Archive for October, 2007

Serious Games are neither Serious nor Games, Discuss

In this week’s Escapist, Ben Sawyer has a great article on the 10 Myths about Serious Games. Here’s the quick list:

  1. Myth: The Game Industry Doesn’t Work on Serious Games
  2. Myth: Serious Games are for Learning and Training
  3. Myth: Serious Games Aren’t Fun
  4. Myth: Serious Games are Always Serious
  5. Myth: Serious Games aren’t Commercially Successful
  6. Myth: Games are Young media, so Serious Games are for Young People
  7. Myth: There is No Proof that Games Affect Anyone
  8. Myth: Game Developers Don’t Want to Work on Serious Games; Serious Games are an Academic Pursuit
  9. Myth: Serious Games are Games for Good
  10. Myth: Serious Games are Dominated by the U.S. Military

Here’s just a few of the great quotes from the article:

“Sure, there are times when serious games lack the joy of play that at times disproportionately drives commercial games…to think that fun is the only reason users play games isn’t giving people much credit. If anything, serious games are more than fun.”

“The term ‘serious’ isn’t a grammatical modifier related to a serious game’s content. What makes a game a serious game is the designers’ choice to make their game more than entertaining to the player.”

“Organizations…frequently say games are a great way to reach young people. It can become a mantra at times. The fact is, for all the amazing growth rate,s many young people don’t play games regularly…the gaming demographic is getting older every year…to say it’s a genre for children is just flat-out wrong.”

“While the military is a major player in the field, it’s definitely not the only big spender. In fact, in terms of revenue, health and healthcare will likely dominate the field within a few years.”

Great stuff, Ben!

Virtual Worlds as Social Simulations

In a recent article in the Escapist, Brian Easton discusses the use of virtual worlds like World of Warcraft (also a game) and Second Life for social experiments. He describes the impact of a “disease”outbreak called “Corrupted Blood” in World of Warcraft. The disease weakened strong characters and even killed some weaker characters. It was spread through proximity of characters with each other. What makes the simulation different from other computer simulations of disease outbreak is that the characters are all controlled by humans, which are notoriously unpredictable. By evaluating the simulation data, researchers are able to better observe how disease spreads in and out of communities. Certainly, the World of Warcraft example had it’s limitations. Some people play the game individually and only come into contact with people casually and generally not socially which doesn’t mimic the real world as well. However, worlds like Second Life are completely social (and in my opinion generally pointless by yourself) make a much better social simulation.

Brian says that Massively Multiplayer Online Games “are more than mere distractions. They’re social simulations, miniature economies and living worlds.” What if scientists tested the spread of a virus, first when people didn’t know they had it and then again when they did. Comparisons could be made on how people behave, how the disease spreads, and the impact of knowledge. Brian implied that it would be okay if people knew that their character wouldn’t really be harmed, but I think for it to be real, people would have to have more serious consequences (like the termination of an account) at least be implied, if not actual. Would people stop contact with others? Would they only associate with other infected people? Would they intentionally infect others? What if they were away from “home” when they found out they were infected? Would they transport home and possibly infect others along the way? What impact does severity of the disease have on behavior? How does the length of incubation (and therefore awareness) have on people’s behavior?

There are so many great questions that virtual worlds could answer, and it doesn’t have to just be about disease. The transfer of information, knowledge, money, or even power could be studied. As virtual worlds develop, they are clearly becoming ripe for research for the social and physical scientists. Obviously it would be impossible, dangerous, and even unethical to test many of these ideas in the real world, but understanding the behavior could save may lives in the real world. It will be very interesting to see how this develops in the virtual worlds in the coming years.

Creative Facilitation Using Photos

I had the pleasure of sitting in on Christine Martell’s engaging session at the Brandon-Hall conference last week. While I’ve done facilitation for years, this is one of the most unique approaches I’ve seen in a long time. The topics for sessions can be almost anything and for conferences, she often uses the conference theme as the topic. So for this one, the question to be addressed was “What is Innovation in Learning?”, which was the theme of the conference.

The first exercise was for each individual to answer the question. They had to create their response by selecting images from a pile of specially designed stock photos in order to tell their story.

Once completing their story, they analyzed their approach and shared their stories with the other people at their table. Then, each table had to create a shared story on the same topic. The outcomes were amazingly diverse in approach and visually rich, yet the learning outcomes were incredibly consistent.

Do you have people that need to brainstorm answers to challenging problems? Do they need to get aligned on strategic initiatives? Then this is a great approach. It takes advantage of creativity and design without the hurdles that are often in place for some of the population with sketching or other creative endeavors.

Many more details are available on this session, her blog, and her company. We’re also excited to have her as a member of the VizThink community and one of our facilitators at our upcoming conference in San Francisco. Register today to attend great sessions like this.

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