Dutch emergency services use joysticks to train ‘forensic awareness’. The CSI training centre at the Dutch Forensic Institute NFI applies gaming in its highly serious course.
A bloody corpse hangs on the back seat of a black car. Doors aloof, and bullets punctured both the man and the car. Five firemen, clad in protective white paper suits, approach the scene with care.
“Can you zoom in on the license plate please?”, asks one of them. His colleague nods, steadies his grip around a large joystick and zooms in on the shattered yellow plate under the cars’ wheels. “Can we further investigate this?”
In this ‘forensic awareness game’, hosted at the Netherlands Forensic Insitute (NFI) in The Hague, they can. The NFI, one of the worlds top forensic laboratories, usually keeps far from play but have adopted serious gaming as a new way to initiate staff and non-staff into the mysteries of forensic research. What does a crime scene investigator look for when he or she is at a crime scene? How can emergency personnel reduce the risk of interference with the source material of major crimes and accidents?
Big, basic questions the firemen need to tackle today. They confront the bloody corpse and its surroundings on a big projector screen, and steer an avatar through the digital and three-dimensional chaos. Which details might shed light on what’s happened here, and what evidence needs processing by the NFI? Session leader Anick van der Craats stands at hand to assist the firemen with the decisions they face. Research supplies are limited: what items would you like to have examined at the NFI? Good choices yield a good score-count; the firemen who train today compete with teams on other days.
“Of course the aim of this game is not the high score”, says Van der Craats. “But the element of competition means better concentration and results with the trainees.” Indeed: in a mere hour the men have unravelled the script behind the horrid scene. A public prosecutor is assassinated, two shooters are identified and the evidence points to an address where the men might be hiding.
Next up: a real time investigation into the ‘suspects house’, a proper brick house with a prepped interior that sits in the middle of the CSI training room. Projectors and joysticks are left behind as the careful search for more evidence begins, monitored on several screens by the training staff as the ‘suspects house’ is rigged with camera’s and microphones.
After a few hours the ‘forensic awareness game’ ends. The firemen score ok, but missed out on some clues that might have helped them to close the case sooner. “Not important”, says Van der Craats. “They understood what was required of them when they would fill the boots of a crime scene investigator.” One of the firemen nods. The session was very helpful, says fire commander Maurice de Boer, while kicking off the paper overall. “Our staff enter crime scenes before we know they are crime scenes. Take the newest fad in Rotterdam: the booby trapping of weed plantations in houses and barns. When our people enter after a fire call, they risk being hurt by these contraptions, but also destroy all evidence to who built these things. Fire fighting is top of our minds as firemen, but aiding the forensic teams who step in next should be a firm second. In all of our interests.”
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Made in Holland
The NFI’s ‘Forensic awareness game’ was developed in conjunction with simulation- and serious gaming experts E-Semble, and integrates digital simulation through a gaming engine and hands-on research in a room full of props. For more information (English or Dutch) see bit.ly/nfigame.