Innovation and Adaptation

Rebuilding the Fourth Wall

By Christopher Lake March 10, 2021

The Role of Realism and Arousal in Training Effectiveness

Mozart once said, “Finish with a bang; that way the people always know when to clap”. This seemingly flippant statement has its roots in a deep and important truth regarding the relationship between an artist and its audience; a relationship remarkably similar to that between a training designer and its audience in which the creator needs to engender feelings and behaviours in the audience. In the case of Mozart, it was a clap. In the case of a training designer, it's surprise, suspense and a want for more.    

Exercise design has a multitude of layers and aspects such as bending training events to fit lists of desired competencies, creating fictional characters with personas and coordinating potentially massive logistical movements. This article will focus on the art of story telling and the need to ‘rebuild the fourth wall’ by creating training products that rely as little as possible on the willing suspension of disbelief of the training audience.

In their paper on the relative and combined effects of different media, Dijkstra, Buijtels, and van Raaij[1] uncovered some key insights to do with arousal and medium choice and the ability of media products to create consumer responses; the most important being that the number of senses engaged through a medium may have a significant impact on audience uptake. Another paper created as part of a Canadian Forces Psychological Operations research project[2], cited the high importance of affect[3], stimulus, and creator/audience relationship.  

This collection of insights can be summarised as follows:

  • Multisensory spectrum media such as audio-visual products have a much higher chance of creating behaviours and beliefs within the audience eg. choosing one product over the other because you believe it is better than the other.
  • The training audience needs to be emotionally engaged, mentally and sensorily stimulated, and inherently trustful of the content sponsor/originator for content to have maximum effect.

When we create training products and exercises, we’re primarily attempting to create behaviours within and imbue knowledge, beliefs and attitudes into the training audience. We also want these behaviours to be as close as possible to those which are appropriate, necessary and effective in real operational environments. The aforementioned studies and others present a strong body of evidence in favour of changing up the way we do training product creation and exercise design. When creating training products, we need to consider not just the SMEAC style delivery of key scenario information, but also the importance of the affect and arousal of the scenario itself and especially, the products we use to articulate, manifest, and narrate it.

This is not just a matter of ‘window-dressing’, or ‘cosmetic wrap. The realism and emotional intensity of training products has a demonstrable impact on the overall effectiveness of the training. High levels of cognitive and emotional arousal create a training audience which is more engaged, more effective, more imaginative and above all, more committed to all aspects of the exercise[4]. Stress, success, stochastic play, and environmental engagement are all crucial in ensuring that the training audience has its mind firmly within the scenario and firmly committed to succeeding within it.

This means that training products must be created not just as educational products, but also as scenario stimuli. A good example of this is the use of ION[5], which can articulate detailed human stories to an extent not previously possible without handing the training audience what would amount to a biographical novel. One of the ways ION can do this is through the delivery of video. The film featured in this post was produced by the DATE Team [6] and created by a private media group who have enthusiastically partnered with us in our efforts. This is one small part of our mission to create atomised and multimodal linear and non-linear narratives within a ‘complex world’ framework (DATE) – basically, a project aimed at creating realistic, arousing training environments and products as part of an effort to achieve true multi-domain accelerated warfare effects within training.

Creation of a single film isn’t really going to do very much, and producing a film of this level of realism and complexity (which we consider to be the baseline – more is possible) is actually quite a specialised skill. As part of this project, the ION Team, as part of the DATE Team, needed to create film production guides and, as our product library grows, we see a need to create training packages so we can split and deploy film production teams to help build a training world that soldiers and officers can believe in and care about.

This is important for several reasons but one of the most poignant is the necessity to drastically shorten generation cycles in order to meet the accelerated threat environment. Additionally, the generational shift in informational uptake and intake modalities is well under way. We are already at a point where we cannot and should not merely present our young soldiers and officers with a library of documentary information and expect them to be engaged and informed. Like it or not, the fluidity of the information and reality environments means that it is imperative to re-form our own information delivery to match the optimal learning modes of our training audiences.

In essence, we need more meaningful ways to “let the people know when to clap”, or to put it simply, create a stimuli of sufficient quality and intensity that soldiers are properly trained in realistic and current operational environments.  

[1] Majorie Dijkstra, Heidi E.J.J.M. Buijtels, W.Fred van Raaij: Separate and joint effects of medium type on consumer responses: a comparison of television, print, and the Internet, Journal of Business Research, 2005 pp 377-386

[2] Barbara D. Adams and Jessica A Sartori and Sonya Waldherr: Military Influence Operations: Review of Relevant Scientific Literature

[3] Ability/degree of emotional stimulation

[4] Oei AC, Patterson MD. Enhancing cognition with video games: a multiple game training study. PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e58546. doi

[5] Information Operations Network

[6] Decisive Action Training Environment



Christopher Lake

Chris Lake is a member of the Training Adversary System Support Cell (TASSC), working out of HQFORCOMD G7 on the Information Operations Network (ION). He has worked on information and language/logic problems as an investigator and analyst in the areas of security and commercial intelligence in private industry. Chris also has wide experience across journalism and the creative industries, and has served as a Maritime Warfare Officer in the RAN.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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