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Serious Games

Serious Games are games with a purpose other than being just entertaining. The essence of gaming is of course that it is fun, and therefore it provides intrinsic motivation to the user (gamer). Serious Games link this built-in motivational capacity to a serious purpose. This purpose can be to provide some kind of education (knowledge or skills), to change the users behavior (psychologically or physically), or to do some kind of assessment of the user.

Educational Games

Education can be achieved on different levels:

  • Knowledge level
    Education at the Knowledge level is higher level learning that is associated with memory and reasoning. It mainly involves the frontal lobe of the brain. In this learning process we observe concrete information (physical items) or abstract information (text or visual metaphors) and process and store this in our memory. We also learn how to combine this information to create new aggregate information and we learn how to do thought experiments (simulations) on the basis of this information. This makes us cable of planning ahead.
    Serious Games can aid in all parts of this process: they can provide a virtual environment that can present better (closer to reality) metaphors of the information we need to store. This reliefs us from first processing abstract information (e.g. reading and interpreting and visualizing text) and transform it to information that we can store in our memory. A Game can also offer a playfield where we can do our though-experiments by simulating different applications of the knowledge we have.
  • Skill level
    Skill level learning involves the lower level neural pathways of our brains and the central nervous system. This is about processes that we do without thinking, like riding a bycicle, driving a car or operating a machine. Another way of describing it is to train our reflexes. By repetition (iteration) we train our brain and central nervous system to perform certain actions based on certain sensory inputs and our higher level goals. Serious Games can provide a safe and efficient environment to repeatedly train these skills. Think of a full flight simulator where pilots learn how to stabilize an aircraft.

Of course Serious Games can provide education on both levels at the same time.

Processes at the Knowledge level happen at a different time scale than processes at the Skill level; at the knowledge level we usually take seconds to process information and provide a response (sometimes even hours or days), on the skill level the time scale is expressed in milliseconds, which is mainly governed by our reaction time (on average about 180 milliseconds). This means that Games that are operating on the Skill level need to be a lot faster than games that operate on the Knowledge level. It may be even required to use Hard Real Time operating systems to provide deterministic timing of events at the millisecond level.

Serious games have the potential to change the user’s behavior, not only by using the educational capacity, but also by providing incentives and by giving immediate feedback. Think of using a game environment to help people with physical rehabilitation; through sensors the game can monitor a patient’s movements and provide feedback to enable the patient to adjust his/her pose or movement to be more optimal for a speedy recovery. This technology can immensely support physical therapists in their ability to provide good feedback.

Another aspect of serious games in contrast to traditional methods of education and training is that a computer game can provide embedded assessment. The collected data from the users actions can be used to derive information about the user, such as for instance his/her likeliness to take risks, or preference in making certain choices.

Serious Games are very cost-effective because of a number of reasons:

  • Most Serious Games are implemented in computer software and can be distributed over the internet. This makes it possible to reach a large audience without any additional cost.
  • Serious Games can replace (part of) traditional education, like classroom sessions or hand-on training.
  • It is very easy to evaluate the performance of the users through a scoring system. This scoring is also one of the large motivational aspects of the game.
  • Games should be so much fun to play that students even play them in their free-time
  • Games can be adapted to a large variety of educational challenges; whether it is educating your personnel on new company procedures or teaching pilots how to fly, or educating the public on health-care issues

For more information or ideas on the application of Serious Games to your business please contact us.