a practice run with a game depicting a nonviolent situation. Here, they must use the game to plan and execute an arrest, from communication and surveillance right down to choosing the correct weapon (forget indulgent first-person shooter fantasies of five different guns, three types of grenades, and a rocket launcher; there's none of that here). They then use a top-down view in the game that allows them to plan every detail of the arrest, from where to place the 12 agents at their disposal to what vehicles and equipment they require. At the end of it all, they give a mission briefing to their fellow classmates.

"We're controlling the other critical characters in the game so we can react accordingly to whatever happens--moving them, running away, or pulling out a gun or a knife if there's need for it," Pargman says. "We try to exercise whatever the weak points of the plan are. At the end, we can replay the whole thing in the classroom so everybody sees what happens. That's a key difference to doing things in real life; this way, we can actually look at the action replayed from any point of view."

"Interestingly, we found that the trainee agents really appreciate when we put the camera on the point of view of the suspect and show them what he saw when he was being arrested; this often is beneficial in pointing out whether all the escape routes were covered by the plan or if something was overlooked."

Aside from the immediate benefits of allowing trainee agents to interactively work through different scenarios that cannot be physically replicated and thereby assess different points of view, games have also proved psychologically beneficial for the new recruits. Pargman and his team have noticed reduced stress levels in trainee agents since the program began to rely more heavily on video games and simulations.

"We've had quite a few students say that in Hogan's Alley, they have a lot of pressure on them. There are so many things going on, it's such a complex scenario, they know they're being graded, and they only have a few runs through it, so sometimes they have so much stress they have a hard time paying attention to the lessons. But when they're in the classroom playing the games, they're able to pay attention to things they wouldn't normally pay attention to in physical training."

Games also help recruits learn how to handle weapons and assess their usability in certain situations. Image credit: FBI.

Investigating Serious Games

Since developing the games program for the FBI Training Academy, Pargman has begun to think more seriously about how video games can help other law enforcement organizations. When serious games first came to market, they provided a new way of doing things, making it possible to teach concepts that could previously only be taught through language or visuals.

But the gaming audience has grown significantly in the past five years, resulting in a more knowledgeable and game-savvy population that has come to know what to expect from games. The wow factor of serious games has dissipated, and many serious games developers are finding it increasingly difficult to make a product that is both educational and entertaining.

"These games need to be interesting, engaging, and relevant, so that people who use them will get into it, and then it's up to the design of the game to make sure that they're actually learning what they're supposed to be learning," Pargman says.

A regular attendee of the Serious Games Summit and the Game Developers Conference, Pargman believes that the nonprofit sector of the industry has the potential to inject some much-needed creativity into serious games development, a creativity that organizations like the FBI can use to develop more efficient training and educational programs.

"I think those ideas and creative energy is pushing the space forward, and more and more people, as they see those projects evolve, will hopefully make the connection that we can do a lot of learning this way through serious games, in traditional education, as well as corporate environments and government. Games could be used to great effect, much more so than we're doing now."

Discussion

117 comments
raphaeljoash
raphaeljoash

I imagine FBI agents final words will be "respawning in 3...2...1.." *dies*

Zevvion
Zevvion

@VilandasUK tell your teachers that they are teachers and therefor should not make comments unless they are proven true. Videogames are proven to improve reflexes, challenge the brain keeping it working constantly, improve allot of cognitive functions like understanding of space, memory, coordination and so forth. That's all personal benefits, not counting in the insane good it does to the economy and educational benefits as this one. What's negative about it? Nothing has been proven about games being bad for health or making people more agressive. Infact, the latter has been disproven even. Your teachers don't know what the **** they are talking about. They should get some more education about the subject before trying to teach. You can't teach your own bias.

LittleChatelain
LittleChatelain

I wonder what score gamespot would give their game ;)

grim0187
grim0187

This is pretty cool. Very useful.

dixon21
dixon21

Games will save the world! :D

dono14
dono14

they should have just played L.A. Noire...

pimpofdoom
pimpofdoom

I know Bohemia Interactive ( Arma and Arma 2) made a program called VBS2 to train soldiers around the world and some of the most important military organizations on earth use it.

scyllasos
scyllasos

maybe it can help the bad guy!!

lindallison
lindallison

Sounds like a waste of time and money TBH, but what do I know.

oldschoolvandal
oldschoolvandal

@ jpl83061 PS3 users, Wii users or non gamers (believe it or not they exist!), even keyboard/mouse PC gamers. It's a large group, causes me no surprise. It is a good initiative from the FBI. Just keep in mind that pilots have used simulators for a long time. That's the same concept applied in a new area.

heartindarkness
heartindarkness

and once again games help to keep the world secure :D

jpl83061
jpl83061

Where do you find recruits that have never used an Xbox 360 controller? Either their 50+ or all PS3 users.

Atzenkiller
Atzenkiller

@Venatorcruiser: militaries around the world have been using such simulators for many years. but they probably have their reasons for not releasing those to the public. well, maybe not the us army which develops fps games for advertising

MichaeltheCM
MichaeltheCM

cool :) i love to see real world and practical implications of video games. definitely clear to see the training benefits of such hands on simulations

wamsy102938
wamsy102938

I knew cops played video games. Just, not at work.

Munstable
Munstable

not surprisingly, terrorists from all around the world just need to load up any fps to get their training. Shoot the people like they are npcs!!

Lytmare
Lytmare

Cooool, I want to play that!

Fernin-Ker
Fernin-Ker

I find it amusing that so many people are dense enough to not realize that this training software is not meant/going to replace all the other aspects of the training of these agents. What it IS going to happen however is it becoming another component of said training that from what we've read here focuses on problem solving and planning and gives the students the opportunity and ability to watch how their planning plays out and review it.

Bumblebee1138
Bumblebee1138

(Get shot by a thug in real life situation) Agent: No worries. I'm pretty sure my health bar will increase if I just stay hidden or I'll just restart and.....(*dies*)

Bumblebee1138
Bumblebee1138

@hadoken Your logical statement is shadowed by your own immaturity. Just becuase he's optinion is diffrent from you dosen't make him a kid or noob nor does that mean you're a big man.

Kaeban
Kaeban

I knew it, videogames are good!

BSEE10
BSEE10

Well, a video game can only do much.

hadoken
hadoken

@noah364 what are you talking about kid, 8 hours out of 22 weeks is nothing kid. of course it wont prepare them for the stress of a real situation, when theyre done the video game theyll probably go outside and re-enact the real life situation noob

bluebird08
bluebird08

i think that training game needs some frostbite 2

TheDWD27
TheDWD27

well Americans would disagree i suppose

noah364
noah364

@Scorpian1813 The games aren't supposed to teach you how to shoot or load a gun. That's the other eighteen ( soon maybe twelve ) hours when they're not playing video games. These are supposed to teach you how to react and what to do in a certain situation.

noah364
noah364

The videogame idea is okay, but eight hours seems a little much. Plus, I think it might be a little TOO unstressful for the trainees to be playing games. It won't prepare them for the stress of a real arrest of a potentially dangerous person.

raphaeljoash
raphaeljoash

Do they also learn how tto parkour and do leaps of faith? damn fbi agents are scary now. :S

VilandasUK
VilandasUK

And all my teachers at school said to me that games won't help anyone. Who's laughing now :lol:

almossbb
almossbb

@supertom221 lol common thats the last thing the FBI would care about.

almossbb
almossbb

lol wut games can be useful but this made me laugh abit

siamo
siamo

hey dawg we heard you liked video games so we signed you up for the F.B.I. hope that's cool.

Urizen5
Urizen5

So this is like a L.A. Noire sequel with worse graphics. I beat the first one, this should be easy. FBI, here i come!

king_loei
king_loei

@Prepwns_XC - Games don't need to be fun to be games. Like it or not, this is a simulation game - it obviously isn't an FPS or RPG; it's not designed to be entertaining. If it's not real life, it's a game. This article isn't a 'plea'. It's something cool that's related to games, which is the reason for this website. When I do training with the army, we use simulation rooms with pre-programmed AI running at us - in essence, we're at an arcade. These things are deadly serious, if they didn't work, they wouldn't be included in the training. But they're still games.

gino_pachino
gino_pachino

special force should play metal gears solid................im just joking(before a retarted reply to this coment)

SciFiCat
SciFiCat

Saw that FBI logo, and it came back to me: "Winners Don't Do Drugs" Damn it 90's arcades!!

theBeorn
theBeorn

america is heavily policed. the land of the free (here come the thumbs down!)

Hobbes444
Hobbes444

Wonder if they'll make a situation where you have to arrest Rambo, in a non-violent way?

Hobbes444
Hobbes444

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Solid_Gabriel
Solid_Gabriel

This made me remember those messages from the FBI we always received when playing Arcade games... Hahaha!

supertom221
supertom221

well, this is interesting. Note to FBI: excellent idea, but nearly immersive enough. graphics need improvement :P

Warsilver
Warsilver

Someone should make a calculus video game so that I'll actually pass

koorkoor
koorkoor

Not to sound picky, but the simulation's graphics are ugly

Prepwns_XC
Prepwns_XC

I like when these types of stories come out. To me they pretty much seems like pleas being made by the video game industry that "look video games actually do something good and constructive for society!". I don't think that the program being used by the FBI should be classified as a real video game anyway. If its supposed to be preparing agents for serious real world scenarios then there shouldn't be anything game-like about it.