Notes from Brian Winn’s “Serious Games” Talk

Brian Winn, an Assistant Professor from Comm Arts and one of the directors of the Games for Entertainment and Learning (GEL) Lab, gave a talk on “Serious Games.” Here is part of his bio:

I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media, Co-Director of the Games for Entertainment and Learning (GEL) Lab, and a Principal Investigator in the Communication Technology Lab at Michigan State University.

I design, create, and research interactive media design, including game design, digital game-based learning and interactive health communication. My expertise is in designing engaging serious games that balancing learning, pedagogical, and gameplay objectives. My award-winning interactive media work has been presented, exhibited, and experienced around the world.

Notes from the talk, “Making Learning Fun: Getting Serious about Games”

(Note: Check out a recent interview with Brian on the Spartan Podcast site)

  • Play, Games, and Learning
    • Play as problem solving
      • Playing is a form of problem solving used by many animals
      • Uniqueness of games
        • Imposes formal rules on top of play
        • Adds goals and objectives
        • Thereby play is structured for a particular purpose
      • Merlin Donald, Origins of the Human Mind
        • “Human children play rule-governed gaems by imitation, often without any formalized instruction. They invent and learn new games, often without using language.”
    • Why do we play?
      • Ring around the rosie: Cognitive development: mimicry, coordination, self-awareness, spatial relationships, empathy
      • Childhood socialization
      • Chess, checkers: mental sport
      • Olympics: celebrate athleticism, peace amongst nations
      • War games: preparation for war, tactics
    • What types of problems are there?
      • Survival
      • Education
      • Business
      • Political
      • Military
      • Health Care
      • Science
      • Entertainment
      • More…
    • Why we play digital games”
      • You learn something from any game: characters, rules
      • But, does the thing that you learn transfer outside of the game world?
      • Most digital games attempt to solve the entertainment problem, nothing else
  • Serious Games Movement
    • Serious games are any game whose chief mission is not entertainment
      • They can also be entertainment games reapplied for missions other than entertainment
        • Ex: Civilization in the history classroom
    • But, why serious games?
      • We are all products of our environment
        • Baby Boomers: TV, typewrite, memos
        • Gen X: Computes, email, early video games
        • Gen Y: Web, IM, interactive games
      • Games are a way of life for many people: the average 8th grader plays video games 5 hours per week
    • Why are we interested in games?
      • They are engaging and goal-oriented
      • They are challenging and provide rapid feedback, adapting to what the player does as he/she plays
      • They build individual expertise
      • They have a social aspect to them; most games throughout time have been multi-player games
        • The image of the computer game is that we have one player on his/her own computer, bust as networks have grown, so have interactive games
        • Humans like to tell stories and games provide a rich context for sharing experiences. Even if they are not in the same game, they can share experiences about that game (player walk throughs, reviews)
    • In a typical game:
      • Player adopts a character, perceives task to complete tasks, picks up vocabulary, explores and test boundaries, adapts to the game, realigns expectations and judgments through each exploration, reappraising the cause and consequence of their actions.
      • Replace “player” with “student” and “game” with “subject matter.”
    • But why Serious Games?
      • Parallels with progressive pedagogy
        • Active, constructivist learning
        • Problem-based learning
        • “Authentic Professionalism” (Gee) and communities of practice
      • Where are serious games being used?
        • Education: Higher Ed and Pre-k through 12
        • Government: Fire fighter training
        • Healthcare: educating someone about how to stay healthy and games for exercise
        • NGOs ad corporations
  • Case Studies
    • Life Preservers
      • NSF Funded Game
      • Education Goals
        • Framed by national science standards for middle-school science
        • Evolution, adaptation, and natural history
      • Design Goals
        • Accurate science vs. fun gameplay
        • Appeal to both boys and girls
      • Research Goals
        • Due to play style differences between genders
        • Girls will explore more, boys will just try to win the game
        • Girls will learn more than boys from the same learning game
      • Mixing science fiction with science fact
        • Initially, we were going to try to be completely factual, but to create an engaging experience, we needed to do some science fiction for story, but the science facts come in throughout the game
        • Based on the concept of invasive species and how we stop them or what happens once they are in an ecosystem
        • Learning objectives: to understand the “tree of life” diagram and interact with it; look at the different aspects of the species and think about the adaptations that went on with each creature.
        • Mixes interactive tutorials with mini-lessons, and can be played in one class period
    • FFC: The Fantastic Food Challenge
      • Developed for the MI Food and Nutrition Program
        • Developed to teach low-income adults the knowledge, skills, and confidence to feed their families nutritious meals
        • Based on the concept of Yahtzee, you roll and take food items and place them on the food pyramid
        • Designed to be a gender-neutral game, and the audience was not familiar with computer technology in general
        • Based on our research, the people who played the game learned more than just reading on the website or brochure
    • Voyage Beijing
      • The idea behind this was to understand culture as important in business communication and negotiation
      • Based on the explosion of US business in China and meant to simulate a business person’s first experience going to China
      • Sets you up with a role as a manager and lays out the story that you need to go to China to resolve some quality issues in your product development
      • Designed as a virtual experience to understand knowledge about China (what is the time zone, can I use the ATM, do they speak English) and you get more “knowledge” experience
      • Also, you get “impression” as you interact with people and that can go up and down
      • You can create and add to a journal focusing on names, places, and cultural references
  • Issues: Practical, Cultural, Design, Research
    • Cultural: “Educational” games are not fun, like broccoli dipped in chocolate
    • There are few examples of fun educational games and many boring ones (like Math Blaster)
      • How do we change perceptions? Can you?
    • What is “fun?”
      • This is a highly contested question in the sense of the content, the persona designing, the person playing, the relationship this game has to other games, how many players are involved and many other factors.
    • Cultural problems
      • Clark Aldrich – “I think educational simulations (games) can be fun, but more importantly they must be satisfying.”
    • Designing serious games is hard
      • Integrating learning into play
      • Balancing content, pedagogy, and fun
      • Cues from entertainment games
      • What is important in terms of learning objectives?
        • Knowledge, skills, and attitudes
        • You can’t do everything in a game; it is a tool that can be added to a class with a particular, limited set of objectives
      • It is hard to make games: design, programming, art, production, content, pedagogy
      • Not too many good, easy-to-use, affordable tools: Brian uses Flash and Director mostly
    • Games are expensive to make
      • Commercial games cost from $1 to $25 million over 1-3 years
      • Life Preservers, for instance, was made over six months and on a grant
    • Assessing effectiveness
      • How do you show learning? Is a score on a game the same as a score on a test?
    • Serious games have competition from other forms of media and there are many cultural preconceptions about games that we have to overcome (games are for kids/boys/etc)
      • More and more people are beginning to consider games as a way to learn, and the positive value of gaming in education
      • Decision makers are not gamers (average age of gamer is 31)
    • Gaming is a young “industry”
      • “Serious Game Developer” isn’t in the yellow pages
  • Resources

2 thoughts on “Notes from Brian Winn’s “Serious Games” Talk”

  1. Great summary of things, thanks for sharing the notes.
    One thing that really struck me was the note under “Where are serious games being used?” Corporations wasn’t even mentioned which to me sounds extremely strange, working for a company that have been doing it for corporations during 20 years. Maybe it is me not being aligned with the definition of serious games but blended classroom/computer simulations as well as 1-6 hour self-paced scenariosimulations, numeric business simulations as well as different kinds of learning games such as Trivia games etc for more than 30 of the Fortune 100 companies must at qualify the corporate sector to be mentioned.
    Cheers,
    /Lars

    Like

  2. Hi Lars,

    Thanks for your response. I think that you make a good point here. Brian also talked, only briefly, about the uses of games in military simulations. Personally, I wonder to what extent will games:

    1) Be used as a way to trace people’s attitudes and behaviors? Much like MySpace is now, could someone look up your Second Life avatar, for instance, and monitor you for awhile before hiring/firing you?

    2) Will we use games or, more accurately, simulations to engage in the types of discussions that we can’t/won’t engage in during regular working hours? For instance, are there some simulations that benefit employee learning and collaboration? Are there simulations that act as a kind of “personality test” like the fabled “100 question surveys” that some employers give?

    Great questions with no clear answers.

    Thanks,
    Troy

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s