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Thursday, October 21, 2004

Serious Games: Games as Mass Media Dialogue Devices 

All presentation slideshows will be available online within a few days at http://www.seriousgamessummit.com/.

Ian Bogost, Cheryl Bernard, Chris Chambers, Nicco Mele

A look at how games can be used to shape behaviors. Games are now a not only a publicity tool, but also an effective propaganda means. The ethical implications are obvious.

Serious Games and the military 

I wouldn’t want to finish my coverage of the Serious Games Summit without mentioning the overwhelming presence of the US army, more specifically its America’s Army group. This group is in charge of developing the army’s games and simulation. The games are of course of exceptional quality (technically speaking).

I don’t necessarily have a problem with military using gaming and simulation for training purposes. What I have a problem with however is when those games are freely distributed to the general public in order to boost recruitment. The games are all about killing, which is, by the way, what a very small portion of the military personnel is doing.

I have a suggestion, why not make the games more realistic with features such as:
1. Having the game console shoot real bullets back to the players
2. Having a device that disperses a strong burnt flesh odor and sprays body liquids in the room when an opponent explodes
3. Having kids to shoot at you (with real bullets of course as in suggestion 1)
4. Allowing for group rapes, torture and public humiliation

Those suggestions are made exclusively for improving realism to a maximum so that it feels (and smells) like an actual battleground…(sic)

Serious Games: The Darwinian World of Game AI: The Current State of Human-Level Artificial Intelligence in Computer Simulations and Wargames 

All presentation slideshows will be available online within a few days at http://www.seriousgamessummit.com/.

Dr. Ezra Sidran

A great introduction to AI in general and how AI is being used in gaming with a special focus on 2-player, zero sum games (always a loser and a winner). Such games include: chess, checker, tic-tac-toe and, according to Sidran, most war games.

In general, AI techniques attempt to draw a decision tree and then minimize the number of interesting branches in the same decision tree. This approach allowed Big Blue to defeat Gary Kasparov.

For me Sidran’s biggest mistake is to treat war as a 2-player zero sum game. A zero sum game implies that the winner wipes out the opponent. There has rarely been in history wars where the losing party was completely eliminated. In most cases, the loser surrenders before being wiped out. It is also unrealistic, especially in today’s world to think that a “2-player war” is not affected by other entities such as the international community. Iraq is an obvious example…

Serious Games – Game Models for Traditional e-learning/LMS Systems 

Doug Nelson, Andrew Kimball, Shon Bayer, Paul Medcalf

A bit disappointing, but here are some good pieces:

Serious gaming is a compromise in a love triangle composed of subject matter expertise, instructional design and game design

Serious games development is a function of 4 variables:
f(content, design, form, delivery)

Of these 4 variables, 3 can be outsourced: design, from and delivery

The slideshows are not bad but lack in coherence and direction as they are more promotion tools.

Serious Games: Real, Real and Surreal 

All presentation slideshows will be available online within a few days at http://www.seriousgamessummit.com/. Johnny L. Wilson

Games are shaking the control balance in education in the same way e-learning does. It eliminates the need to have content-pouring faculty members and creates an opportunity for learning guidance, be it in a gaming environment.

Wilson’s definition of simulation:
Modeling of a system A by a less complex system B

I don’t really like this definition as it focuses on complexity when simulation is all about quality of learning.

Wilson talked a lot about games that changed him. Here are some of these games:
- Nuclear Disarmement
- Dungeons & Dragons
- Diplomacy
- Millionaire
- Planet Master
- Sim City
- On the campaign trail
- Sim Earth

On the campaign trail ironically taught Wilson years ago that in politics you always lose when you mention specifics because there is always a part of the population that disagrees. The only way to avoid that is to talk about generals like leadership and values. After all nobody complains about having leadership and values…

Nuclear Disarmement was about winning a nuclear war. The only way to win was to avoid war…

Serious Games – Into the Depths of a Large Commercial Games Studio 

All presentation slideshows will be available online within a few days at http://www.seriousgamessummit.com/.

Dan Daglow, Stormfront Studios

Not much to say here. The presenter emphasized the importance of sound project management and software development management principles. His presentation, which will be available soon, is nonetheless of critical importance.

Stormfront Studios has produced games such as: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and the Nascar series

Serious Games: Experiential Learning Assessment Strategies 

All presentation slideshows will be available online within a few days at http://www.seriousgamessummit.com/.

David Williamson Shaffer

A powerful message:
Sophisticated skills such as medical training cannot be decomposed into a group of well-defined skills. Then their assessment cannot be captured by simple measures.

Skill-based training is then not a good vehicle for creating sophisticated knowledge. For Shaffer, problem-solving is about the mediation of conflicting interests, i.e. selecting the right question. Problem-solving is done within an epistemic frame defined by skills, identity, values and knowledge.

By allowing reflection in action, games are good at allowing this epistemic frame to evolve.

Serious Games – Assessment and the Future of Fluid Learning Environments 

All presentation slideshows will be available online within a few days at http://www.seriousgamessummit.com/.

Aaron Thibault

A definition of fluid learning:
...adapts to a learner’s needs in a lifelong learning perspective

According to Thibault, gamers try to fulfill different sets of needs and make fun from different types of behaviors. For him there are 4 types of gamers:
- Player killers (eliminate opponents)
- Achievers (want to finish a game)
- Socializers (look for social interaction)
- Explorers (like to look around and discover)

There is a gap between the vocabulary of game developers and the vocabulary of instructional designers. A group focuses on fun and the other one on learning. I totally agree. It brings us back to the need of developing a common methodology. It’s not at all typical of serious gaming. Software development and e-learning have been through that as well.

When it comes to assessing a learner’s learning in a gaming environment, Thibault doesn’t offer us a comprehensive solution. However, his comment: “We assess each other all the time” seems to me like to key to the answer. Peer review? Performance technology? Hmm, probably a bit of all that.

A lot of people in the audience were academics of course. Many were looking at the presenter in disarray because they had started to realize that maybe what their employers (universities, colleges) are offering is essentially common pedagogical paths and accreditation. Pedagogical paths are getting always more customized (and distributed) and the current accreditation model doesn’t fit well with lifelong learning. Frightening to see that the current educational business model is in a dead-end.

Serious Games – Augmented Reality Games: Integrating Computer Games with Physical Environments 

All presentation slideshows will be available online within a few days at http://www.seriousgamessummit.com/.

Steffen Walz, Eric Klopfer

AR being relatively unknown, a definition is always a good start. Here is Klopfer’s:

Augmenting real environments with location specific information…

The next step of a good start, the “why”
- Anytime, anywhere
- Using real time and real space
- Planning across real time and space
- Fostering special learning
- Motivating kinesthetic learners


There are degrees of reality augmentation, basically form light to heavy. Light augmentations can consist of using PDAs while heavy augmentation can consist of using a helmet coupled with a GPS system. The differentiator here is the quantity of information used for the augmentation.

Walz also has his own definition:

…immersion until it gets undistinguishable from reality. No computers anymore but a high number of “augmented” physical artifacts.

Some of Walz’ projects:
- Pong on a cell phone
- Carplication
- MAD Countdown

MAD Countdown is interesting because it pinpointed an unexpected issue. The game was taking place in a 5-storey building. Participants, equipped with wireless PDAs, had to gather clues about where a nuclear bomb was hidden in the building and on how to turn it off. The experience seemed so immersive to some participants that they didn’t hesitate to break through doors and tear posters apart in the hope of finding additional clues. The augmentation led those people to pose act that they would never had done in a normal situation.

Walz agreed with my comment:
Since reality is only a perception, altering people’s perception of their environment corresponds in fact to creating a new reality. It will become very hard at one point to differentiate the real from the virtual. That obviously creates an ethical issue in AR projects.

Serious Games – Non Combat Military Game Effort 

All presentation slideshows will be available online within a few days at http://www.seriousgamessummit.com/.

Brian Williams, Thomas Santarelli, Dov Jacobson, Bill Davis, Hannes Vilhjalmsson

One of the most impressive presentations, especially because of Vilhjalmsson’s and Santorelli’s contribution. Their latest projects are related to games for teaching US soldiers how to interact politely and effectively with Iraqis. It goes like that: in a 3D environment, players represent US soldiers that have to ask for information to locals. They can obviously choose the distance at which they talk to someone, the gesture that they want to use (for example posing a hand on the heart is a mark of respect), choose what to say and actually say it through a mike. The system then changes the Iraqis’ behaviors (welcoming or aggressive) according to their reaction to the physical posture, speech and even pronunciation of the soldiers. Interestingly, even the most aggressive response does not degenerate into unloading guns at each other... The presentation is a must.

Jacobson and Davis presented what I consider military applications so I won’t comment.

A question that I asked and that didn’t find a satisfactory answer:
“ Like e-learning did a few years ago, serious gaming is going through a hype cycle. We are still in the phase of oohs and aahs that characterizes an immature concept. Has any of you been working on (or with) a structured methodology for serious games development? If not, when do you think it will come?”

Serious Games - Jim Dunnigan 

All presentation slideshows will be available online within a few days at http://www.seriousgamessummit.com/. Most of them are simply spectacular. Enjoy.

Jim Dunnigan’s keynote can be resumed with a quote:

A lot of people like games but not many know how to make them.

Dunnigan is an advocate of operational research, which seeks to rationalize through dissection in a very Cartesian way. Therefore, his approach to serious gaming is to work very hard on analyzing a learning need or gap to the extreme and then provide an appropriate tool that fulfills the analyzed gap. It’s an oversimplification in my view. Being able to dissect an infinite number of infinitesimal sub components does not necessarily teach us much about a complex system. Even worse, it creates the illusion that we actually know what is happening. There were anyhow some pearls in this talk:

Keep the goal in mind. What is the system doing for you?

Don’t bother coding, buy (or reuse?) off-the-shelf

Design for addiction, even when you have to deal with boring stuff

Serious Games Summit 

Sorry for the inactivity. I will fix this today with my covering of the Serious Games Summit that was held in Wash., DC on October 18-19. One of the best conferences I have ever attended…

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