Mod9: Serious Game Environments

9.1 Market Opportunity Statement:

The “Serious Games” market has emerged in the last few years to realize the opportunities surrounding the application of electronic game and simulation technologies to a broad range of non-recreational pursuits, including business, healthcare and education. At one level this market is trying to take advantage the phenomenal success of the electronic games industry, and specifically the strong emergence of multiplayer and online games. At another level there is a real attempt to counter the boredom experienced by all knowledge workers within repetitive tasks, and to translate these tasks into environments that engage attention better and longer. On a more important level, however, serious games allow the creation of situations, environments and interactions that would otherwise be too expensive or or impossible to provide otherwise.

Within a company like IBM, for example, serious games are being deployed to orient and train global workers where traditional human resources systems can’t be offered easily. Other game engines are being applied to collective brainstorming events, and to workgroup interactions in environments like Second Life. IBM sees a near-future Internet that is three-dimensional and lifelike, with games and simulations providing the social glue to hold everything together.

Within education, teachers have always understood the useful impact of games to engage minds. There have been educational computer games like “MathBlaster” and “Carmen San Diego” with every generation of the technology. In the science museum business, and other places that offer “edutainment”, the educational effect is sometimes called “stealth learning” or “learning by ambush” to describe the potential advantage that the learner is so captivated in the activity that they’re not even aware that learning is happening.

Almost a decade ago, a Ministry of Education wanted to commission one of your instructors (David Vogt) to create a completely immersive online graduating exam for grade 12 Physics. Students would encounter virtual problems to solve to demonstrate their understanding of physical concepts, rather than just mathematical equations. It’s a compelling idea that wasn’t feasible then, but soon will be. In fact, the notion of “final exam” could disappear in an environment like this if adaptive learning techniques were coupled with embedded assessment tools to provide a continuously formative educational experience.

The magic of serious games might be to understand how to offer the right balance of entertainment and/or illusion to keep the mind interested and productively engaged in whatever the serious business is, and how to modify this balance dynamically as the mind’s state changes. From an existential perspective, the human mind is clear supple enough, and gullible enough, to become unhealthily consumed in a Matrix-like mushing of real and virtual states. This is an emerging market as well as uncharted territory.