Defining serious games: A serious game is typically an online application that makes use of the mechanisms of video games to communicate specific information (knowledge) that helps introduce relevant concepts and the application of those concepts to solve problems. Serious games differ from classical video games in that their primary objective is not entertainment but effective learning.
Serious games at the intersection of learning, games, and simulation:
Serious games often involve simulation of real-world events or processes designed for the purpose of solving a problem. Simulation is an approach and a tool that makes possible controlled experiments, based on clear rules for the player. A good simulation requires a model that reflects reality, but in a simplified way. For example, FLIGBY models an imaginary Californian winery. The micro-simulation depicts certain aspects of running a winery in a fully realistic way; in this case, the kinds of problems that a winery manager is likely to face. The simulation builds the characters of the management team realistically, depicting personalities and their conflicts in ways that any FLIGBY player is likely to have routinely encountered in his or her work-life. At the same time, the simulation neglects certain other aspects of operating a winery or deals with them in a highly simplified manner.
Simulation is also known as problem-based-learning, or whole-task learning, that puts the player into the role of a problem solver, responding to realistic workplace scenarios. The lessons are built around a series of progressively more complex situations. A scenario-based game is somewhat similar to a decision-dilemma-driven teaching case study. Scenario-based learning lets players acquire experience through a trial-and-error process that is as effective as getting on-the-job training, without having to face possible real adverse consequences, such as the burden of having made wrong decisions.
Scenario-based learning combines the magical appeal and relevance of stories with the realism of hands-on training. Virtual scenarios let learners gather professional expertise and experience within a much shorter time than what they would have obtained working in real jobs. For example, in FLIGBY, six months of virtual time in the life of Turul Winery is compressed into a game of a few hours.
A good way, to sum up, is to enumerate features that are prerequisites for any serious game to have a chance to be successful:
- Build an engaging story
- Have strong characters a player can identify with or dislike
- Make successive tasks increasingly difficult
- Offer an attractive prize or a succession of prizes
- Add an unexpected turn of events; surprises (keeping in mind the stated caveats)
- Give players a significant degree of control over the game
- Set and enforce clear game-playing rules
- Ensure that all interdependent aspects “fit” together well
- Allow trial and error
- Limit the number of objectives the player should try to reach in the game
- Give frequent feedback
- Try to make the game original and creative
- Perform user experience tests
(Excerpt from the book “Missing Link Discovered“)