Justice creates video game that's ethical to play on job

Debuting this week, the Justice Department's ethics training game lets players act a
part in scenarios and gives them hundreds of opportunities to make the right-or
wrong-decision: Is it OK to accept that free membership? How about just a discount? (See
the answers at end of the story.)


The game is triple its projected size and nearly three and a half years late, although
on budget to the penny. Under a $248,000 contract, Legend Entertainment Co. of Chantilly,
Va., developed Quandaries.


Building the game wasn't a problem, said Mary Braden, director of the Justice Ethics
Office, although some stubborn installation problems took time to work out. Getting it
right was.


"In ethics, some of the questions aren't so black and white. The whole thing had
to be reviewed very carefully," she said.


The game was the brainchild of Janis Sposato, associate assistant attorney general for
administration in 1993, now deputy assistant attorney general for law and policy.


When she was asked four years ago to create an effective, cheap and interesting ethics
training program, Sposato saw her six-year-old son's educational computer games, saw
co-workers playing computer games on downtime, and decided that was the way to go.


Throughout development, Justice employees tested iterations of the game. "It's
worked out exactly as we planned," Braden said. People can play the game when they
have the time and use it to fulfill their annual ethics training requirement, she said.


Of the 102,000 Justice employees at 600 locations nationwide, about 10,000 must take
the annual training: employees who file publicly available financial disclosure reports,
such as presidential appointees; and employees who file confidential financial disclosure
reports unavailable to the public but reviewed by Justice, such as procurement staff,
litigators and grant review staff.


"But we encourage others in the department to take it," Braden said.


The game uses digitized photographs of Justice employees playing various roles in
vignettes based almost entirely on actual incidents from the agency's ethical counseling
records, with names and other details deleted to preserve privacy, Braden said.


Players can choose one of three career paths: administrative, legal or management. Each
path has five levels. At each level, players choose from up to five jobs.


Settings are like those you would encounter on the job, Braden said. "You're at
your desk, and a contractor comes in, or your boss, or whoever. You're given a choice of
places you can go; you're scolded if you're late or if you miss an appointment," she
said.


"In every scenario, you're faced with dilemmas that involve government ethics
rules, and you answer multiple choice questions," Braden said. At the end of every
job, players get feedback on whether their performance was good, bad or just so-so, she
said.


"Unless you've done just horribly, you move on to the next level, and the jobs get
more difficult," she said.


Annual requirements are for one hour, the time it takes to complete one level, she
said, but most go through a whole career path.


"Ethics training can be tedious," Sposato told GCN four years ago when the
Justice first began development.


But a computer game lets management "present people with situations that are a
little ambiguous, where applying the rules becomes more interesting," she said.


The game will save money. And studies have shown that computer game training is more
effective than one-day seminars.


Quandaries will run on any 386 or better PC with 500K of free memory and running
MS-DOS, Microsoft Windows 3.x or Windows 95.


Answers: It's not OK to accept a free membership. It is OK to accept a discount because
it's available to all federal employees.


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