Saturday, October 13

Which name is better - Serious Games or Educational Simulations or...?

There is a new field emerging, dealing with interactive content. I have created examples of it and written books about it, as have many others. But there is no universal name for the space (as in, "For our next program, we will use a ___ approach, or I am going to a conference to learn more about ____").

Here are the top ten:

10. Virtual Experiences: Pros: Captures the essence of the value proposition. Cons: Overlaps with Social Networking (see below).

9. Games: Pros: Unambiguous; unapologetic; makes the core point of learning by playing. Computer games (a subsection of all games) are a 10 billion dollar industry, therefore computer games should be in classrooms (other people say it more convincingly than I do). Cons: People play lots of games anyway - what is the value of forcing them to play more; too diverse; would you want your doctor to have learned from a game?

8. Simulations: Pros: Scientific; accurate; really serious. Cons: Includes many approaches that are not instructional (weather simulations) nor engageable; implies one hundred percent predictive accuracy.

7. Social Impact Games: Pros: Convey the nobleness of the cause. Differentiates from the default notion of games as not having a (or having a negative) social impact. Cons: Still emphasizes the tricky word of "games;" doesn't fit in corporate or military cultures; has any social impact game actually had a social impact?

6. Practiceware: Pros: Emphasizes the core of practicing to learn skills. Recalls model of batting cage and driving ranges. Cons: Franken-word; doesn't include a lot of puzzles and more awareness-raising activities; sounds vocational.

5. Game-based learning/digital game based learning: Pros: Spells everything out - game AND learning - any questions? Cons: Sounds dated and academic.

Serious Games? In e-Learning Guild's landmark (and live/ongoing) [survey] of 1,785 corporate, military, and academic practioners, most suggested not using the "serious games" name.

4. Immersive Learning Simulations: Pros: Hits all of the key points. Cons: Doesn't roll of the tongue. Name sounds a bit redundant (wouldn't any two of the three words work just as well?).

3. Educational Simulations: Pros: Sponsors like it. Cons: Sounds hard and perhaps too rigorous for casual students.

2. Serious Games: Pros: Nicely ironic; students like it; press loves it - loves it (I mean NY Times and Serious Games should get a room); researchers use it as a way to get foundation grants; most popular handle (see unscientific but anecdotally consistent poll results above). Cons: Sponsors hate it; instructors from academics, corporate, and military hate it; emphasizes the most controversial part of the experience - the "fun" part (i.e. the game elements); often too conceptual (you would never call a flight simulator a "serious game."). Most examples of serious games are neither very serious nor very good examples of games; For better and worse, the successor to edutainment.

1. Sims: Pros: Attractive to both students and sponsors; captures essence; fun. Cons: Also includes computer games in general, as well as one very famous franchise.

Some of the other names include: action learning simulations, performance simulations, interactive strategies, and activities based training.

Social Networking?

And then there is the question of to includes Social Networks or not? Pros: Most people lump Second Life and World of Warcraft into this area on their own. Con: Social networking and simulations should be used very differently and have different value propositions (see Top Ten Missing Features of Second Life). But including social networking adds words such as world, life, or environment, and sometimes virtual.


Stephen Downes said...

Simulations are 'simulations'. Games are 'games'.

The other, qualified, names are advanced by people who suppose they have somehow 'improved' games and simulations by adding seriousness, or education, or whatever.

They have in fact broken exactly what it was about simulations and games that make them work, that they are fun, engaging and stimulating.

As for the others, who argue that these names are needed in order to 'market' the games to (serious minded) CEOs, tis is to me simply the advocacy of marketing something under false pretenses.

rlubensky said...

Life - Be In It


Anonymous said...

Engagement [of the learner's mind]and Interactivity [not simple click and reveal] are the key to making an eLearning game/sim effective. Any term that can combine these two should be best suited.

Anonymous said...

What about simply "learning simulations"?

Learning is less formal than "educational."

Then we could use"learning games" when the focus is on games in a somwhhat more classic sense and use "learning simulations" when the focus is on more complex, interactive environments and challenges.