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Introduction to Serious Games and Their Design for Grades 9–12

Introduction

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 games 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.

Learning Goals

Upon completion of this lesson, students will have:

  1. Developed an understanding of serious games and their purpose, their advantages and limitations, and their relationship to video games and simulations
  2. Become familiar with the serious game design and development process
  3. Become aware of the many career opportunities in the serious gaming field

Vocabulary

Computer (virtual) simulation
A recreation of real world phenomena employing mathematical models that can be visualized through a computer generated scene
Fidelity (realism)
The degree to which the simulator replicates reality
Play
Doing something (an activity) only because it is fun and enjoyable
Prototype
An early iteration of a game, created with the intention of determining the feasibility of the gameplay concept
Serious game
A video game whose primary purpose is education, training, advertising or simulation, as opposed to entertainment
Simulation
The re-creation of a real world process in a controlled environment, involving the creation of laws and models to represent the world, and then running those models to see what happens
Video game
An electronic game where players control images on a video screen

Guiding Questions

  1. Do you play video games? If yes,
    • How many hours per week?
    • What is your favourite video game?
    • What is your favourite video game genre (e.g., first-person shooter, puzzle, adventure, sports, etc.)?
  2. What makes video games so much fun? Why can people play video games for so many hours?
  3. Do you learn anything by playing video games? 
  4. Does simulation have value in sports? List some examples of simulation in sports.
  5. How do animals learn?

Curriculum Links

Serious game design is a subset of game design. Here is a game design resource from Brackeys called How to make a Video Game in Unity.


Materials

  • Pen or pencil and paper 
  • Internet access

Didactic Component 1

Time Required: 27 minutes (video)
Introduce serious games to students using the PowerPoint-based video. The video provides introductory information about serious games and highlights the relationship between serious games, video games, and simulations. The material presented in this video won’t necessarily provide explicit answers to the questions of Activity 1.


Activity 1

Time Required: 30 minutes

In groups of three or four, students should answer the questions listed below about serious game design. Provide the questions in a hard-copy format with space to answer each one. With the assumption that the majority, if not all, of the students have limited knowledge of the serious game development process, this hands-on activity will introduce students to the design and development process and inform them of potential issues and problems that may arise. Students should be encouraged to speak aloud, and discuss their thoughts among the members of their group, but they should not speak to students from other groups.

Defining Your Serious Game

  1. Describe a serious game that you would like to design and develop
  2. When and how will the serious game be used?
  3. What do you hope the game will achieve? What is the goal of your game?
  4. Who are your target learners?

The Design and Development Team

  1. Describe your development team
  2. What resources do you need to design and develop this serious game?

The Design and Development Process

  1. Provide some details regarding your serious game. Some things to consider:
    • What type of serious game will this be (e.g., puzzle, adventure, role-playing, simulation, sports, etc.)?
    • What fidelity (realism) will your game have?
    • How will learners advance through your game?
    • How will learners know how they are progressing while they play?
    • Is this a single- or multi-learner game?
  2. What is the process you will follow to develop your game (i.e., What are the steps from inception to implementation that you will take)?

Assessing Your Serious Game

  1. What process you will follow to assess your game (i.e., How do you know your game will do what it is supposed to do)? Some things to consider:
    • How will you evaluate your game?
    • What will your evaluation reveal?
    • What will you do with the information your evaluation reveals?

Didactic Component 2

Time Required: 27 minutes 

Following the completion of Activity 1, students should watch the PowerPoint-based video, which focuses on serious game design and will provide insight regarding the questions answered in Activity 1.


Computer Activity

Playing with Serious Games

Time Required: 20 minutes

Students will have the opportunity to experiment with (i.e., play) a serious game—specifically, Re-Mission2: Leukemia.

The students’ task is to provide a one-paragraph review of the game. There is no required format for the review; it should, however, at least consider: i) the purpose of the game; ii) who the game’s target audience is; iii) whether the game is fun and engaging; iv) whether or not the game is an effective learning tool; v) whether the game is easy to understand/learn to play; and vi) the interface (e.g., how players interact with the game, graphics, sound, etc.).


Conclusion

Time Required: 20 minutes

As a class, revisit the questions of Activity 1 with a focus on whether answers would change given the material discovered while conducting Didactic Component 2.


Additional Resources

Websites

Books

  • How Computer Games Help Children Learn by D. Shaffer (SBN-13: 978-0230602526)
  • 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 and Companies that Produce Serious Games

YouTube Videos

Social Media Resources


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