Serious Games

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.

Ever pay the ridiculously outrageous ticket price to watch a much anticipated movie only to walk-away shaking your head…it just wasn’t realistic enough. The plane crash and automobile accident just didn’t seem real. With all of the technology advances out there today, virtual worlds and simulations have come a long way since their respective introductions. Virtual landscapes are becoming more and more realistic; complete with images blurring the line between reality and virtual. This greater realism adds to more believability, especially for those skeptics out there. When looking back just a few years the overall quality has largely, dramatically improved – making even 2008 era productions look outdated. Even Google Earth has come a long way since its ‘early days’ with its 2005 release. Simulations and a host of other training applications are all evolving to more realistic representations and sceneries as well, thus making things appear so real that you feel like you are there, great for those of us that tend not to leave the office much.

Most of us non-graphic types of people never take a moment to think about how much time is really invested into generating realistic graphics (no matter the context – from TV commercials to real-time rendered computer simulations). Yet if you were to enter a synthetic environment complete with real-time rendered imagery, you may find certain things amiss when you see a water fall with water but no water flowing. It’s the realism factor. When watching a NPC speak and the mouth movement is not in sync with the audio one giggles to oneself at how unrealistic the scenario seems simply for the animation being off. While modeling human behavior (i.e. hand gestures) takes a talented hand it is possible to be lifelike. Think for a moment how complex a single environment can be. So the question becomes: How real is too real? I say it needs to be so real it hurts!

A recent report from GameIndustry stated that 83% of the United States population plays games; averaging 10.5 hours spent playing per week.

Percentage of US Population Playing MMOs/Virtual Worlds
Image courtesy of Game Industry

More and more leading companies are adopting games for learning. Perhaps ‘game’ has a negative connotation for some. And I am sorry to say that in some instances I know why, some so called “serious games” look like really bad jokes to even the untrained eye.

According to a 2008 study by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which works to further understanding of entrepreneurship, the economic impact of a great lecture can improve learning outcomes by 17 percent, while switching to a different delivery mechanism such as serious gaming can improve learning outcomes by 108 percent! Yes that is a 91 percent difference between a lecture vs. a different delivery method (such as a serious game).

We are excited to announce the beta launch of our first ever 3D browser-based virtual world, Winning in Wireless: Year 1. Initially launched in April of this year as a downloadable application, Winning in Wireless: Year 1 is a pilot program that BTS and Visual Purple embarked on by taking an existing BTS Computer-based training (CBT) simulation and transferring the content into a realistic virtual world environment complete with Non-Player Characters (NPCs). This entirely 3D based virtual world application allows for automatic updating. Advanced features that are offered include a custom plug-in for behind the firewall, ability to work off of an LMS, playability on private networks and a standalone mode.

In following the trend of virtual worlds moving into the web browser this is just one more distinct advantage that Visual Purple can offer its clients by allowing its customized and low cost virtual world simulations to be viewable in any browser. This is a big step in offering companies full deployment behind their firewall or through a firewall plus the ability to run a typical PC. This complete 3D browser based virtual world solution allows for anytime, anywhere play.

Winning in Wireless: Year 1, provides an interesting environment and experience for the single-player (can be designed in a multiplayer format) and, at the same time, will show how a single-player can be taught key skills and develop empathy for the roles and skills of others within an organization. Successfully navigating Winning in Wireless: Year 1, the player learns critical insight and knowledge about the role of the CEO and why a strong CEO is valuable and important; it will provide a refresher on developing forecasts and plans, decision making using an “iTool”, and alignment of the company’s vision, values and mission. Three months after its initial beta launch to the public with a downloadable version of Winning in Wireless: Year 1 is now an entirely browser-based 3D virtual world that runs directly from the browser.

“- Link to”
YouTube Visual Purple Winning in Wireless Virtual World trailer

A colleague of mine recently sent me a link to the Mashable blog article that outlined “What is the Future of Teaching?” although I found the article very interesting my fear of college statistics class suddenly came rushing back to me. Here are the key points of the write-up:

According to the New York Times Bits blog, a recent study funded by the US Department of Education (PDF) found that on the whole, online learning environments actually led to higher tested performance than face-to-face learning environments. “On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction,” concluded the report’s authors in their key findings.
The report looked at just under one hundred studies that compared the performance of students in online learning environments (or courses with an online study component) to those who were given strictly face-to-face instruction for the same courses. What they found was that students who completed all or some of their coursework online tested on average in the 59th percentile, compared to the 50th percentile for those who received only classroom instruction, and that the results are statistically significant.”

So why bring up the haunting of college stats class? “While the study certainly provides a vote of confidence for online learning, it’s important to note that it doesn’t necessarily demonstrate that online learning is more effective as a medium than classroom learning. “In many of the studies showing an advantage for online learning, the online and classroom conditions differed in terms of time spent, curriculum and pedagogy. It was the combination of elements in the treatment conditions (which was likely to have included additional learning time and materials as well as additional opportunities for collaboration) that produced the observed learning advantages,” writes the authors of the report (emphasis theirs). “At the same time, one should note that online learning is much more conducive to the expansion of learning time than is face-to-face instruction.”

In other words: all things are not equal. Students spending three hours per day in an online environment under the guidance of a great professor are likely, and not surprisingly, going to be better prepared than those spending an hour per week in a classroom with a mediocre one. And because the study’s results were correlational and not causal, it is impossible to say for certain whether it was actually the online learning environment that caused better tested performance. We can conclude that those in online learning environments tested better, but not necessarily why.

Further, the meta-study did not look at enough K-12 research to draw any conclusions — simply because it doesn’t exist. Researchers warned that “various online learning implementation practices may have differing effectiveness for K–12 learners than they do for older students,” which seems plausible. A major part of the job of a good educator is to equip students with the necessary mental tools to be able to continue learning on their own. Those skills are likely to be less developed in younger students, making face-to-face teacher intervention more necessary.”

Online education is becoming more and more prevalent. A growing number of college campuses are offering online courses- hey who wants to get out of their jammies and pink bunny slippers to hassle finding a parking spot and carrying books to class when you can just login from your home computer?! In summary, the article outlined significant findings on the proven applications of online learning, although much like the article says “all things are not equal.”

Are we listening to today’s learner? With new (and ever younger) talent entering today’s workforce, does this change training demands? Why yes it does! Bridging the generational gap is at the forefront of many training directors’ minds today- how to mix ‘old’ and new technologies in order to make all trainees happy. And we all know that a happy trainee is a trainee that adds value to an organization. The key to this is to make training informational for the younger generation (and not too remedial), live up to their digitally demanding expectations, while currying favor with the older generation that may be less familiar with today’s ever-evolving training technologies.

“One of the most prevailing and misguided excuses for inertia: “We have mature employees who wouldn’t embrace new learning approaches.” Why have I NEVER heard someone from a company that actually uses social networking and virtual worlds express this concern? The reality is that older workers are usually the most enthusiastic users of social media, virtual worlds and podcasting. Join our weekly Train for Success meetings in Second Life and the average age is probably around 50. Here are my top-three theories why mature workers embrace next gen learning:

1. Mature workers have a greater network of colleagues to draw insights from. Social networks are designed for those of us who need to stay in touch with our college friends and professionals colleges from years past. The fastest growing demographic of Facebook is women over 55.

2. Older people enjoy being a young avatar in Second Life with a full set of hair and the body of a 19-year old.

3. Older people have spent decades in asbestos homes gulping Aspartame sodas, and it’s beginning to take its toll. They can’t concentrate on boring lectures, they need learning that is fun and engaging! ”- According to a recent ASTD article.

A lot of organizations claim that they find some resistance initially with older generations for implementing new and innovative training methods. Sometimes referred to as the “Digital natives vs. Digital immigrants” a digital divide is created where the key is to bridge the generational gap that is now transforming many organizations training initiatives. Let’s define: Generation Y’ers. Gen Y can be defined as employees born between 1981 and 1995. They are extremely tech savvy, allowing them to easily pick up new methods of training.

From an article posted on ZD Net Asia :
“What is different about the way that they think?
The eight norms of this generation are:
1. Freedom of choice. Choice is like oxygen. I had three media choices as a kid. There is also freedom of mobility. The goal in the past was to have one job for your whole life, where today in the U.S., by the time they’re 27 they’re on their third job. Freedom is a huge norm.
2. Customization. I never got to customize TV. You can change your world today, with your screensaver, your blog.
3. Scrutiny. They are a generation of authenticators. A picture used to be a picture. You see a woman on a magazine today, and you wonder how she’s been photoshopped.
4. Integrity. It’s just not true that this generation doesn’t care. Youth volunteering in the U.S. is at an all-time high. And specific activities. They care about the world, about social justice.
5. Collaboration. Everybody collaborates, but these kids are natural collaborators. When I grew up, everything was a hierarchy, and I was used to being broadcasted to. One-size-fits-all. School and lectures and my parents broadcasted. Now there’s a huge clash. These kids are sharing information, peer-to-peer, that’s how you spend your time, instead of being a passive recipient.
6. Entertainment. They want to have fun. Having fun with a product or service is more important than what they do. Having fun in your first job is now more important than how much you get paid. The kids have got it right, learning and work can be the same thing.
7. Innovation. The speed of innovation when I was a kid was glacial. Today, people demand new improvement.
8. Speed. They want things to happen fast and quickly.”

Is learning and adapting to new technologies really a generational thing? I think that no matter what one’s age- anything is possible. So here’s to embracing new (and old) types of learning technologies across the great generational divide. And now onto training technologies that satisfy Generation Z; or otherwise referred to as ‘Millennials’…

I hear, and I forget
I see, and I remember
I do, and I understand.

-Ancient Chinese proverb

Following Visual Purple’s tagline of “Understand Everything” I thought it may be fun to detail experiential learning and how it relates to training in a simulation type of environment.

By definition: Experiential Learning is the process of making meaning from direct experience.

There are many different experiential learning models out there. I will outline a few for you here:

David A. Kolb’s on experiential learning
“David A. Kolb (with Roger Fry) created his famous model out of four elements: concrete experience, observation and reflection, the formation of abstract concepts and testing in new situations. He represented these in the famous experiential learning circle (after Kurt Lewin):


Kolb and Fry (1975) argue that the learning cycle can begin at any one of the four points – and that it should really be approached as a continuous spiral. However, it is suggested that the learning process often begins with a person carrying out a particular action and then seeing the effect of the action in this situation. Following this, the second step is to understand these effects in the particular instance so that if the same action was taken in the same circumstances it would be possible to anticipate what would follow from the action. In this pattern the third step would be understanding the general principle under which the particular instance falls.”

And now for Peter Jarvis on his approach to experiential learning…

“Jarvis (1987, 1995) set out to show that there are a number of responses to the potential learning situation. He used Kolb’s model with a number of different adult groups and asked them to explore it based on their own experience of learning. He was then able to develop a model of which allowed different routes. Some of these are non-learning, some non-reflective learning, and some reflective learning. To see these we need to trace out the trajectories on the diagram he produces.



Presumption (boxes 1-4). This is where people interact through patterned behavior. Saying hello etc.

Non-consideration (1-4). Here the person does not respond to a potential learning situation.

Rejection (boxes 1-3 to 7 to 9).


Pre-conscious (boxes 1-3 to 6 to either 4 or 9). This form occurs to every person as a result of having experiences in daily living that are not really thought about. Skimming across the surface.

Practice (boxes 1-3 to 5 to 8 to 6 to either 4 or 9). Traditionally this has been restricted to things like training for a manual occupation or acquiring particular physical skills. It may also refer to the acquisition of language itself.

Memorization (boxes 1-3 to 6 and possibly 8 to 6 and then either to 4 or 9)

Reflective learning:

Contemplation (boxes 1-3 to 7 to 8 to 6 to 9). Here the person considers it and makes an intellectual decision about it.

Reflective practice (boxes 1-3 (to 5) to 7 to 5 to 6 to 9). This is close to what Schön describes as reflection on and in action.

Experiential learning (boxes 1-3 to 7 to 5 to 7 to 8 to 6 to 9). The way in which pragmatic knowledge may be learned.”

Earlier this year Chief Learning Officer magazine published the top 5 learning technologies for 2009. Of the 5 I still think that virtual worlds and games/ simulations are at the top of my list.

1. Mobile learning
2. Do-it-yourself (DIY) learning
3. Flexible learning environments
4. Virtual worlds
5. Games and simulations

By Ed Heinbockel, President and CEO, Visual Purple, LLC

Are games being taken seriously enough? For one reason or another, often the term ‘serious game’ results in negative stereotypes. But why? Perhaps more often than not simply for the term ‘game’ in the title. But serious games really can prove themselves as providing real learning and training value. In a “serious game,” training and education are the primary goals. Military simulations are among the more well known types of ‘serious games’. Of course there are a variety of serious games that are unrelated to military fields.

What do serious games bring to the table? Active involvement, relevance to the real world, increase in retention rates, the ability to practice and learn complex tasks in a safe environment, engagement of learners and improved performance (to name a few). Serious games offer a value beyond entertainment and are an extremely powerful training tool.

Will corporate America be the next to take on serious games as part of the training mix? With more and more organizations turning to the serious types of learning that actively involve the training, serious games just might be the next big thing (aside from sliced bread of course).

I recently attended a webinar put on by Training Magazine Network featuring Clark Aldrich on “The Unifying View of Highly Interactive Virtual Environment (HIVE) Learning.” I wanted to take a moment to highlight a few of the key take aways for those that were not in attendance.

One of the first questions that Clark asked was: “What is the relationship between virtual worlds, games and simulations and when should each be used?” This resulted in some confusion, and even led to further confusion when screen shots were presented. Clark would show a screen shot of a virtual world, game, or simulation and each attendee would enter a text response as to what they thought the screen shot represented. For the most part participants were able to differentiate each one (but note there still were a few confused people out there) and I must admit even one of those screen shots made me scratch my head. Why? It was just a pool with a float in it and 2 lounge chairs beside it. What did this represent? (Where I would rather be, well, yes). But back to the topic at hand: Was it an image from a virtual world, game or simulation? Mr. Aldrich further went on to explain that it could be any of the three depending upon what elements were added in. For example, if you added a volleyball net and some people playing volleyball it would be conceived as a game. However, if one added in a lifeguard then it may be represented as a possible training simulation. So you get the point. Each has its own unique attributes that define it. They are interconnected to some degree (each are unique but similar to one another).
Educational simulations=Less flexibility
Virtual worlds=More flexibility

But this circles the question: How big is the blur between these (virtual worlds, games and simulations) and what specific attributes define each? Well let me highlight some defining features of virtual worlds that were brought up in the webinar:
-Ability to interact with objects
-Own set of rules

A few metrics outlined to evaluate success in a virtual world:
-Involvement/ engagement
-Performance of tasks

Clark Aldrich also suggests that: All environments should have self-paced introductory levels: Utilization of a light game to get the user comfortable with the environment. A lot of organizations are so focused on investing in expensive virtual world platforms that they forget that content is key (and this holds true with all training)! Also, he is seeing a transition occurring from the age of linear content to the age of dynamic content.