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About Virtual Peace

  • Virtual Peace reflects a rich, interdisciplinary collaboration among experts and educators at the Duke-UNC Rotary Center for International Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution, Virtual Heroes (a Durham, NC-based developer of game-based training and learning environments), Duke University's Visual Studies Initiative, the Duke Computer Science Department, and the Program for Information Science + Information in Society at Duke. Together, the group has transformed video game technology previously used for army training simulations into an innovative tool for international humanitarian aid education. The simulation developed by these partners takes as its model the real-life events following a major natural disaster: Hurricane Mitch, which devastated much of Central America in 1998. The project is supported by a generous grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and by HASTAC, the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory.

    In the simulation, as in real life, there is a major international emergency following Hurricane Mitch. The region is devastated. Two countries - Nicaragua and Honduras - are affected most drastically and need urgent assistance. A large number of UN and bilateral agencies and NGOs are available and determined to provide assistance. Effectiveness of such assistance requires intensive planning, coordination, collaboration, and diplomacy, as well as an awareness of the limitations of time and resources.

    Participants in the simulation will represent the governments and organizations that had a role in providing emergency response and early recovery following Hurricane Mitch, and data concerning relief needs and available resources reflect the actual conditions of this international crisis. Rather than simply mirroring real-life events, however, the simulation provides an opportunity for students and educators to use their skills of analysis and knowledge of concepts, frameworks, and best practices to respond more efficiently and effectively to the disaster.

    In addition to the simulation-game described below, Virtual Peace uses two important pedagogical tools to achieve its aims: the course website, and an in-classroom after-action review session. Before entering the simulation, students will use the website to gain essential information about the extent of the hurricane's devastation, the needs of the affected people, and the goals of and resources available to their particular governmental or organizational roles. In the two-hour simulation session, students interact with one another to achieve successful relief and recovery for the affected people in a way that will best reflect the values and goals - from immediate hunger and medical relief to long-term, sustainable rebuilding plans - of the collaborating governments and organizations. During the session, the virtual tools will keep track of needs met and of the dialogue among the participating parties, while students and teachers will be able to digitally bookmark important events. Afterwards, in the after-action review, the simulation experience will be dissected and analyzed in order to chart successes and teachable moments, and to ultimately emerge prepared for actual crisis response. Together students and instructors can assess whether important goals were met, if students properly represented the values and practices of their government or organization, and how they could work more effectively in the future.

    Virtual Peace provides an interactive space that can accommodate and monitor those disparate viewpoints and challenges, and ultimately provide an educational platform for the best practices of international emergency response to emerge.


Learn about the advantages of simulation in a game-based environment for learning.

Read Tim Lenoir's whitepaper.

Learn more about the course.