Jan 092008

One of the challenges of maritime educators and trainers is to somehow instill Situational Awareness,SA, in seafarers, that ability to know what’s going on around you and how it will effect you over time.  It’s a bigger subject than can be covered in a post but part of  it is developing an almost instinctual awareness of, and being able to identify things that are Not Quite Right, NQR, at an almost subconscious level.

There are those who believe that SA cannot be taught or trained, you either have it or you don’t. Recent scientific research, however, suggests that judicious use of Halo 3, or one of the  other shoot ’em up computer games might actually keep seafarers on the ball.

A while ago, New Scientist reported on research at Duke University that suggested that airport baggage screeners becomemore effective at spotting things that shouldn’t be in the baggage if they spend their off time zapping baddies in computer games. Says the report  “…playing action computer games gives people a sharper eye for finding target objects on a cluttered computer screen, even when the targets appear very infrequently. Their work suggests that other people who have to look for rare objects, such as radiologists searching X-rays for tumours, might also benefit from shooter games.”

That ‘cluttered screen’ might be a vessel’s radar screen in heavy traffic or bad weather weather in which a possible ‘close encounter’ might be difficult to spot until it’s too late.

Navigation and ship handling require good spacial awareness, something that requires what scientists call “spacial imagination”. It a skill that of often used to explain why men, who have it, are better than women in science, at least so goes the myth. It’s also something that a good navigator/ship handler needs so I popped over to the Feminist Philosophy Blog – which certainly isn’t on the recommended reading list at Warsash and came across another interesting item involving computer action games.

In a post called Another Mars-Venus myth the writer cites research published in Psychological Science on the effects of exposing subjects to 10 hours of video action games: “We demonstrate a previously unknown gender difference in the distribution of spatial attention, a basic capacity that supports higher-level spatial cognition. More remarkably, we found that playing an action video game can virtually eliminate this gender difference in spatial attention and simultaneously decrease the gender disparity in mental rotation ability, a higher-level process in spatial cognition. After only 10 hr of training with an action video game, subjects realized substantial gains in both spatial attention and mental rotation, with women benefiting more than men. Control subjects who played a non-action game showed no improvement. Given that superior spatial skills are important in the mathematical and engineering sciences, these findings have practical implications for attracting men and women to these fields.”

It’s unlikey that Halo 3 or Grand Theft Auto will appear in STCW model courses just yet, although Grand Theft Auto could, I suppose,be repacked as Grand Theft Somali Pirates but you never know.


  3 Responses to “Halo 3, the STCW edition”

  1. There is, of course, a school of thought that SA cannot be ‘taught’. Ther are issues of physiology and cognitive psychology involved.

    I’ve actually got four Transas simulators available here, from a 360 down to a Navitrainer next door. Very convincing and great fun. On my desktop I use Virtual Sailor for visualisation and maritime accident analysis and it’s great fun.

  2. Bob;

    Interesting post.

    Computer simulation games have been used by the military for quite some time to develop both situational and cultural awareness. The business world has used similar tools for developing leadership skills for managers.

    I recently joined Northeast Maritime Institute as Director of Institutional Advancement. We have 2 Transas ship simulators that provide proven powerful tools to train mariners, develop skills and increase situational awareness.

    Maybe we should install Halo 3 in our student computers to take it to the next level. 😉

    Keep up the great work with Maritime Accident Casebook! Thanks.

  3. Any opinion on which home PC game software is most useful for brushing up on shiphandling? (Not the full mission simulators that cost megabucks!) I’d like to practice pier approaches in various conditions of wind and current. Also like to encounter meeting, crossing, and overtaking situations. Maybe some nighttime lights recognition as well. Ship Sim 2008 is getting all the rave reviews, but maybe what people are raving about is pretty graphics (rather than authentic simulation). I have tried Virtual Sailor and it’s not bad, but I have nothing to compare it with. Any opinions or suggestions greatly appreciated! Thank you!

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