Can computer games help U.S. Navy recruits find military jobs they’ll enjoy and turn into long-term careers?
To find out, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) is sponsoring Navy Life, an online platform of Navy-themed games and simulations.
Navy Life matches potential recruits to enlisted jobs according to their skills, abilities and, most important, interests—thereby increasing recruitment and encouraging Sailors to consider long-term naval careers. Navy Life also presents a realistic look at the service’s career development path.
“It costs a lot of money to put one recruit through basic training and technical schooling, so the Navy doesn’t want to lose that investment early,” said Dr. Ray Perez, a program officer in ONR’s Warfighter Performance Department. “With Navy Life, the service can improve recruiting, increase training efficiency, reduce Sailor attrition and enhance fleet performance.”
Navy recruits currently determine their career paths via two tools—the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) and the Job Opportunities in the Navy (JOIN).
The ASVAB is a timed, multiple-choice test, given in either computer or written form, that covers topics like science and mathematics, word knowledge and paragraph comprehension, and electronics and mechanical knowledge. ASVAB scores determine jobs for which recruits qualify.
Along with ASVAB scores, JOIN is an online instrument that measures interest in Navy jobs and plays an important role in assignments.
The creators of Navy Life designed it to complement both the ASVAB and JOIN. When potential recruits first visit Navy Life, which could be linked to the service’s main recruitment website, they’ll see a list of Navy enlisted jobs and can indicate which ones interest them.
They’ll then play a video game consisting of a 3D simulation of a Navy ship’s interior. Assigned the role of damage controlman—a maintenance and emergency repair specialist—players must take command of the virtual vessel, extinguish multiple fires and floods spreading throughout the ship, ensure the safety of Sailors on board, and make necessary equipment repairs.
As players navigate these challenges, Navy Life’s sophisticated software algorithms measure participants’ situational awareness and reactions to evolving threats, how they prioritize tasks, their decision-making capabilities, and how quickly they complete the game. Despite its maintenance focus, the 3D game also is effective in assessing the skills of those interested in non-mechanical career fields like communications or health care.
Afterward, players are shown Navy jobs for which they qualify, based on their game performance. Choosing an occupation will cause a computer-generated avatar (perhaps a Navy master chief) to appear and describe that particular career—including required technical training, duty stations, combat deployments and civilian job equivalents. If players are still interested, they can provide their contact information for recruiters.
Other Navy Life research partners include the Office of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Manpower, Personnel, Training and Education—and the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing (CRESST), located at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“Navy Life will make the recruiting process more engaging, especially for high school and college students,” said Dr. Eva Baker, CRESST director. “It blends Millennials’ [born between 1981 and 1996] and Generation Z’s [born after 1996] interest in technology with immersive, game-based selection and assessment tools.”
Baker’s team will have a Navy Life prototype ready for testing at CRESST and various military recruiting centers by the end of 2018. They later hope to expand the damage controlman game with scenarios featuring other Navy jobs.
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