August, 2014

Serious Games & the Future of Education

In a recent Forbes interview, Atari and Brainrush founder Nolan Bushnell explained that today’s serious games are being designed with brain science, which can possibly unlock our learning potential like never before.  Bushnell believes that humans can learn up to 10-20 times more efficiently through technology, and he feels that the world of education is finally ready for this important evolution.  In fact, he thinks that serious gaming will change classroom learning more in the next five years than any other concept has in the history of teaching.  That’s quite a statement.

Can serious gaming really transform our society as Bushnell predicts?  Here is our take on the future of serious games.

A Rebirth of the Educational SystemSerious Game | 3D Simulation

Even though serious games have proven their worthiness many times over in business, public schools have been hesitant to adopt this technology because of the inherent expense involved.  School systems across the country deal with shoestring budgets that force teachers to purchase classroom supplies out of their personal salaries.  Some areas are even busing kids 50+ miles a day due to closings and budget cuts, so it is not simply practical to expect the adoption of serious learning in the classroom today.

Several school districts have already started to seek private funding to take their classrooms into the 21st century, like the iPads for Education drive that took place in San Diego in 2012.  Some areas are seeking government grants or state lottery money to upgrade their technology as well.  The future of serious games will be directly tied to these movements since it can validate this technology at the household level.

Powerful (Yet Affordable) Hardware Options

Then again, serious gaming is vastly dependent on fast, affordable hardware and network accessibility nationwide.  Bushnell predicted that within five years, there will be numerous tablets and mini laptops available that almost everyone will be able to afford; and some of that vision is already coming true today.  A recent CNet review showed budget offerings from Google and Barnes & Noble breaking into their “Best Tablets” category, and competitors like Amazon and Windows aim to drive those price points down even further.

While the top electronics manufacturers continue to produce next-gen technology that is bigger, faster and more expensive in the United States, these same companies are already producing a number of budget models specifically for the European and Asian continents. As consumer demand continues to shift towards more affordable options, it will provide serious game manufacturers a standard platform to reach exponentially more customers.

A True Desire for Smarter Learning

At Designing Digitally, Inc., we believe that the future of learning is directly linked to serious gaming in more ways than one.  It will soon become a standard model of teaching inside our classrooms, within the workplace and even online for various hobbies and interests.  In fact, serious games and simulations will eventually transform almost everything we currently believe about learning.  The direct feedback through in-game metrics allows us to fine-tune a lesson plan for almost any type of learner, and that’s simply too powerful of a tool to be ignored much longer.

So when will this happen?  In many ways, it already has thanks to the popularity of games in modern society.  The Entertainment Software Association saw this trend emerging all the way back in 2008 when they discovered that over 67% of US Head of Households play video games.  Today, smartphones and tablets make gaming an even more popular option among children and adults alike, and serious games are being produced in record numbers.  It is only a matter of time before the world of educational learning is transformed forever due to this technology. To learn more about how serious games are beneficial in education, contact us today.

A History of Serious Games

Presenting the true origin of serious games is a bit more challenging than one might imagine, because civilizations have used this concept well before an LCD screen was ever invented.  In fact, military leaders have used gaming to teach warfare and survival skills for thousands of years, and the history books show that even ancient civilizations used competition as a learning tool. So even though the phrase “serious game” may be a relatively new term, there is nothing modern about using games to educate the masses.

The standard definition of a serious game is a real-world simulation that is designed to educate participants in a particular field of study. While it does not necessarily have to be a video game to fit the definition, advancements in digital imaging and 3D gaming technology  has made this format the standard for modern developers.

Early Examples of Serious Game

One of the first modern serious games was launched in 1955 by the John Hopkins University to simulate the devastation that would occur in a global nuclear war.  This game was titled HUTSPIEL, and it gave players a very realistic simulation of moving troops, supplies and ammunition to strategic zones across the world.  It was so state of the art for the time that both the Army and Navy eventually made sequels throughout the 1960’s.Oregon trail serious game

The success of HUTSPIEL also led to the development of serious games in other industries as well, such as the American
Management Association Games
series.  This strategy game pitted investors against each other to raise the most capital within a designated time limit, teaching basic economics and investing principles.  The Oregon Trail was another hugely popular title that was designed to educate Minnesota middle school students about the numerous perils of Oregon Trail in the 19th century.  This ultra-realistic simulation required players to complete numerous tasks such as hunting, fishing and crossing rivers, all the while keeping their family healthy and safe during the long journey.

Overall, it is estimated that 27 different titles of various serious games were released pre-1980.

The First Breakthrough in Modern Serious Games

One of the first modern entities to revolutionize their training regimen through serious games was the United States military.  For decades, troops have been placed in simulations that mimicked real-time combat so they would be better prepared for battle.  Even though there were numerous logistics issues in scheduling these training sessions and moving soldiers from around the country to participate, it was a very effective way to prepare our young men and women for what they may face in combat.

In 2002, the United States Army released a game project called America’s Army, which provided almost the exact same type of simulation that soldiers experienced at training facilities.  With numerous reward systems and close to a dozen training exercises ranging from ground combat and first aid to heavy weapons training; it was an instant success among soldiers. To date, over 41 expansion titles have been released in this series.

Today’s Brand of Serious Gaming

Today, there are dozens of successful serious game developers that design ultra-realistic training modules for almost every industry in the modern world.  For example, we recently launched Nurse Training: Trauma Unit for a healthcare client that not only simulates handling real-world scenarios within an emergency room, but also tracks the player’s achievements and grants various rewards for meeting objectives.  It was built in a module format so new scenarios can be added quickly as a need arises.  A demo version can be accessed here.

The future of Serious Gaming continues to look bright as more and more corporate clients realize the many benefits of virtual training.  As this technology advances to provide additional ways to measure learning potential and productivity, expect it to flourish in a number of new public sectors.

To learn more about serious games, contact us today!