Developing Virtual Humans for Cultural Awareness Training in Military and Civilian Operations
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Virtual worlds offer a unique opportunity to perform training exercises in safe and cost-efficient environments, and have been used in many organizations, such as the military, as a method to learn to use military equipment or vehicles. Using virtual worlds for cultural awareness training enables military personnel, peacekeepers, and civilian aid workers to go through an assortment of training exercises without having to worry about the potential consequences of inappropriate actions.This thesis is a continuation of the work done in the virtual Afghan village in the CAMO project (Cultural Awareness in Military Operations), which was created to provide a way for military personnel to explore Afghan culture.The goal of this thesis has been to populate the village with autonomous virtual humans, or Non-Player Characters (NPCs), and measure the effects they have had on cultural awareness training for both military and civilian personnel. These NPCs convey cultural characteristics, traits, and information through their appearance, behavior, gestures, and through conversations. This thesis also describes how the use of head-mounted devices (HMDs) in a virtual environment affects the experience, learning potential, and outcome of exercises.A set of 3D models has been created using 3D graphics software Blender. The behavior of these models was defined using research and theory by Hofstede, Hayes-Roth, Maldonado and Moraes, and Hall, and implemented using Linden Script Language in the virtual world Second Life. The evaluation of the project was divided into a civilian and a military part to assess the suitability of the village for cultural awareness training for both of these groups.During development, the village was evaluated by a civilian group in a trial run. The village was evaluated once more upon completion by a different civilian group, with the use of HMDs. The evaluations consisted of a tour of the village followed by a questionnaire, and interviews with the participants. Also included in the second evaluation was a conversation with an NPC. The aim of these evaluations was to assess the degree of cultural information conveyed by the villagers, and by the village itself. Subject matter experts used their expertise to evaluate the authenticity of the village, and whether it is suitable for use in a military and civilian setting.The virtual humans were shown to create a more realistic security situation of the village, and were confirmed to provide behavioral information accurate to that of the target culture. The results from the questionnaires showed that the majority of the participants correctly described cultural traits and the gender roles of the villagers, and learned how to communicate with them to extract information. HMDs also increased the participants' sense of immersion and presence in the village.These results suggest that virtual humans are suitable to be used in military and civilian settings for cultural awareness training, and are effective in terms of illustrating the major cultural traits of Afghan culture.