Sunday, March 22, 2009

Serious Games Not Child's Play

It may sound like a contradiction in terms. But serious games are now a very grown-up business and both corporations and governments around the world are using gaming technology to get their messages heard.

From helping to train armies to increasing sales of cheeseburgers, the serious games industry has taken off as an innovative way of truly engaging and educating today’s technologically-sophisticated audience.

“Using virtual worlds, simulation and social networking platforms, games deliver real training, education and marketing benefits,” says David Wortley, Director, Serious Games Institute (SGI), Coventry University and presenter at Knowledge Oasis Muscat’s annual Serious eGames Conference – scheduled to be held 30 March at the Middle East College of Information Technology.

Wortley cites SGI research in which two groups of emergency workers were taught how to cope with a city centre explosion. One underwent traditional training, the other used simulation game Triage Trainer. “Those using Triage Trainer absorbed more information and were better equipped. I think this is because the simulation created a greater degree of realism than could ever have been possible with more conventional scenario training,” he explains.

Similarly, the fast food chain Burger King increased sales – and reinforced its brand message amongst its target audience - when it created an electronic game for sale in US restaurants.

“Games can offer companies a real competitive edge, building relationships with their consumers,” says the SGI Director.

Man has always used games to develop skills and understanding. But the serious games revolution emerged only in the last 10 years when technology previously restricted to the likes of the aviation industry became widely accessible. The dawn of Web 2.0 has taken it onto a new level entirely.
One of the first to seize the initiative was the US army, attracting new recruits, training soldiers and even educating the public through simulation game America’s Army.

“We’re now seeing games that were originally designed for entertainment being put to serious use, for example, Nintendo Wii Fit. Even the best-selling PC game series, MYST, is used in the classroom to switch pupils onto English, with fantastic results,” says Mohammed Al Maskari (pictured) and organizer of the Serious eGames Conference.

On the education front, a recent report commissioned by the games giant Electronic Arts (EA) and carried out by FutureLab surveyed almost 1,000 teachers and more than 2,300 primary and secondary school students in the UK. The survey found 59% of teachers would consider using off-the-shelf games in the classroom while 62% of students wanted to use games at school.

While we might find a “generation divide between teachers and students in respect of playing computer games. For example, the UK study found more than 70% of teachers never play games outside school while 82% of children said they played video games on a regular basis. This tells me that serious games have a role in today’s more tech savvy learning environment.”

Ibtisam Al Faruji, KOM’s Marketing Director said: “Now more than ever people are starting to wake up to the importance of video games; culturally, artistically and economically. Whether you’re in tourism, finance, education, marketing or managing historic buildings, serious games have a role to play.”

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