CIRCA:Virtual Peace


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Virtual Peace "the humanitarian assistance training simulator" is multi-user virtual environment (MUVE) created in 2008 through collaboration between "Virtual Heroes (a Durham, NC-based developer of game-based training and learning environments), the Duke-UNC Rotary Center for International Peace and Conflict Resolution, the Duke Computer Science Department, and the Program for Information Science + Information in Society at Duke." [1]. It was created to train public policy students and members of NGOs through use of a real-life disaster example (Hurricane Mitch).



Virtual Peace's primary objective is to to take "game environments designed to train US Special Forces and repurpose them for training workers in the field of peace and conflict resolution." [2], hence its secondary byline "turning swords to ploughshares". Thus, Virtual Peace is a virtual environment created as a pedagogical tool for teaching conflict resolution through virtual role play. An environment such as Virtual Peace affords greater possibilities for role play than a traditional classroom setting. An example of this is given in a video on Virtual Peace's ning site, wherein a student who is mad at a government representative in the virtual environment walks away from the object of his wroth. Such an action would be impractical in a real-life role play.

Above all, Virtual Peace is meant to promote peace by producing students trained in conflict resolution.

Current Use

Currently, Virtual Peace is used at the Duke-UNC Rotary Center for International Peace and Conflict Resolution for use in public policy classes. Students role play as representatives of NGOs and governments providing assistance in Mitch’s aftermath. Professor's can insert "curve ball" questions and events into a situation, and students can bookmark important events during the simulation session. The class debriefs after the role play session to discuss what worked well and what did not.


Virtual Peace received a $238,000 innovation award from the MacArthur foundation and HASTAC, the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory [3]. Timothy Lenoir, the Kimberly Jenkins Chair for New Technologies in Society at Duke University, and Jerry Heneghan, the CEO of Virtual Heroes, were co-recipients of this grant.

Plantronics contributed 50 headsets to the Virtual Peace project.


Virtual Peace is based on America's Army, a game created for the US army by Virtual Heroes INC[4]. America's Army itself is built on the Unreal engine, a top of the line game engine used primarily for the creation of first person shooter (FPS) games. Virtual Peace is thus built on high end technology that would normally be outside the reach of an academic research group. However, the developers of America's Army, Virtual Heroes, assisted in the adaptation of America's Army into Virtual Peace.


Though Virtual Peace is not a "game", it provides a successful example of a game-based learning environment. It also serves to stimulate thinking about other ways in which educators might adapt current simulation technology for teaching purposes. As the project involved significant collaboration between industry and academia, Virtual Peace can be read as a possible sign of the future of both academia in general and humanities-based research specifically. Without the assistance of Virtual Heroes, an environment of the complexity and sophistication of Virtual Peace could not have been built by a research group for $238,000. Through collaborations with industry, however, more projects of this scope may be recognized in coming years.

Virtual Peace also demonstrates how research activities can contribute to social change.

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