When people think of digital gaming, perhaps the last thing that crosses their minds is digital gaming specifically for the acquisition workforce. For that matter, most people are probably unaware such a specialized industry even exists. A graduate of the University of Central Florida with a PhD in Modeling and Simulation, Dr. Alicia Sanchez produces games that are both educational and exciting (she hopes) for the acquisition workforce. During her 13 years with DAU, Dr. Sanchez has produced about 60 games for acquisition modules and courses ranging from budgeting to engineering.
“Here at DAU, we implement games that are going to help someone have an experience they wouldn’t have—not because of the typical military rules—but because we’re so policy-driven, we often don’t have the opportunity for students to practice or to understand all of the context to which the policy or information they’re being provided with might apply,” Dr. Sanchez explained.
Determining which DAU courses can benefit from having its own dedicated game is step one of Sanchez’s process. Sanchez elaborated that, as many of our courses are prone to changing their material and overall objective frequently, it’s not always practical to create a game for each of these assets. Once she can determine a veritable need, a front-end analysis is conducted, followed by a formal games recommendation.
“I don’t call myself a game designer,” Sanchez clarified. “I’m in a weird kind of middle spot.”
In many ways, Sanchez’s work is much more challenging than that of a traditional game designer. Knowing how to build each game around its content and having the foresight to decide what’s relevant to various courses is but a small component of her daily tasks. Because of the continuous evolution of games and DAU’s curriculum, Sanchez works hard to ensure every game she produces maintains a fresh, up-to-date design. The games Sanchez produces share a ubiquitous 2D design and what she describes as a sort of 50s style. Each game’s concept varies in play style, depending on the course, ranging from multiple choice to action. And that’s just the beginning. After a game is completed, it’s distributed for pilot tests among students, so that any bugs or what Sanchez referred to as “gaps of competency” can be addressed before final production.
“The games we focus on here are focused on providing the practice, the anchoring, the different context, the ability to transfer and apply the critical thinking and cognitive skills from the game into whatever application there could be.”
When asked what’s changed in gaming over the years, Sanchez spoke of the platforms hosting them and what they offer. It’s not that people are less tolerant of content now than decades ago, but rather how it’s delivered. The way we learn hasn’t changed, she surmised. She noted the continual evolution of technology, which subsequently allows those within the gaming industry to consistently provide meaningful content.
“They really are learning more,” Sanchez said about the students who have played her games. “And differently.”
Currently, Sanchez works as a one-person team during the pre-production process. “A lot of my days are filled with either reviewing course content or reviewing course content to become game content,” she revealed. (Warning to professors: never challenge Dr. Sanchez to a high-stakes trivia game about our curriculum—she very well may take home the prize!) Not every course, however, is sure to benefit from having its own game. Once a need is established and the initial concept is solidified, Sanchez then works with a production team to ensure the end product meets her vision. Upon its completion, each game is traditionally embedded in a course, but soon some games will also be available to the entire acquisition workforce on the DAU website.
Sanchez hopes to eventually build a larger, fully-stocked team that includes programmers, artists and designers. “It is our desire to start a lab, if you will, here that focuses on different types of innovation. We have nicknamed it the REBEL Lab to represent our understanding to do things differently,” Sanchez said. The acronym, which sounds vaguely reminiscent of something out of a Star Wars movie, stands for: Research, Evaluation, Breakthrough Experiential Learning. “We understand that as the acquisition community evolves—not just in their desire to learn but in their need to be able to do things really differently all the time, because of so much change—that the concept of providing experiences that aren’t always in video games becomes more important.”
So what’s next for Dr. Sanchez? FAR Czar. Primarily, FAR Czar is a situational experience-based game intended for the acquisition community as a whole, but focused on contracting as it largely revolves around learning the Federal Acquisition Regulation and identifying different components of contracting. Still, Sanchez was quick to explain that her prized project, “[is] going to be relevant for everyone in the acquisition workforce.” In a true testament of its modernity, Far Czar comes equipped with leaderboards (a system that allows players to check the progress of our players and try to break the high score) and is the first game Sanchez has been able to fully integrate with IT and host exclusively on the DAU website. “Anyone in acquisition should be able to successfully play at least one level of each module,” Sanchez said. Those looking forward to playing can expect to find Far Czar on our website sometime early next fiscal year.
“Games have strangely sort of always been a backbone for how we should be teaching when it comes to providing the context of providing people memorable, transferable, applicable experiences.”
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