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"Serious Games" Industry Gains Traction 92

schliz writes "So-called 'serious games' are gaining traction in military, business, education, and medical applications as Gen X and Y come into power, iTnews reports. While game developers acknowledge the risk of trivializing real-world issues (as in the Six Days in Fallujah controversy), intelligently designed 'serious games' could allow complex situations to be presented in a simple way. Cisco, for example, has an amusing online games arcade that prepares networking professionals for a variety of certifications."
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"Serious Games" Industry Gains Traction

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  • Fun (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MrEricSir ( 398214 )

    But are these "serious games" fun to play? That seems to be the most overlooked part of educational games.

    • Re:Fun (Score:5, Informative)

      by __aagctu1952 ( 768423 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @07:46PM (#32163714)

      Oh hey, a /. topic where I have first-hand knowledge!

      But are these "serious games" fun to play? That seems to be the most overlooked part of educational games.

      They don't have to be. You're confusing serious games with edutainment - the latter is entertainment with an educational value (even if it, as you pointed out, quite often fails at the "entertainment" bit), while the former is basically education in the form of a game. Think "military war game []" compared to "chess". Different aims, different audience. A lot of serious games would actually be called simulators, if that word hadn't carried so much semantic baggage with it.
      The project I'm involved in, aimed at firefighters and other rescue workers, is intended to be an replacement for and complement to certain live (and therefore dangerous and expensive) exercises, for example. That means it's meant to be played with instructors present, as part of their normal education regime. Thus, there's no need to "sell" the game with entertainment. Trainees can practice on their own if they want to (PC-based software), but if they do, they do it for the sake of their own education.

      Anyway, if anyone's interested in the subject I can recommend the freely available
      From Gaming to Training: A Review of Studies on Fidelity, Immersion, Presence, and Buy-in and Their Effects on Transfer in PC-Based Simulations and Games []. It's DARPA-funded (DARWARS - I love that name!) so it's aimed at military educational gaming, but it's a good introduction to the field.

      • I’m sorry, but your definition of what is a “game” is way off.

        A game is by definition fun. If it is not, it is not a game, but a simulation. (Yes, if you have fun with a simulation, it becomes a game.)
        The reason is, that fun is essential to motivation which itself is essential in good progress. E.g. learning progress.
        See it like this: Fun is pleasure with surprises. Surprises are all things that your brain did not expect. (Essentially all spikes in a neural network.) And pleasure is essent

    • I'm sure marketing will tell us they're fun, the reviewers will follow whatever either IGN and Eurogamer say and then Penny Arcade will tell us that the concept is flawed - with the assistance of puppets.
    • Re:Fun (Score:4, Funny)

      by Kingrames ( 858416 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @10:04PM (#32164710)
      I fail to understand your question. What could not be fun about a fully realistic simulation of the inner workings of the reproductive system of the Liturgusidae?
      • What could not be fun about a fully realistic simulation of the inner workings of the reproductive system of the Liturgusidae?

        It would be its own Rule 34 at least.

    • by Keill ( 920526 )

      IT does not matter if games are fun or not in themselves - it only matters if your audience wants them to be.

      Although we use the word 'play' with a game, since there is no equivalent of game under 'work', games (things we do in a structured, competitive environment), can be used for both work AND play.

      Of course, understanding what the word game truly represents is the real underlying cause of most of it's problems anyway... []

    • But are these "serious games" fun to play? That seems to be the most overlooked part of educational games.

      'Serious Sam' is seriously fun to play, though perhaps that is not the type of game the article is about.

  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot.hackish@org> on Monday May 10, 2010 @06:36PM (#32163084)

    Apple Computer and Scholastic Inc. are pleased with the inroads "educational games" have been making in K-12 education, and argue that intelligently designed games can be both entertaining and educational, and usefully supplement the traditional curriculum, especially in terms of engagement.

    (And seriously, a lot of those games were better than the kind of stuff in that Cisco game arcade.)

    • by Monkeedude1212 ( 1560403 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @06:52PM (#32163236) Journal

      There is a difference between Educational and Serious. I do not take Bobo the mathematical Monkey counting bananas as serious.

      I do take seriously the simulation of what war is really like overseas in countries that experience the real blunt end of it. Civilian casualties, oppression, vulgar and obscene acts of violence. These are the kinds of things that have been a little taboo for video games, because the idea has always been to make a game fun, not realistic. The real world isn't fun, and now they are making games that aren't, to prepare people for the harshness.

      Thats basically what they are getting at, not the whole education part.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Trepidity ( 597 )

        Well, a big part of their push seems to be training-games/etc., which just seems like the adult version of educational games.

        I do agree that there are other aspects games can cover, of which the representing-what-something-is-like part is a big one. But those haven't always been taboo for games, either. One of the best 80s games on the Cold War was Chris Crawford's Balance of Power [] , which aimed to illustrate the issues involved, not just provide a "fun" war simulation. To emphasize the point, if you trigg

      • by MBCook ( 132727 ) <> on Monday May 10, 2010 @08:19PM (#32164026) Homepage

        I'd agree. I was quite impressed with Full Spectrum Warrior. You run your little squad of 4 guys around in Iraq (yeah, it had a fake name). But you'd run them around with tactical commands and you had to be really careful. One stupid move and your whole group had been taken out by and RPG. Forget to use cover fire and a guy is shot down and you have to go get him and drag him for the rest of the mission or back to the med truck at the start. The game was really a RTS/squad hybrid of sorts.

        The game was developed for the military as a training sim, and made less punishing and realistic for civilians. If you dared (I didn't), you could put the game in full military mode which was much much more difficult.

        It had a story, and it was fun to play, but it gave you a real sense of just how dangerous and hard that kind of anti-insurgency close quarters combat could be in a way that traditional FPS games don't.

        • by svvampy ( 576225 )
          I found Full Spectrum Warrior to be more like a puzzle game. Each level was designed with specific challenges. Move to cover here, flank insurgent there and so on. As you said, a single mistake could be devastating, but unlike sokoban you can recover. Albeit by trudging back to the healing point. I did like that feature, but when I started thinking of the game in that fashion, it sort of lost its appeal.

          Maybe the game was more dynamic than that, but for some reason it stopped being interesting for me and I

      • Success is fun. Especially close calls.

        So you are very wrong, by suggesting that because the real world isn’t fun, the simulations of it also shouldn’t.
        Quite the opposite is true. Have you ever noticed how in every game, film and book, there usually is this horrible base scenarios, which then has to be fought to make everything good again? And it feels great and fun, doesn’t it? Well, that’s because it is.

        I understand how you might be wondering how that could be fun and feel right to

        • I'm not suggesting that serious and fun are mutually exclusive, just that a serious game tends to turn some people off. For example, Call of Duty 4's big stink with players being told to kill civilians. While its true that its not necessary to progress the game, you can even skip the scene, it still upset people.

          What you've been describing are the cliche stories where you fight against Oppression, against vulgar acts, and against injustice in general. These have been around since the 90's.

          The "Serious games

    • I prefer evolved games to intelligently designed games any day. Far more believable. ;)
  • by EWAdams ( 953502 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @06:49PM (#32163206) Homepage

    Serious games have had their own conference (in D.C., where the government and charity funding sources are, of course) for several years now. Serious games are major -- and they're no longer just low-grade "edutainment." They're about things like teaching kids how to manage their diabetes; teaching firefighters how to handle hazardous materials; helping injury recovery and rehabilitation; training surgeons; teaching Third World executives how to manage a water system efficiently. And yes, they are fun.

    Imagine a form of physical therapy that ISN'T both agonizingly painful and mind-bogglingly dull. Distraction works as well as painkillers; video games have been demonstrated to be efficacious.

    • by Lord_of_the_nerf ( 895604 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @06:56PM (#32163282)

      You're right. We've had serious, realistic games for years. Just many of the situations haven't come up yet.

      But when the Zerg come, we'll be ready.

    • by Trepidity ( 597 )

      Considering that supposedly "low-grade" edutainment was also demonstrated to be effective in improving learning outcomes, it seems strange to dismiss it just to bolster some industry's claims to novelty. See, for example, Lepper & Malone's 1987 paper, "Intrinsic motivation and instructional effectiveness in computer-based education".

      • "Educational software" and "edutainment" got a bad smell in the early 90s thanks to a whole bunch of people jumping on the bandwagon and cranking out cheap and nasty products. A lot of it was thinly-disguised (or not disguised at all) drill and practice. Kids were turned off and parents got fed up.

        We know perfectly well that software can educate, and the industry isn't trying to claim that this is new. After all, it goes back to the PLATO system in the 1970s. What IS new is ditching the tired old methods fo

        • by Trepidity ( 597 )

          Whoa, Papert in 1998 feels like some sort of ghostly communication. But yeah, I agree, there was a lot of crap. Mostly, though, I feel the 80s form of edutainment has been unfairly maligned. I'd trace a lot of my personal engagement with CS and mathematics to Apple ][ edutainment software, some of it even fitting the mold people seem to dismiss (i.e. you do some math problems, and you get some sort of reward). Stuff like Number Munchers was both fun and improved my arithmetic!

          And some of it depends a lot on

  • Describing a generation of non-linear thinkers who are becoming decision makers in the workforce, Kilsby expects a new wave of serious games for training and education.

    Oh it's still very linear, see "shortest path algorithm".'s_algorithm []

    We just think more "efficiently" in our tunnel vision these days...

    On another note, this has been going on for quite a while. Some of these systems have 360 degree screens (circular room)... but I've only heard that stuff as a rumor. Interesting read: []

  • What's New? (Score:5, Funny)

    by qpawn ( 1507885 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @06:59PM (#32163322)

    Games have always had serious real world applications. Pitfall! for the Atari 2600 was used by the Boy Scouts of America to demonstrate survival tactics in the wild. Throughout the United States, Super Mario Bros. is still considered essential training for elite plumbers. In recent years, Call of Duty has saved the military millions of dollars in automated weapons costs by relying solely on long range knife throws.

    • BurgerTime has been used as a teaching tool at Hamburger University for years.
    • They can also have a detrimental effect. I'm afraid to open barrels now. It's either going to be explosives, ammunition or medical supplies.
    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
      I still maintain that videogames are just propaganda funded by the world's crate builders and suppliers.
  • [...] intelligently designed 'serious games' could allow complex situations to be presented in a simple way.

    The problem is that, eventually, you have to present complex situations in a complex way. As an introduction, simulations are a great way to provide a high-level view. They're also often good ways to hone skills. The danger -- as with television "science" programs -- is that people often walk away with them thinking they've learned a great deal from something with the informational content of an index card. Personally, I find the trend toward oversimplification alarming. The universe is a complex place, and

  • Bye bye Karma (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by halcyon1234 ( 834388 )
    I i'z a serious develepir!! this i'z a SERIUS gaem!
  • Simulators are not good enough. Fun is necessary.

    I just finished a "serious game" for the Ford Motor Company. We dealt with an incredibly boring, dry topic. The key was to deeply embed all of that in a fun game. In order to do well in the game, you need to know the material we're trying to teach. On top of that, provide enough motivators for the player and purely-fun gameplay mechanics that aren't related to the subject matter and you have players that teach themselves without even realizing it.

  • Is XBill... try it and learn from it.
  • Military (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mqduck ( 232646 )

    Can we finally stop acting like the games industry helping sell/train the military is a good or acceptable thing? It's truly shameful that the art of games is used to purposely aid real-world killing and it's time the community stands up to it.

    • ...Why?
      I'm not being sarcastic, I want to hear your reasoning. If there's a safer, more efficient way to train the military to better protect themselves and us, why is that bad?
      • In entirely subjective terms, a game creator could be politically and philosophically against the use and misuse of his game by the army or some political party or ideology. Creating a game about real world or imaginary conflicts could be both a critique or a propaganda of a specific ideology ( and no, I don't believe them when they say that their game "has no political point of view, really!", nothing is unbiased).

        See for example the case of Ed Rotberg and the "battlezone bradley training". []

        It's nothing no

    • The killing is going to happen regardless of the actions of the gaming industry, but it would be nice if the games helped prepare and therefore save the lives of a few of our troops, non?
  • intelligently designed 'serious games' could allow complex situations to be presented in a simple way

    Here go the "intelligent design" folks trying to dumb down the complexities of life again. We'll probably see a game where you have to "cause" genetic mutations with lighting bolts.

  • For simulation training in real-life, the military uses airsoft guns (soft BBs) so they soldiers actually shoot weapons at people instead of pretend shoot. It increases their reaction time in real life. They train in cityscapes to get used to not shooting civilians, too.

    "Fake" training on 'gaming' simulators is probably just as good, a lot better than using real guns you can point but not fire.
  • I love the potential in these games. If it were possible to teach people some deeper skills in any number of fields while they had fun doing it we might be able to really make leaps forward in productivity and efficiency.

    I'm not a big conspiracy theory person by any means, but the idea brough to mind the Orson Scott Card novel "Ender's Game". The premise of the book includes the concept of using computer game simulations in the abstract to solicit solutions to complex problems from unwitting players. (Gr
  • These guys have had The Urinal Game [] online for over a decade. And there are still a LOT of guys out there with no concept of Mens Room Etiquette.

"No, no, I don't mind being called the smartest man in the world. I just wish it wasn't this one." -- Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, WATCHMEN