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!