The design and use of simulation computer games in education

НазваниеThe design and use of simulation computer games in education
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Building Bridges Between
Serious Game Design and Instructional Design

A Blueprint for Now and the Future

Creating serious games that touch people’s imaginations may act as a catalyst for a much-needed renaissance in learning. Most commercial games focus on fun, and educational games focus on learning – combining the two so that neither fun nor learning is sacrificed is challenging. While serious games alone will not solve all of the challenges in education and training, they will greatly contribute to our ability to design learning environments that are contextualized, engaging, and motivational.

Serious game is a term used to describe the use of video games for purposes other than entertainment. The term has been used in various contexts for decades (Abt, 1968), but its recent popular incarnation began in 2002 with an initiative at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars which led to the Serious Games Initiative, Serious Games Summit and serious game tracks at existing conferences. Serious games covers a broad spectrum of uses such as education and training, healthcare, advertising and promotion of social change.

As serious games have emerged as an innovative approach to learning and training, we, the authors of this chapter have worked together to analyze and reflect on key issues and questions of how to build productive bridges between game design and instructional design, two fields that must come together for the industry to mature. As part of this, we offer an examination of the challenges as well as design principles, models, and teaming structures for serious game design teams. Our primary goal for this chapter is to help the field move past broad generalizations stating that instructional designers suck the fun out of games and game designers suck the learning out of games. Instead, we want to begin a conversation on how people with distinct areas of expertise can work together to develop productive relationships that result in innovative serious game designs that will inspire and engage players of all ages.

In writing this chapter, we held a series of conversations between designers at our two companies (Information in Place Inc. and Virtual Heroes Inc.) and colleagues17 as well as recorded conversations between the authors. The participants in the dialogue and the chapter authors are an:

  • Instructional designer and researcher, Jamie Kirkley

  • Instructional game designer, user interface designer, and researcher, Sonny Kirkley

  • Entertainment and serious game developer, Jerry Heneghan

The goal of this chapter is to share a professional dialog around some of the core issues we see being discussed at conferences, on listservs, and in articles related to serious games. We have intermixed dialog from our conversations with elaborations of the themes from the literature as a way to begin addressing these issues. While we definitely do not have all the answers, we have found the discussion to be extremely helpful for creating a common ground as well as exploring critical issues in serious games.

The Design of Serious Games: Where Are We Now?

Jerry: The area of serious games is an evolving and nascent market. It has evolved out of traditional modeling and simulation as well as interactive multimedia and instruction. It’s the conversion of training and education with entertainment. Most early work has been done by small firms or lone academics in the wilderness or by researchers who are working on government grants. As this market evolves, what we are starting to see are pure Serious Games companies who want to revolutionize learning, training, and education in terms of being an offshoot of traditional interactive multimedia or modeling and simulation.

Sonny: We have a lot to learn from these early pioneers. For instance, the edutainment market has left much to be desired with regard to meaningful and engaged learning and has given us lessons on how not to develop serious games We can also learn from what has and has not worked in e-learning. While many e-learning courses are little more than online books or reference materials with little authenticity, engagement or collaboration, there are some good models. So we have to look at these lessons learned from both past work to use games for education as well as other media in order to better understand how to best design learning environments for meeting our goals. Also, serious games are usually part of a larger learning environment in which other technologies and instructional approaches are being used. We are just learning how to blend all of this together to create meaningful learning experiences.

The defense sector has been the largest investor in serious games in recent years and has gained much attention for games such as the high profile America’s Army and Full Spectrum Warrior. However, a large variety of games have been developed across a range of industries and for a variety of purposes. Use of serious games falls in three general categories:

  • Using entertainment video games for non-entertainment purposed without modification such as Civilization in school classrooms or Steel Beasts for military training;

  • Modifying entertainment games for non-entertainment uses such as a medical training mod of Half-Life 2 called Pulse!!! and GNN Visualization, which is a mod of the Valve Source game engine for forest data visualization.

  • Developing entirely new games for non-entertainment purposes such as Making History, a World War II history game or the United Nations/ISDR Stop Disasters for teaching principles of disaster preparedness.

The credibility of serious games has grown steadily over the past decade from the work of scholars such as Henry Jenkins at MIT and James Paul Gee at University of Wisconsin, as well as through reports advocating the use of games such as Federation of American Scientists’ Summit on Educational Games Report (2006), the New Media Consortium, and EDUCAUSE’s 2006 Horizon Report (2006).

In a review of research on the use of educational video games by Egenfeldt-Nielsen (2005), three generations of educational games were identified: edutainment, commercial entertainment titles, and research-based educational video games. Edutainment titles often have a strong educational component but have tended not to be motivating, to based on a behaviorist approach and to emphasize changing behaviors through repeated actions. Commercial entertainment titles offer a variety of ways to learn and difficulty is varied but they are not explicitly designed with educational goals in mind so often fall short of meeting goals. The third generation focuses on research-based educational games that take into account the context of the use of the game, facilitating learning through collaboration, construction of knowledge, and changing the roles of teachers and students. However, they often lack the budget and technology to compete with entertainment games. Each generation offers insights into how to best design and deploy video games for meeting learning goals.

Defining Terms and Common Understandings

Jamie: One thing we have is this baggage with definitions and common understandings. The first issue is perhaps understanding the difference between educational games and serious games. If you think of serious games, you think sexy, sophisticated, and powerhouse gaming capabilities. If you think educational games, people do not get nearly as excited. A lot of them have been developed, but a lot of them have not been designed well. The field of serious games has evolved, and no one ever calls them educational games. What can Serious Games bring to the table that educational games have not?

Jerry: My challenge for everyone is to stop comparing this to the edutainment of yesteryear and traditional e-learning and think in terms of how you elevate best practices from the medium of interactive technology and interactive entertainment in inspiring and educational young people to learn, to be adaptive socially, to communicate effectively, to learn about cultural moirés and different societies. But it does not necessarily have to be boring or dumb.

Jamie: So one hot topic is what is the definition of and what is the difference between a simulation and game. Can you talk about this and tell me how it impacts design or understanding of design principles?

Jerry: Games have rules, goals and objectives, stories or representations, conflict, composition, opposition, challenge, competition, interactivity and immersion, and there are outcomes and feedback. Players will react to the feedback whether they are exploring and developing and adjusting hypotheses. Games are a medium just like film. To try to shoehorn things into a rigid set of criteria is foolishness, just enough to just try to convince you there are more possibilities out there. How do players play games? They probe the environment, they reflect on reaction and form hypotheses, they re-probe the environment based on their hypotheses, and they accept or reject hypotheses and reformulate ideas. And they begin again.

Sonny: I guess my personal bias is that I don’t care what the definitions are—I don’t care what makes a game or doesn’t make a game? I want to have the toolbox of capabilities. I want to inspire and teach kids and adults, whether I am designing a hazardous materials game or a middle school science game. This is why I am at the table doing this. I’m not as concerned about the definitions as some people are. I’m more concerned about what I need to put in the mix in order to meet my goals. Sometimes this may be a specific type of simulation or a fantasy game…As an industry, do we need to clearly define what a game is and what it’s not? Do we need to say that these five or so points are all we are going to deal with? How do we start talking about this in a way that makes sense?

Jerry: I agree -- we don’t think we need to get wrapped around the axle of rigid guidelines. I think there are certainly things everyone will agree on. If you look at the America’s Army Adaptive Thinking and Leadership, which is a virtual sandbox, it also fits within the rules of a game. People are probing the environment, they are forming hypotheses, they are suffering defeats, and they are victorious in achieving their mission objectives. They are using an immersive experience to enable them to learn, and they are learning in a fairly safe environment. Some of the learning comes internally, some of it comes from awareness of what other people are doing, and some of it comes from assessment and feedback from others in terms of their examining your performance.

As the dialogue above illustrates, designers don’t tend to care how something is classified, they concern about what tools or features can be used to meet stated goals. it is important to have clearly defined definitions when conducting research on the effectiveness of games for learning as compared to other approaches such as simulation (Fletcher & Tobias, 2006). Also, these clearly defined definitions enable researchers and designers to examine prior research on an approach such as simulations (e.g., Andrews & Bell, 2000; Blaiwes & Regan, 1986; O’Neil & Robertson, 1992) and glean relevant information for their work.

Fletcher and Tobias (2006) presented a table to help distinguish between the world of computer simulations and the type of simulations that might be called computer games. Their emphasis and interest was on games as an emerging form of instructional simulation. While there are no standard, precise, widely accepted distinctions between games and simulations in the industry. Some of the distinctions in Table 1 key on the differences in emphasis.

Table 1. Some differences between computer simulation and computer games.



Emphasize reality over entertainment

Emphasize entertainment over reality

Concern with scenarios and tasks

Concern with storylines and quests

Emphasis on task completion

Emphasis on competition

May not be interactive

Necessarily interactive

Not all simulations are games

All games are simulations

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