Serious Games: Press “START”

Serious Games  have been widely developed as learning methods since the 2000s and are now challenging higher education organizations, not just on their learning method but also on their strategic approach.

For the Financial Time, I defined Serious Games “as games designed for a purpose beyond pure entertainment. They use the motivation levers of game design – such as competition, curiosity, collaboration, individual challenge – and game media, including board games through physical representation or video games, through avatars and 3D immersion, to enhance the motivation of participants to engage in complex or boring tasks.

Serious games are therefore used in a variety of professional situations such as education, training, assessment, recruitment, knowledge management, innovation and scientific research. The increased involvement of participants offers new stimulating possibilities: for example the players of the virtual puzzle game Foldit contribute to scientific research on different diseases (HIV, Aids etc.) through protein folding” (Financial Times Lexicon).

Serious Games have a common background with Gamification.  Gamification is the application of game design techniques to non-game contexts, such as business and social impact challenges. To learn more about Gamification, see the excellent MOOC of Kevin Werbach on the topic (Hurry up to enroll in this session!). Serious Games and Gamification share a common objective: Engage individuals in complex, boring or “too obvious” task by using game design techniques as a  motivation lever. For example, encouraging curious people to use a “piano” stairs instead of the elevator.

Serious Games rely on four key ideas:

Idea #1: “Same Player Shoots Again” 

The learner can experiment in a safe environment: The idea of using a computer as a learning tool emerges with informatics. In 1924, psychologist Sydney Pressey already offered the « Drum Tutor » one of the first machines for learning, using a dozen quizzes. So the learner can try. And fail. And try again. And again. (And then he/she also gets bored). However, the quiz system stipulates one good answer for one good question. But in general life is a bit more complex…


 Idea #2:  “Take Control”

Simulation helps the learner understand complexity: Simulation was introduced in 1946 with the MIT Whirlwind project, which enabled military aircraft pilots to train in a controlled situation. By offering a specific environment, reducing the risks and circulating the necessary information, this process allows the learners to experiment the impact of their individual decision on a global situation. The learning process also evolves: the trial and error system offers learners the possibility  to experiment new scenarios without risks. It therefore encourages creativity.

MIT Simulation

Idea #3: “Select Play Mode”  

Emotions enhance the learner’s motivation: The democratization of video games, for example in 1982 with “Flight Simulator”, made simulators available to a wide audience. Games can be seen as a fun approach, making it possible to enhance motivation, as well as increasing the individual’s perceived ability to deal with information in a cognitive manner. According to Huizinga (1955), play is free. It is distinct from “ordinary” life in both locality and duration. It creates order. Finally, it is not  connected to any material interest. Games are  defined as voluntary (Caillois, 1957) and therefore conflict with the notion of “serious games”. However, even if playing may be seen as a futile activity, players develop a strong immersion and concentration.

flight simulator

Idea #4: “The Winner is… Business”  

Games can be used for professional purposes: A phase of professionalization in simulation games has been taking place since the 2000s. Games are again being used in professional training, but in a broader way and not only for gaining technical skills. Serious games can therefore be presented as technologies and video game platforms which have objectives other than simple entertainment. Military and medical organizations were originally the two main sponsors of serious games, using them for training in gestural routines.

“Pulse !”  trains nurses and doctors by allowing them to treat virtual patients.

The  “America’s Army” serious game was released as a global public relations initiative to help with recruitment.

From a Management and Business perspective, many serious games were developed to let learners experiment their behaviour and skills. For example,  “Mission Antitrust”  was developed for 3000 Michelin salesmen in order to investigate different situations and avoid breaking the antitrust law.

This virtual experience would aim to re-engage learners through a hyper-real experience. The commonly defended idea is that the learner will be more interested in the subject thanks to the pleasure and wealth of experience gained during the game. This increased interest and motivation leads to broader and more deep-seated learning processes. Serious games could therefore re-enchant learning. However, even if major companies can afford such a learning process, how could higher education benefit from these games?

Extraball:  What about Higher Education?

Thanks to technological development (for example with authoring-tools), the price of serious games has decreased and made them more accessible to the academic field and especially for higher education. But hey!, serious games are challenging not only the learners and teachers’ practices but also the organizations’ strategies. What performance criteria can be used in this specific context to evaluate the training process? What types of strategies emerge? How can higher education organizations use serious games in order to create a competitive advantage? During the past decade, different types of serious games implementations have been experimented within higher education.

I have identified 6 strategies, corresponding to 6 levels of maturity in the serious games cycle:

–          Level 1: “Recycling”

–          Level 2: “Ready-to-wear”

–          Level 3: “Home-Made”

–          Level 4: “Haute-couture”

–          Level 5: “Co-branding”

–          Level 6: “Design Thinking”

I will detail each of them in upcoming posts.


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3 Responses to Serious Games: Press “START”

  1. Pingback: Serious Games: Press “START” | Seri...

  2. Remaud

    Il n’est pas nécessaire d’aller obligatoirement Outre-Atlantique pour jouer/se former avec des “serious game”. Le CNAM des Pays de la Loire a une forte expérience dans ce domaine :
    Programme SecretCAM :

    Le premier sur le handicap est en accès libre

    Les suivants sont en accès réservé aux personnes inscrites à un programme de formation.

  3. Pingback: Serious Games rely on four key ideas | Serious ...

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