Serious Games

So maybe you are, or maybe you are not a gamer. A 2011 study by the Entertainment Software Association showed that at least 72 percent of American households actually are gamers. That number has risen by almost 10 percent in the last two years. In addition, the study showed that 42 percent of gamers are women and that women ages 18 years and older represent more than one third of the gaming population.

Parents are even getting into it, the study showed that forty-five percent of parents play video and/or computer games with their children at least once a week. The report stated that parents actually believe in the education and mental stimulation that the game brings to their child.

So much for the ‘ol board game and quality family time.

In an article featured in the August 2011 issue of Military Training Technology the magazine asked, “What role(s) will your company best fill as the United States military turns more to the use of serious gaming in an effort to reduce the military’s training costs while maintaining the combat readiness of the warfighter?”

Here is what Ed Heinbockel, President of Visual Purple contributed to the article:

“Today’s warfighters have been raised on video games. They learn differently than past generations. By recognizing and leveraging the learning styles appropriate to current trainees, 3-D animated decision-based virtual world training offers instruction that is relevant and effective—with improvement in both motivation to train and knowledge retention—this type of training is proven to be very, very sticky.

Through the use of 3-D animated decision-based serious game training, a platform is presented to today’s warfighter that is immediately recognizable and significantly more palatable than traditional PowerPoint-type ‘page flip’ training. By offering simulation training aimed at individuals rather than large groups, training can take place anytime and anywhere the trainee has access to a computer, while non-virtual training can accommodate only a limited number of instructors and students at any given time. Refinement of training content is a continuing requirement necessary to ensure that warfighters have the latest and most relevant training possible.

One of the many benefits of Visual Purple’s training products is our proven technologies that allow for rapid updates and changes. Unlike some training programs that are difficult to make changes and/or updates to, Visual Purple simulations can easily be ‘remodeled’ later should the need arise. The number of true subject matter experts (SMEs) is limited. By incorporating SMEs’ expertise into learning content, the impact they provide is expanded to cover the entire training audience. Improvements in hardware capability have allowed for significant improvements in graphics and training technologies. More ‘horsepower’ in smaller packages (smartphones, touchpads, tablets, etc.) allows warfighters to train anytime and anywhere. These mission rehearsal modeling tools are aiding in overall military readiness by streamlining training capabilities. One thing is for sure: it beats the so-called BOGSAT (or Bunch of Guys Sitting Around a Table). Emerging technologies are changing the way today’s military trains-up.”

Not that my 94 year old Grandpa is going to start playing Xbox anytime soon, but according to this particular survey gamers are an average of 34 years of age. So my point is that training departments can’t be naysayers about how the generation that works for them currently wouldn’t be interested in a video game since they aren’t hiring teenagers. In addition the study found that 40% of gamers were female and more than two-thirds of US households play video games. If you would like to see more statistics from the study, click here.

In the past few weeks I have noticed a buzz word going around… “GAMIFICATION”. The name itself piqued my interest so I decided to go out and learn what it was all about. Here is a brief synopsis of what I learned.

Wikipedia defines Gamification as:
Gamification is the use of game play mechanics for non-game applications (also known as “funware“), particularly consumer-oriented web and mobile sites, in order to encourage people to adopt the applications. It also strives to encourage users to engage in desired behaviors in connection with the applications. Gamification works by making technology more engaging, and by encouraging desired behaviors, taking advantage of humans’ psychological predisposition to engage in gaming. The technique can encourage people to perform chores that they ordinarily consider boring, such as completing surveys, shopping, or reading web sites.

Gamification.org is a fast growing website that devotes all of its content to the subject, from game design to game psychology and everything in between.
You also might enjoy watching a video on Gamification from YouTube instead of just reading about it?

Gamification on YouTube

I had to laugh when I wrote the title of this blog post. It’s something that I have thought for a long time, but recently there has been a buzz about this on TV and the Internet. So here I am to prove it to you and then you can pass it along to other non-believers…CNN recently published an article by Scott Steinberg entitled “How video games can make you smarter” in the article, Steinberg outlines that the interactivity of video games help your intelligence. Backing up the article is one study from Loyalist College which showed that students playing a simulation saw test scores jump from 56% to 95%. And not to mention Directory of Duke University’s Human Simulation and Patient Safety Center, Dr. Jeffrey Taekman stating that “Serious games and virtual environments are the future of education.”

The key take-aways (just as I have been preaching) are:
-Build brain cells by requiring extensive problem solving, dynamic decision-making skills and teamwork.
-Encourage players’ confidence
-Hands-on experience
-Job training
-Contextual learning
-Teamwork and collaboration

So there you have it, I hope I have made a believer of you now.

I recently came across some interesting statistics in spending on training from Tom Werner at Workplace Learning Today, which he had sourced from the Performance Improvement Quarterly.

• Total training spending (in 2008 dollars) increased just 1.5% from 1986 to 2008.

• Spending on training staff (in 2008 dollars) decreased 14% from 1986 to 2008.

• Overall spending on training products and services (in 2008 dollars) increased 232% from 1982 to 2008.

Notice that for the 26 year timeframe comparison of overall spending it increased 232 percent! Note that A Consumer Price Index of 158 indicates only 58% inflation since 1982, so there is 174 percent increase when not accounting for inflation.

It’s finally out! Video games are actually highly effective training tools, something that Visual Purple and I have been lamenting all along- but nevertheless a reputable study is now out to back it up! The news broke in October in a write up in Science Daily – yes, we are remiss in not getting this out in front of you sooner.

Although in my mind the term ‘video games’ would throw most off from reading the article, I persevered and would rather change the title from reflecting ‘video games’ to that of ‘serious games.’ In the article entitled “Video Games Can be Highly Effective Training Tools, Study Shows: Employees Learn More, Forget Less, Master More Skills” a study from the University of Colorado Denver Business School established that those trained by video games do their jobs better, have higher skills and retain information longer than that of workers learning in a less interactive environment.

According to the article “Sitzmann spent over a year examining 65 studies and data from 6,476 trainees and discovered those using video games had an 11 percent higher factual knowledge level, a 14 percent higher skill-based knowledge level and a 9 percent higher retention rate than trainees in comparison groups.” The findings further confirm that video games/ serious games really do have a purpose in the workplace and can provide a great level of value to any organization that utilizes them to train.

Military forces around the world rely on computer-based simulators to provide invaluable training for today’s warfighters. More and more military branches are turning to the simulation and virtual training market to increase retention and performance of our treasured warfighters, maximizing the benefits of this training technology. Computer wargames in military training have had a good run, but not until recently have you seen more and more publicity around them… sure, we can thank the military for their secretive ways on this one. These simulations and virtual training projects train military staff in a full gamut of activities; ranging from training exercises to rehearsing for complex systems, all of which provide a diverse range of training requirements that must be met. The world’s simulation industry is growing larger and larger with the United States being the leader in the simulation and virtual training markets, followed closely by the UK. Sure, sometimes resources (mainly funding) are hard to come by meaning that a lot of potential training that could be developed never makes it from the initial proposal stage to the drawing board and eventual implementation. These mission rehearsal modeling tools are aiding in overall military readiness by streamlining training capabilities. One thing is for sure it beats the so-called BOGSAT (or Bunch of Guys Sitting Around a Table). Emerging technologies are changing the way today’s military trains-up.

Militainment, huh? Just the name makes it sound so gamey and just plain wrong for training today’s techno savvy warfighters. The title itself belies the high standards of military training today. Take for example the official U.S. Army game called America’s Army, while it is a wildly popular gaming application and not to mention a great online recruiting tool, it’s still just a game. First released in 2002 and with over 26 versions since, America’s Army continues to enjoy many new players downloading each and every day. While this type of recruitment tool will awe many of the younger video game generation- is it really an accurate depiction of one might really encounter in the service? And, does it really matter??? The U.S. Army’s seven core values are promoted and while it remains one of the most popular games downloaded and played on the Internet today it isn’t free to the Army but is a real bargain comparatively speaking. The Army has done well in drawing in younger generations connecting them with something that they already enjoy doing, playing games. According to an MIT study, 30 percent of Americans 16-24 years of age had a positive impression of the Army because of the America’s Army game.

These ‘video-game’ like technologies are changing warfare today. But is it realistic enough? Military combat and training is serious stuff. Not to be confused with a game that you hope to beat someone’s high score. Recruits eat up the game and many choose the Army (and other branches of the service) specifically because of their experience from playing the ‘game’ or ‘recruitment tool.’ While even militainment can fall into the category of serious games- is this really the right category for it to take on? What is reality? Of course I’m all for the U.S. Military’s high-tech and cost savings approach of training military personnel through simulations, but the militainment title that is strictly for entertainment/recruitment purposes should not be confused with serious combat training for our soldiers that risk their lives everyday to safe guard our freedom and keep us safe. God bless them all!

With the constant mention of IMMERSIVE ENVIRONMENTS, I thought it may be fun to take a more in-depth view of the types of immersion. These highly experiential applications offer a higher level of cognition and the benefit of capturing and holding a player’s attention.

From Wikipedia: According to Ernest Adams, author and consulter on game design, immersion can be separated into three main categories:

1) Tactical immersion
Tactical immersion is experienced when performing tactile operations that involve skill. Players feel “in the zone” while perfecting actions that result in success.

2) Strategic immersion
Strategic immersion is more cerebral, and is associated with mental challenge. Chess players experience strategic immersion when choosing a correct solution among a broad array of possibilities.

3) Narrative immersion
Narrative immersion occurs when players become invested in a story, and is similar to what is experienced while reading a book or watching a movie.

Staffan Björk and Jussi Holopainen, in Patterns In Game Design, divide immersion into similar categories, but call them sensory-motoric immersion, cognitive immersion and emotional immersion, respectively. In addition to these, they add three new categories:

1) Spatial immersion
Spatial immersion occurs when a player feels the simulated world is perceptually convincing. The player feels that he or she is really “there” and that a simulated world looks and feels “real”.

2) Psychological immersion
Psychological immersion occurs when a player confuses the game with real life.

3) Sensory immersion
The experience of entering into the three-dimensional environment, and being intellectually stimulated by it. The player experiences a unity of time and space as the player fuses with the image medium, which affects impression and awareness.