Monday, January 9

SimWord of the Day: Real-time

At the highest level, a simulation is real-time if it does not stop and wait for the user to input before continuing as a turn-based simulation might. Said another way, if the user does not do anything, the simulation takes that as the input.

Almost all computer games are mostly real-time.

Some consider real-time simulations to be more realistic, engaging, and educational.
  • They are more realistic because many "real-life" target situations, from flying to negotiating, are real time, and so that dimension is a critical part of it. They also create pressure which mimics the pressure found in situations that aren't inherently speed-based.
  • They are more engaging, in that they require intense awareness, and the constant requirement to deal with surprising situations. They also might prevent people from over-analyzing.
  • They are educational, but also because they make it easier to see fluid patterns play out.
Of course, even educational simulation real-time zealots (people who would argue for a real-time simulation even if the target use of the content is not real-time) would still argue for paused moments of reflection, such as an after action review.

It is finally worth noting that real-time is not synonymous with twitch-speed. A good real-time simulation, unlike a twitch-game, could still be of significant educational value if played turned-based.


Peter Isackson said...

Interesting question. In some sense "real time" means "no time". In a business situation, for example, the game will collapse the time of gestation (say, of relationships), meaning that causes and results will be visible but psychological processes will not only not be visible, but will probably disappear altogether, thereby falsifying our perception of how a result was achieved. In McLuhanish terms, one dimension the message denies at least one dimension of the the medium.

This raises the question of cultural appropriateness. In a "time is money" culture (U.S.) evacuating time is logical and efficient. But does the same game have similar impact or value in cultures where prolonging time is more important than gaining time (China and in fact most of the so-called "high context" world)? Or is it seen as just a game, which in all cultures are celebrated for their fundamental meaninglessness.

Has anyone seriously worked on the question of time and timing in learning? What happens when we apply what we know about these things to any learning process, whether it be simulations, problem-solving, team research or just absorbing sequences of information?

Clark Aldrich said...

Real time can be about the content, and can be about the player experience.

Peter, I would also like the ask the question, what happenes when material isn't real time. How does that distort the context in which we learn content and then apply content.

Peter Isackson said...

My query was about whether real-time didn't mean collapsed time. I'm still wondering about that.

But you're right to ask about what we might be tempted to call "unreal time" (everything that isn't "real time"). Still, since this is all getting very metaphysical, the underlying question is the nature of our perception of time, which we shouldn't take for granted.

I don't have any ready-made answers, but I'd prefer moving away from easy slogans, the two most common and extreme being "self-paced" (i.e. no notion of time) and "real time". I fear that these are being used primarily as USPs that convince customers because they sound convincing and modern. Don't you (and others) think that time is a real factor we could try to get a handle on outside of the convenience type reasoning of self-paced (at your leisure) and real-time (with no waste)?

I'm all in favor of real-time simulations to do part of the training job, but I'm also in favor of re-assessing time as a factor in learning. In my own research and practice of informal learning, I recognize that timing, rhythm and synchronization (of events, but also of collectively constructed discourse and complementary roles) are vital and horribly neglected ingredients. Why is this? Possibly because we are stuck in old "time management" paradigms that don't apply to learning.

Once again, no answers, just new questions.

Clark Aldrich said...

a) I think less than 1% of training programs, including K-12, higher-ed, and corporate, are real-time.

b) I think 98% of computer games are real-time.

I believe the reason for a) has nothing to do with what works, and everything to do with the way formal learning has evolved.

We have this new technology that enables new content, evolved through computer games, and we need to see how much of what we currently teach and we can teach we can now re-imagine.

Peter Isackson said...

Another question occurs to me (sorry for the barrage!). Are you implying that a turn-based activity is not real time? If I send an e-mail or post a message on this blog, the eventual reply I receive will be based on taking turns, but I would maintain that it will also be very real time. Wouldn't you agree? There is a time for reading, a time for thinking, a time for deciding to reply and a time for replying. If this isn't done instantaneously, would we say it isn't a real time activity?

This is what I was trying to get at with the notion of time. Shooting space invaders requires immediate reflex action. Deciding on a new orientation of your marketing strategy might mean taking a lot of turns (including within your own mind). By focusing on "real time" isn't there a danger of neglecting the reality of time?

One of the areas I'm interested in is cyclical learning processes, which are implicit in social learning. We learn the same thing many times, but with a deepening perspective. Some things we learn become reflex, but not all. And reflexes can be instruments for combining knowledge and experience to produce levels of understanding that would be otherwise unattainable.

Just some more thoughts about time, a subject I hope we can develop more.

Clark Aldrich said...

I believe the more traditional one is, and the less tools one has at his or her diposal, the more one will try to lump things like timed tests, emails, and sitting at a lecture if your raise your hand, into a "real-time" activity.

Harold Jarche said...

Sometimes it's even better to increase the flow of time. I remember referring to this paper on "above real-time training" back in the days when I was designing flight simulation. It's an interesting concept; to make the sumulation more difficult than reality. This method was also used to train air traffic controllers.

Clark Aldrich said...

Wow, Harold. What a great article.