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What Makes a Good Serious Game?

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One of the privileges I have as a gamification “expert”, is to look at many different solutions This includes getting to look at and review serious games from time to time.

Over the last couple of years, i have come up with an unwritten list of things I look for in serious games to judge if I think they are good. Remember, this is just my opinion!

  1. Is it a game?
    • This may seem obvious, but often people do nothing more than stick a “game-like” animation on a simple test / exam and call it a game. A game needs rules, mastery, progress, an element of play or playfulness and more.
  2. Does it add anything to the experience?
    • Sometimes I see serious games that are actually pretty good, but sadly make the whole learning experience laborious. In an enterprise setting, where time is precious, playing a game to learn something that could just have effectively been learned with more traditional methods is just no use.
    • The other side note for this is, does the game patronise the users? Many don’t consider who their target audience is and create an experience that children may find fun and interesting, but adults will just find plain insulting!
  3. Does it align with the learning outcomes?
    • I recently played a serious learning game that baffled me. The games were good and the learning was well crafted – but the two just didn’t mix. The games had nothing to do with actual learning, they were just there to unlock new learning materials – which made the process of learning tedious rather than enjoyable!
  4. Would I play the game if I was not being made to?
    • Most serious games are an attempt to make something that is not so engaging, more palatable. In an enterprise setting, most learning is mandatory. If this training could be made more interactive, enjoyable and relevant then awesome. The thing is, you have a captive audience. A good serious game, should be a game that has been built with non-leisure intentions. That does not mean it should be a poor game. One that I played recently was so good, I was sad that I only had the demo. The learning materials were top notch, and the game gave you the chance to put what you had learned into practice, thus reinforcing the lessons. I would have happily played the game just for fun!

Basically, is it a game that fits with the learning objectives, is engaging and possibly fun, helps to reinforce the lessons and is aimed at the relevant audience!

Don’t take the word “serious” in serious games too seriously 😉

 


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10 Responses

  1. trevogre trevogre says:

    This makes me wonder again why people view learning as more art than science. Setting aside for a moment that there are specific game like way to teach specific information with interfaces that speak to them. Isn’t there a gamification of learning at a basic level that is a singular mathematical construct. One that organizes inputs and outputs into pieces that can be organized to presented to the user in a progressive game like environment. While i understand that the presentation layer can be embellished and siloed, and that it is beneficial for specific teaching, I would like to see a more universal game of learning set in and become ubiquitous. I feel like Khan academy makes progress toward that end but isn’t attempting to provide their methods as a content creation tool for everyone.

    There is something wrong when we can’t seem to find one set of methods that become a monopoly in the industry.

    • Rob Alvarez Rob Alvarez says:

      Interesting thoughts trevogre! About the monopoly you suggest, I think that even books (which have been around for much longer) took a really long time to establish anything similar to a monopoly. Game thinking techniques are still in “inception” in many ways, there is still a lot to learn and experiment, though we can already greatly benefit from it with what we know.

      • trevogre trevogre says:

        I suppose it is a matter of time. But I think if we don’t pursue interoperability through standards we are going to have a hard time getting anywhere. We need to start to enter the phase where instead of crafting game experiences we are crafting pieces that can be used in game experiences. Every piece of knowledge and every question that can be asked to support and track learning, doesn’t require that the author think about how to gamify it. We need a way for people to comfortably contribute material that can then become part of something gamified. Learning of intrinsic value with extrinsic reward and/or feedback.

        I just wish the conversations were more I the direction of finding that common language. I’m impatient for the future.

        • Rob Alvarez Rob Alvarez says:

          Yes, that’s a course that needs to be undertaken as well! So many things, so little time!

        • That is a little like asking for the games industry to come up with a “great game” formula that all games can then follow. It will improve and there are many people researching and proposing things that may cover this at some stage, but there just isn’t enough data yet to say “this is always the way to do xy or z with 100% results).

          • trevogre trevogre says:

            I’m not sure that is what I’m suggesting. If we agreed that the goal is to help a use enter a flow state where they are engaging in intrinsic learning, then we can create many tests to see if different game mechanics allow that to happen. But A/B testing of those formulas doesn’t necessarily imply that the pieces are different. Take the example of 3D games. You have common standards for creating 3d models that can then be loaded up and realized in any number of games. So if you imagine the fundamental units of education as 3d models you can imagine we can create file formats which allow us to load those fundamental unit in any game. Abstracting the data away from the presentation. So that if I have a set of questions and answers described in a specific data structure. Those can be loaded into any system that accepts them.

            I would suggest that those are fairly simple known data structures, and that it is of for more value to begin separating the content from the presentation than it is to focus on specific edge cases of presentation.

            What I’m suggesting is not that you achieve the 100% best use case, but that you break down the barriers to creating content that can be used to start to find ways to get people to a flow state.

            Imagine there is a software dev out there right now creating some great edtech but he can’t find content. So he has to invest in creating that content, then as he does he begins to create his own data storage formats, his own proprietary tracking, his own specific presentation layer. Pretty soon everything is proprietary and his only solution is to sell the product to institutions. But they already have product and they same, “your product doesn’t report to the grade system in the products I already have”… And the whole thing is DOA. Leaving his great ideas on the shelf and not in the hands of students.

            That is why I think that we need fundamental interoperability. This is what other game systems are doing, achievements. Leaderboards, social connectivity. Things that are outside the game mechanics of a specific experience.

        • Another concern is that many don’t differentiate serious games from gamification !

  2. Rob Alvarez Rob Alvarez says:

    Great insight into your head with serious games. Especially agree with the part of alignment with learning objectives. So often I get to see things that might even be fun and engaging, but have nothing to do whatsoever with the learning, so it looks forced, and quickly wears out the fun involved, the engagement, and the learning actually becomes poor.

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Andrzej Marczewski
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Gamification Consultant. I love to write about it, talk about it and bore people to death with it! If you really want to get to know me, check out the About page.

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