Serious games are games whose primary purpose is education and training as opposed to entertainment. They take advantage of the ability of computer games to attract and engage players/learners for a specific purpose such as to develop new knowledge or skills. With respect to students, strong engagement has been associated with higher academic achievement. The use of serious games within a wide range of educational and training applications is becoming widespread, particularly given the current generation of learners who are growing up spending a large amount of time playing video games. Despite the growing popularity of serious games, however, designing them is a difficult task. It is an interdisciplinary process, requiring expertise in a variety of fields including game design and development, computer science/engineering, education (instructional design), and content expertise (e.g., medicine/surgery when considering the creation of a serious game for surgical education). Although serious game designers are not expected to be experts in instructional design and the specific area of game content, possessing some knowledge in these areas will, at the very least, promote effective communication between interdisciplinary team members.
Upon completion of this lesson, students will have:
- Played and reviewed a serious game
- Developed an understanding of serious games and their purpose, their advantages and limitations, and their relationship to video games
- Become familiar with what is involved in developing a serious game
- Become aware of the many career opportunities in the serious gaming field
- Fully occupied in, giving your full attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion to a task or activity
- Fidelity (realism)
- The degree to which the simulator replicates reality
- Game-based learning
- Using games to teach through repetition, failure, and the accomplishment of goals
- Stimulating people to actions that accomplish goals
- Doing something (an activity) only because it is fun and enjoyable
- An early iteration of a game, created with the intention of determining the feasibility of the gameplay concept
- Video game
- An electronic game where players control images on a video screen
- Serious game
- A video game whose primary purpose is education, training, advertising, or simulation as opposed to entertainment
- Do you play video games? If yes:
- How many hours per week do you play?
- What is your favourite video game?
- What do you like most about your favourite video game?
- What do you like least about your favourite video game?
- How do you feel when you play your favourite video game?
- What makes video games so much fun? Why can people play video games for so many hours?
- Do you learn anything by playing video games? Explain.
- Can video games be used in school to help you learn?
Serious game design is a subset of game design. This game design resource available from Extra Credits called Making Your First Game: Basics – How to Start Your Game Development provides additional information.
- Pen or pencil and paper
- Computer (Mac or PC) with a web browser (Edge, Chrome or Firefox) and Adobe Flash installed
- Internet access
Time Required: 15 minutes
Students should answer the pre-activity questions with a partner, then discuss their answers with the class.
Time Required: 20 minutes (video)
Introduce serious games to students using the PowerPoint-based video. The video highlights the relationship between serious games and video games, provides a brief overview of serious game design and development, and presents several examples of serious games.
Playing a Serious Game
Time Required: 25 minutes
Students play Foodbot Factory, a serious game recently developed by researchers at Ontario Tech University and Health Canada to educate youth about nutrition. Students play the web-based version and control the game using a mouse. No instructions are provided—players should be able to determine what they are to do easily. Upon starting the game, students will be prompted to begin (they must click “OK”), and will be taken to the “Level Selection” screen. It is recommended that students play all four levels (Drinks, Protein Foods, Veggies and Fruits, Grain Foods).
Foodbot Factory is available to play online.
Time Required: 25 minutes
Pose the questions listed below to students. Students should answer the questions individually or in small groups, and a group discussion should follow. Many of these questions are subjective and there are no correct or incorrect answers. The purpose of the questions is to promote discussion about Foodbot Factory and have students think about it with respect to the video presentation from the Didactic Component.
Your Feelings About Foodbot Factory
- How did you feel while playing Foodbot Factory?
- Did you find Foodbot Factory fun?
- Did you find Foodbot Factory frustrating? If so, what made you frustrated?
- Will you play Foodbot Factory again?
- Who are the target learners for Foodbot Factory?
- What do you think of the characters in Foodbot Factory?
Foodbot Factory and Learning
- Was Foodbot Factory easy to use?
- Did you learn anything by playing Foodbot Factory?
- Do you think playing Foodbot Factory will help you become healthier?
Improving Foodbot Factory
Imagine you have just been hired as a serious game designer and your first job is to improve Foodbot Factory.
- Provide some comments and details regarding Foodbot Factory, taking into consideration:
- How you use Foodbot Factory
- What changes or additions would make Foodbot Factory easier to use?
- What changes or additions would make Foodbot Factory a better teaching tool?
Note regarding the Improving Foodbot Factory questions: Foodbot Factory was developed by a large team of interdisciplinary experts, including game developers/computer scientists, educators, and nutrition experts, and has gone through extensive testing. As a result, there may not be any major glaring problems with it. The purpose of the questions is to promote creativity and critical thinking in students. Some possible answers are provided below.
- Graphics: Students may comment on adding 3D graphics, changing colours, etc.
- Sound: Addition of voices to the characters instead of text (the smartphone version of the game includes character voices)
- Instructions: Provide instructions at the start of the game
- Interactions: Hard to move the robot back and forth using the mouse
- Serious Game EduTech Wiki
- On Serious Games
- 10 Serious Games that Changed the World
- Five Things that Make an Awesome Learning Game
- Don’t Bother Me Mom, I’m Learning by Marc Prensky (ISBN-13: 978-1557788580)
- End-to-End Game Development: Creating Independent Serious Games and Simulations from Start to Finish by Nick Iuppa and Terry Borst (ISBN-13: 978-0240811796)
Games & Apps
Organizations/Companies that Produce Serious Games
- BBC Horizons 2015 Documentary—Are Video Games Really That Bad? (45:40)
- What Are Serious Games? by Karl Kapp
- Rethinking Education & Learning Games with Karl Kapp
Social Media Resources
- 12 Game Gurus to Follow for Inspiration on Games for Learning
This article originally appeared in the third issue of Root & STEM. Root & STEM is a free print and online STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) resource supporting K–12 educators in teaching digital skills. Each issue features articles, activities, and lesson plans with a specific focus on STEAM education through creativity.
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