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Video Game is Latest US Diplomacy Tool


The U.S. State Department is using a new kind of public diplomacy to counter extremism. And it's not what you'd expect.

Trace Effects is an online game geared toward children and young teens far from U.S. shores. It takes the main character on a virtual adventure across the United States, from the Grand Canyon to New York City and beyond. But what is the State Department doing with a video game?

"We want to go where young people are, more and more young people are online," said Tara Sonenshine, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplimacy.

Online and ready to engage, she hopes. We took the game to Sandra Calvert, director of the Children's Digital Media Center at Georgetown University. She studies the impact of video games on children.

"The plan is a marvelous idea. I think that trying to engage children in the kinds of activities that they do is just the way to approach them," Calvert said.

Calvert likes how the game has girl and boy characters to broaden the appeal while the players are learning English.

But she says kids are used to action-oriented games, and this one is chock full of verbal activities that can slow the gamer.

"So one of the things that can happen is that the overall plot line can get lost," Calvert said.

Calvert says with a little tweak and feedback from young gamers, this new wave of public diplomacy can become an inviting way to share American culture with the world.
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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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