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Gaming: Pax Warrior - Decision-based Documentaries

I mentioned in my ECCO Presentation Notes that I met with the founding members of Pax Warrior, Andreas Ua'Siaghail and Sean Hopen. I notice that the list of people involved in the development of Pax Warrior are quite interesting and diverse. Yesterday, I agreed to accept Andreas and Sean's offer to become a member of their Advisory Board. I plan on following the developments of this project here in EDN and offer this introduction...

Not surprisingly, the innovative work being carried out by Habitat at the Canadian Film Centre is an important impetus in the creation of Pax Warrior. Habitat's mission is to provide a learning environment that inspires the development of new media talent and projects for the industry. The learning environment they have created is called the "Interactive Art and Entertainment Programme."

It was clear to me in viewing the BBC Documentary of Pax Warrior that the interaction of the students, specifically the high level and quality of the questions they were asking, was quite significant. This, for me, is far more revealing than the appearance of the software on the screen. The high quality of the interactive, visual and aural design of Pax Warrior is obvious, but these things consistently fail to impress me as an end unto itself. I'm all for things looking and sounding aesthetically and artistically pleasing, but in the end this is simply not enough with respect to learning. The more important questions are around how it gets used and what potential value does it have to bring to people's lives given the right circumstances. The BBC Documentary was quite revealing in this regard.

I asked the question, "Were these questions planted?" and was completely reassured that they were not. Watch the BBC Documentary and you will see students asking very important questions and pursuing those questions intensively. The ability to know what a good question is and how to pursue it is far more important than "knowing" answers or merely remembering information. And the software, from my early experiences with it, does in fact promote this higher level questions given the right learning environment.

While I understood the name of the software immediately, it is worth quoting from the website here:

Pax comes from the Latin word for Peace, and in tribal culture and mythology the word Warrior is taken to mean protector. The words Pax and Warrior work together like Peace and Keeper, they are two parts of a name that form the intention but are a juxtaposition of opposite meanings. Ideally, peace should just be the norm, not something we have to assign soldiers to maintain. Our name is a reflection of how a peacekeeper's role is one of diplomacy as much as it is about defence. We use it to speak to the notion of being engaged in our individual roles within peace and justice processes.

This title is not unlike the idea of "spiritual warfare." Also worth quoting is the basic description of what Pax Warrior is:

Pax Warrior is a Hybrid New Media product for the educational and training markets that extends the nascent "Interactive Documentary" form to incorporate decision based simulation and collaborative learning tools.

The key here, I believe, is the extension of the meaning of the word "interactive." The content, or more appropriately documentary material, for the software are the events surrounding the Rwandan Genocide and more specifically the actions of United Nations General Romeo Dallaire. The goal is to provide an interactive experience for students to gain a sense of a wide range of possible decisions Dallaire faced and the consequences of each possible decision. As Andreas emphasized with me that you can make decisions on one level and see the consequences of those actions via simulation, but you can't change the fundamental history of the tragedy.

I sense that many of the ideas surrounding Connected Intelligence Network Learning Environments may be of some value to Pax Warrior and will share these developments as my involvement continues.

Of course, the underlying engine that drives the interactive documentary is the core issue related to software. It also has characteristics of a gaming environment that speaks to the reality of the students. While the Rwandan Genocide is first documentary content to be placed within the software engine, it will be interesting how different narratives might play themselves out in the future. This orientation to collaborative real-life story-telling and decision-making scenarios, I believe, is a solid approach to the design of software. There is a clear orientation in Pax Warrior toward learning in the midst of the confluence of everyday life.

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